Victor Oladipo was a shooting guard during his time at Indiana University, we all know this. In fact, it was his dynamic play at the 2 spot which got him to the NBA in the first place. But ever since landing with the Orlando Magic with the second pick in the draft, the team has seen fit to play him at the point guard position quite a lot, with admittedly mixed results. Halfway through the season though, is this working for the team?
As a point guard, Oladipo is averaging just less than 3.5 turnovers per contest. Not the worst number, but when you consider he is also only averaging 4.3 assists, that accounts for nearly one turnover per assist with the ball in his hands. Of course this is not good enough, but in his first year in the league it is acceptable. But wouldn’t his athletic play be more suited to causing defenses issues off the ball? When you think of elite point guards in the league, not all of them have what you would call freakish athletic ability. Russell Westbrook certainly does however, as do the likes of an injury-free Derrick Rose and Nate Robinson. But most top drawer quarterbacks rely on their court savvy and high IQ to hurt the opposition. Not that Oladipo won’t develop this, but he’s too young and inexperienced at this point to be able to operate in this manner. So playing him as a point guard doesn’t seem to make much sense and the argument against playing him here has yet more ammo to back this theory up.
In Arron Afflalo, the Magic have a borderline All-Star in this position anyway. It was thought that Afflalo may be moved before the trade deadline early in the season, but he seems happy in Orlando. Entering the prime of his career, he now appears to be a potentially significant building block for this team going forward, something that was unthinkable entering the season. Yes, Oladipo can come on off the bench and lead a second unit from there, but that would be wasting his talents. This guy is a starter, plain and simple. So with Afflalo seemingly hanging around, surely there is no need for Oladipo to be spending a lot of time in a position he is clearly not comfortable with? If Orlando could hold on to Afflalo, and they have flexibility, and add another serviceable point guard in the summer, that would appear to be that position set. Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors looks to be available at the right price and having both himself and Afflalo running the point throughout an entire game would be somewhat of a luxury for this team. Although Lowry himself may be out of range, a player similar in ability should be gotten if the Magic are serious about making a run for the playoffs in the next couple of seasons. Putting unnecessary pressure on Oladipo to succeed in this position seems silly.
However, Oladipo is one of the front runners for Rookie of the Year, despite spending much of the time learning a new position. If he was deployed the way he was meant to be, could you imagine how good he could be? We see flashes almost every game of his electric potential and if he did begin to pick up this point guard thing, it could actually work out extremely well for the Magic after all. Right now though, it seems a lot of effort for somebody who was NBA-ready to play the shooting guard role when he entered the league. His shooting is far from perfect, but we have seen him create his own shot off the dribble and through the catch and shoot. He is not pure offense as he has the stamina and athleticism to get back on defense, but creating openings for others just does not seem to be working for him right now. It all looks a little bit forced. In no way is Oladipo similar to the Sacramento Kings‘ Derrick Williams, but he needs to be careful he does not end up like him. Like Oladipo, Williams was a second overall pick, in Williams’ case for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011; however, he was constantly played out of position or else never given a solid run in the team. This resulted in a trade to the Kings this season where he is now trying to rebuild his reputation. It is unlikely Oladipo will end up this way but it is a cautionary tale of what can happen when an organisation uses you in ways you are not familiar or comfortable with.
Can Victor Oladipo become a quality point guard? Right now you would have to say no, although it is early days here. More puzzling though is the fact that he does not need to be the starting point guard on this team, Orlando have a very good one of them already in Afflalo. Playing as he was meant to be played would seem to make more sense, as the rookie continues to grow in confidence in this league. Playing the game the way he is used to would help massively in this respect. The Magic may yet have some master plan that will all become clear down the line which sees Oladipo as the starting point guard, but as of right now this should be a project that should be scrapped.