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Victor Oladipo Finding Niche In Oklahoma City

Victor Oladipo has landed in a perfect spot to showcase his abilities, writes Susan Bible.

Susan Bible



One of the biggest surprises that occurred around last June’s NBA draft had more to do with a certain trade than with certain players being drafted. The Oklahoma City Thunder managed to pull off a trade of one of their key players, Serge Ibaka, for Orlando Magic’s Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and rights to Domantas Sabonis, who was selected with the 11th pick in the draft.

The acquisition of 24-year-old Oladipo, the Magic’s second overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, suddenly had fans excited about a new power backcourt duo with the athletic guard playing alongside starting point guard extraordinaire, Russell Westbrook.

“The number one thing with Victor is his make-up,” said Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager following the draft. “This is a guy we’ve looked at for a long time. He’s tough-minded, he’s competitive, he’s selfless.”

Oladipo experienced significant ups and downs in Orlando while never seeming to find sure footing on the court. During his three seasons there, he averaged 15.9 points, 4.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 in three-pointers. He was very good, but not great as expected.

Since he was acquired by a team with so many new players to acclimate into the system – and, later, no Kevin Durant – nobody was quite sure what to expect from him in Oklahoma City. Over the first 14 games of the 2016-17 season in the starting lineup with the Thunder, he has averaged 16.9 points, 2.4 assists, and 4.1 rebounds. His breakthrough performance came last week in a hotly-contested win against the Houston Rockets. Oladipo’s versatility was on full display, and he logged 29 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals, going 12-of-15 in field goals and 5-of 7 in three-point shots.

“I can do a little bit of everything,” said Oladipo afterwards. “When I try to limit myself is when I’m not very successful on the court, so I just go out there and do everything I can to help my team win the game.

“I’m doing a good job of getting open, just because Russ demands so much attention,” he added. “When he kicks it, he’s got like five guys guarding him in the paint so when he kicks it, I’m pretty much open. I’m just shooting good shots. My teammates make the extra play, the extra pass. They go out of their way to do that. It makes that shot that much easier, so credit them.

Oladipo has taken heat for missing shots during his career, and provides a candid response on the subject.

“Percentages are great and everything like that, but you either make it or you miss it. I think what I’ve gotten better at is my shot selection. Sometimes I would come down and shoot unnecessary threes, but now I’ve kind of limited those and just shoot the good ones. If they go in, they go in. If they don’t, they don’t. But I’m going to keep shooting them with confidence, and eventually they’ll go in at a high rate.”

After the win over the Rockets, the Thunder beat the Brooklyn Nets on November 18th and Oladipo kept people talking by scoring 26 points. Unfortunately, backup point guard Semaj Christon suffered a facial fracture in the third quarter of that game and is now sidelined, undergoing the NBA’s concussion protocol. Since the Thunder’s remaining backup point guard, Cameron Payne, is out indefinitely with a foot fracture, Oladipo assumed backup point guard duties to close out that game and in the most recent game Sunday night, which was an overtime loss against the Indiana Pacers.

“Obviously we have to do that,” shared Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “Victor, I’m very comfortable with, just because he’s played some point in Orlando, and he’s done it a little bit here, so I’m fine with that.”

Following that loss to the Pacers, Oladipo talked about his return to playing the point guard position.

“Just be smart. Pick my spots on when to be aggressive and when not to be. It’s kind of a little different when you move to the one. It’s a learning process for me. I played the one a little bit a few years ago, so I’m a little used to it. Still some tweaks I need to get better at, but Semaj will be back soon, and it’s still something I need to figure out on my own.

“I just try to lead the group,” Oladipo said about running the point. “Do a good job of getting guys to where they need to be, making the game easier for them, getting them shots and trying to create for them.”

Playing with a consistently aggressive style is something Oladipo tends to struggle with in games. Westbrook, whom Oladipo clearly respects, pointed out in training camp that Oladipo thrives when he’s not afraid to be aggressive and not thinking too much.

“That’s when I’m at my best,” Oladipo said. “When I just go out there and play off my instincts, and let the game come to me. But most of all, just going out there and having fun. I’m going to affect the game in a positive way. If I continue to do that, I can help this team a lot.”

One can’t help but wonder why the athletic Oladipo would fear aggressiveness at all.

“I know, right? You would think, right? If I go out there and make a mistake being aggressive, I’m not trying to make the mistake, so I can live with those,” Oladipo said.

It appears the Thunder have been pleased with Oladipo’s performance so far and what he brings to the team, as he was given a four-year extension at the deadline last month. He is part of the Thunder’s new core going forward. With Westbrook as his mentor, he’s set up to succeed.

Susan Bible covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for Basketball Insiders and writes about all NBA teams. She is a Senior Newslines Editor and contributes to fantasy basketball coverage.


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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers



When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders



Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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