After training rigorously to pair skill with the sustainable agility he reaped from his dramatic body transformation, Victor Oladipo returning “home” with a brick-sized chip on his shoulder and the promise of greater opportunity was like putting music to lyrics.
From notching career numbers in every statistical category while leading the league in steals to coming through in the clutch and earning his first All-Star selection, the late-blooming guard’s debut season with the Pacers was a flat-out banger.
How did Victor Oladipo impress?
The combination of his disarming speed and controlled athleticism was the melody which transformed his ballooning usage rate from mere spoken words into a euphonious chorus.
For instance, Robin Lopez taking one tiny fateful misstep forward out of the drop to try to meet the action was all it took for Oladipo to momentarily freeze the big man in backpedal purgatory and zoom to the rim.
When Al Horford refused to concede him the airspace to build a head of a steam by dropping nearer to the level of the screen, Indiana’s scoring engine forced the solid defensive anchor into a lopsided dash to the basket.
Out-sprinting the lightning quick guard to his spot wasn’t even a given when the on-ball defender went under the screener, as demonstrated by Gary Harris.
Heck, Oladipo’s acceleration was all the screen he needed to whiz past Klay-freaking-Thompson’s two-way talent before gracefully finishing at the rim with Draymond Green and Damian Jones collapsing on him at the rim.
All of which sheds additional light as to why, even when the accuracy of his long-distance pull-up jump shot oscillated from 50 percent in November down to 15 percent in February and back up to 58 percent in April, trapping his downhill momentum was more threatening than sagging off of it. Whereas he had a penchant for committing turnovers when he was encouraged to pick up his dribble, the rate by which his potential energy could turn kinetic gave him the option to rocket down the lane when he was encouraged to shoot.
On the other end of the floor, his quickness meant he could send pestering help or buzz around for steals and deflections without much fear of being unable to recover to contest shots.
Just consider his activity level on this possession against the Washington Wizards:
Straying from Tomas Satoransky, he positioned himself in the sweet spot to simultaneously wall off Otto Porter cutting to the rim while impeding the baseline drive-baseline drift pass to the corner.
After Bradley Beal tossed the ball to Marcin Gortat to reset the offense with a dribble hand-off, Oladipo called for the switch and stayed attached to Porter to prevent the starting wing from serving as a secondary option along the baseline.
When the ball got reversed to Satoransky and the reserve point guard attacked the paint to drive-and-kick to Porter, Oladipo got his hand on the pass.
Porter chased down the loose ball, but he misfired from inside the arc with Thaddeus Young contesting his shot and Oladipo rotating to Markieff Morris.
Now, mull over how impressive it is that nothing from the totality of that possession even mentions that it also wasn’t particularly safe to dribble around him at the point of attack, where it was almost like he had shovels for hands that could create chaos by unearthing point-saving steals and manufacturing point-creating transition baskets.
On the season, not only was he Indiana’s most impactful on versus off defender but he also finished no worse than among the top five of the league in steals, deflections, points off turnovers, and contested three-point shots.
He made his speed sing on both ends of the floor.
How did Victor Oladipo disappoint
His shooting went off-key midway through the regular season and the playoffs, and he had a proclivity for playing the same repetitive notes when he got boxed-in by hedges and traps.
Because he had a tendency to abort his dribble and either jam left-handed pocket passes to the screening big at the free throw line or demurely toss the ball to the guard on the opposing slot, opponents didn’t have to do much guesswork to play solid one-pass-away defense.
Granted, the Pacers could’ve done more to relieve this sort of congestion (i.e. setting a quick pindown screen on the weak side to distract the shaker’s man from stunting toward the screener); however, that wouldn’t have been as necessary if Oladipo’s passing arsenal was more diverse.
Being able to throw skip passes or one-handed whip passes while keeping his dribble alive and testing the foot speed of the back line defender would’ve made opponents think twice about abandoning the corner to load up on his usual release valves.
Defensively, meanwhile (if we’re going to nitpick), his tracking needs to catch up to his roaming.
Here, for instance, rather than staying attached to Kyle Korver’s hip, Oladipo erroneously tried to cheat the double-stagger screens in anticipation of the sharpshooter curling to the opposite corner and coming off a pindown screen from Kevin Love.
As it turned out, the lightning-quick guard got burned by his own expectations when Korver countered by bouncing off the screens like a flare.
Oladipo has found his sound, but in order to keep churning out the hits he’s going to have to continue to develop it.
What’s next for Victor Oladipo?
At his exit interview, the Pacers challenged the first-time All-Star to follow-up on the success of his first season by playing music by R&B duo Milli Vanilli.
“That’s the biggest one-hit wonder,” Kevin Pritchard said he told Oladipo, before throwing down the gauntlet. “Are you a one-hit wonder?”
“No,” Oladipo responded. “I’m Michael Jackson.”
Not unlike how the King of Pop was never satisfied with his music, the lightning-quick guard — on what now appears to be a bargain contract — is already back in the studio fine-tuning his game.