We spoke about this not too long ago and now it looks like what was said then may be coming true now quicker than anticipated. Victor Oladipo has been the best rookie in the NBA since the All-Star break, beginning to dominate games in a way only potential-riddled youngsters can. Yes, the Orlando Magic are still losing and we’ll come back to that in a bit, but for now, let us all enjoy the play of Oladipo as he begins to take over the reins of this ball club.
With Glen Davis leaving town just after the trade deadline, it was clear the Magic’s commitment to going young was coming into clear effect. This attitude comes with steep learning curves and usually a lot of losses and so far that has proved true. Oladipo, however, has simply shone brighter than at any time this season and this is great to see if you’re a Magic fan. These young guns will have to begin to step up at some point and to see a No. 2 overall pick begin to do so already will have been heartening for those in Orlando. The All-Star Weekend is hardly the catalyst for Oladipo’s improved play, but it may have contributed a little. As mentioned here a couple of weeks back, getting to the big event and then participating in and holding his own at the Rising Stars Challenge would have shown the former Indiana University standout that he belonged here. Just having that small piece of knowledge and seeing up close that he could hang with the best of them in that game would have done wonders for his confidence, which in turn can be attributed in some way to this upswing in his game.
In his last two games, Oladipo has scored 9 points away to the Toronto Raptors, followed by 26 points in Washington against the Wizards. His near triple-double before that at home to the New York Knicks powered them to a two-overtime victory against the struggling tenants of The Big Apple, too. These are for the most part huge numbers, with Oladipo carrying the team for stretches, something he has not done over a three-game period once this season. It represents a growth and newfound belief in his game that will surely have perked up his teammates as well. Although the Magic lost to both the Raptors and Wizards, they won’t mind too much when they can see clear improvement in one of their building blocks for the future. Oladipo himself comes across as a genuinely good kid, so you get the feeling that he’s not in it for his own personal numbers, he would rather see the team do well. That attitude, coupled with the fact he is having monster games anyway, points to a bright future both for himself personally and the young team as a whole. If a couple more youngsters follow his lead, this team will be back in the playoffs before long.
On a larger scale, losing 16 straight games away from home represents a real problem for the Magic, something Oladipo alone is unable to fix. All the best teams are capable of winning multiple road games, the Oklahoma City Thunder appear to do it for fun a lot of the time. But even the good teams, those with a hint of playoff ambitions, which is what this Magic team is working towards, are able to pull out occasional victories on the road. This is something Orlando needs to learn to do if it hopes to climb the Eastern Conference standings in future. Nobody is asking them to go to Miami and the Indiana on a back-to-back and come away with two wins, but winning away to some bottom feeding clubs surely has to be the next step. Again part of this is mental, and the Magic need to break what is quickly becoming a talking point by winning away from home soon. Again this is a Magic narrative that is running parallel to Oladipo’s growth, but if he could inspire the team to a much needed away win, which he has tried his hardest to do recently, it would represent yet more growth for him on a personal level.
If we’re nitpicking, Oladipo’s five assists against the Wizards was perhaps a little low. For a supposed “point guard in training” who the Magic hope will one day take over that spot to lead the team, you would maybe be hoping for a little more. But really he is progressing just fine, and in actual fact probably quicker than some imagined. For now he has to be the best rookie in the NBA since All-Star weekend, and has put himself in prime position to make a run at winning Rookie of the Year honors, too. The fact he is seamlessly transitioning from rookie to leader for this Orlando team so soon and with such dominant displays is but a bonus the Magic were not expecting to see just yet. Keep an eye on this guy, he is rapidly getting better.