NBA PM: Victor Oladipo Heating up for the Magic

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Victor Oladipo Heating up for the Magic

Over the past week and a half, only Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis have been hotter than Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo. It seems like quite an accomplishment to be mentioned in the same sentence as Westbrook these days, considering just how amazing he’s has been playing for the Thunder since Kevin Durant needed to undergo a second surgery on his right foot.

Oladipo has averaged 26.4 points, 5.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals during his last five outings for the Magic and has converted 52 percent of his shots, including 55 percent from three-point range. His 26.4 points per game during that stretch are third in the league behind Westbrook’s 40.5 points and Davis’ 33.5 points. Oladipo’s 55 percent shooting from downtown is up from his season average of 35 percent.

Since returning from his performance on the national stage in the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend in New York, Oladipo is seventh in the league in scoring at 23 points per game.

“It’s a different mentality out of him,” Magic interim head coach James Borrego said. “He feels like this is his team, his time; he’s willing the group. I think we feel him on both ends of the floor right now. He’s aggressive offensively [and] defensively setting the tone for us. [I’m] just really proud of his growth in [the] pick-and-roll, making the right reads. He’s moving the ball. Even though he’s not gaining as many assists as I think we would all like, he’s leading our team to many open shots and it’s a real credit to him.”

Oladipo’s hot play for the Magic couldn’t have come at a better time as they’ve been hit hard by injuries over the past couple of weeks. Key contributors like Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Willie Green and Luke Ridnour have all missed time due to various injuries. Oladipo responded by dropping at least 20 points in each of the last four games, including a career-high 38 points on Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns and a 32-point performance Friday against the Sacramento Kings.

“We had some big-time guys out from Nik to Evan to Willie, so I had to step it up on both ends of the floor as a leader [and] just got to bring that energy,” Oladipo said. “I’m just starting to get used to the position… I just got to be consistent and continue to play with the same confidence.”

The Magic took Oladipo with the second pick in the 2013 draft with the hope of converting him from a shooting guard to a point guard. The results of that experiment were mixed and left more questions than answers on what role Oladipo would fill after his first year in the league. Since that experiment, it seems like the Magic are using him as a combo-guard next to rookie point guard Elfrid Payton.

Oladipo’s biggest concern last year seemed to be trying to do too much, which led to too many turnovers (he averaged 3.2 per game in 31 minutes of action). Fast forward nearly a full season later and his turnovers are gradually decreasing (down to 2.8 per game), but it’s clear that he is still a work in progress as evident by his seven-turnover performance in that game against the Suns on Wednesday.

While the turnovers will take more time to fix, his stats are up in several key areas from his rookie campaign to this season. His points per game have increased from 13.8 to 17.5, his blocks have gone from 0.5 to one per game, his free throw percentage is up from 78 percent to 82 percent and his field goal percentage has climbed from 41.9 percent to 45 percent.

“His growth has been amazing over the past year,” Magic teammate Maurice Harkless said of Oladipo. “He’s going to continue [the growth]. I know he will because he works so hard. I’m happy for him and I’m proud of him.”

“He’s really at his rhythm right now, you can tell the game is slowing down [for him],” Payton added. “He’s playing well.”

Since Borrego took over head coaching duties for the Magic on Feb. 6, they have become a changed ball club. Although they still have the league’s fifth-worst record, the Magic have split the 12 games in which Borrego has been in charge and have posted a 6-6 record.

A big part of the change has been on the defensive side of the ball, led by Oladipo. Under former head coach Jacque Vaughn, the Magic posted a 106.1 defensive rating (sixth-worst in the league), according to NBA Stats. But under Borrego, the Magic have improved to a 100.6 defensive rating, which is good for 13th in the league. Additionally, the team has held opponents to 96.6 points per game, which is tied for ninth-best in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Out of Oladipo’s draft class, it was Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Giannis Antetokounmpo that received much of the hype, but it’s becoming clear that the Magic made the right decision to draft Oladipo over those other players. His recent stretch, and the progress he’s made from his rookie season to now, is impressive and he’ll only continue to make strides with the more time he sees on the court. Combined with rookie point guard Payton, the Magic’s young backcourt should prove to be a force for many seasons to come.

Derrick Rose Not Committing to Returning This Season

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose spoke to reporters on Monday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery on Feb. 27, but refused to commit to returning to the court this season.

“Who cares? I’m not even thinking about that right now,’’ said Rose, responding to his initial four-to-six week timetable to return. “I’m thinking about getting the most out of every day. … Whenever I feel well that’s when I’ll step back on the court.’’

Rose has previously stirred up controversy by sticking to his own plan on returning from injuries, which has drawn criticism from former players questioning his commitment to his teammates and the Bulls organization. Monday proved to be no different, with Rose opting to take his time with his latest setback and even said that he feels no pressure to return any quicker with the playoffs coming up in a little more than a month.

“No pressure at all, especially not with this team,’’ Rose said. “We’ve got a great team. If anything, my teammates are telling me to take my time, and when I’m really healthy I’ll come back.’’

As our Joel Brigham pointed out recently, the Bulls took a different PR approach with Rose’s latest injury, stating that their point guard is expected to return this season (which they hadn’t said in the past).

Rose’s rehab seems to be right on track as he said he’s been “killing every workout” and was seen on the court shooting flat-footed prior to the Bulls’ game on Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies. While he refused to say he’ll definitely play again this season, he did say there’s a good chance he’ll return.

The Bulls have gone 3-5 in the eight games Rose has missed.