The last 24 hours have been incredibly difficult for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The fan base is stunned and the team’s status as a contender is in jeopardy after the departure of superstar forward Kevin Durant.
However, it’s important to note that there are still some things to be optimistic about in Oklahoma City. For one, Russell Westbrook seems poised for a monster 2016-17 season. Expect to see many triple-doubles and a legitimate shot at the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. While his long-term future with the Thunder is somewhat uncertain given Durant’s departure, Westbrook’s games will be must-see TV next season.
There’s also the fact that the Thunder did a terrific job of remaining a contender while keeping their roster relatively young in recent years. Durant leaving certainly hurts – there’s no getting around that – but Oklahoma City still has a nice young core that they can develop and build around.
They currently have 10 players who are 24 years old or younger. Taking the step back from elite contender to young upstart is tough to swallow, but it’s better than losing Durant without a clear-cut direction and plan.
One of those players who is 24 years old is Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in a draft-night trade with the Orlando Magic that sent out Serge Ibaka.
Since being drafted No. 2 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, the combo guard emerged as one of Orlando’s best players. He has been very productive every year he has been in the league, and he was terrific after the All-Star break last season – averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three-point range.
Westbrook and Oladipo give the Thunder one of the more athletic backcourts in the league and they will be difficult to match up against. The two guards are both extremely intense, and they’ve gotten to know each other pretty well in recent years since they played together in Team USA’s camps.
After going 83-163 without a postseason appearance in his first three NBA seasons with Orlando, Oladipo is excited to join a talented Thunder team that was one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals (even though the departure of Durant does lower the league-wide optimism a bit).
“It feels amazing to have those expectations again; it’s all about winning basketball games,” Oladipo told Basketball Insiders. “Now that I have the opportunity to do that, I’m really excited about it. I’m looking forward to this. I think the fit is going to be really good. I’m just going to go out there and play my game, making an impact on both ends of the floor. It’s going to be fun.”
All signs indicate that Oladipo still has plenty of untapped potential. He believes he’s poised for a breakout campaign after this change of scenery. Oklahoma City is known for helping prospects take their game to the next level and Oladipo is thrilled to enter their development program.
“I feel like you’re going to see a lot more from me; I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of how good I really can be,” Oladipo said. “I’m getting better every day and I’m looking forward to [showing] it.
“I can still grow way, way more. I’ve only been in the NBA for three years and I’m just getting more and more comfortable every year. The game has been slowing down for me every year and I’m just so much more comfortable out there. It’s going to be really fun to see how good I can be [with more experience and a change of scenery]. Sometimes, you end up surprising yourself.”
Quinn Cook, who was named D-League Rookie of the Year last season, played high school basketball with Oladipo at DeMatha. The two guards remain close, talking frequently and working out together at times. Cook believes that Oladipo is a perfect fit for the Thunder.
“Victor is a selfless person and player,” Cook told Basketball Insiders. “He is all about the team. His energy is infectious, and the Thunder will love his enthusiasm from day one. Not to mention, he is an excellent two-way player.”
While landing with the talented Thunder is exciting for Oladipo since he’ll be playing with Westbrook, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter among others, he did admit that it was initially tough for him to wrap his head around Orlando trading him.
“I was a little bit shocked at first,” Oladipo said. “I was actually on a plane heading to North Carolina. It was about a two-hour flight, so I had awhile [to think] and all of the emotions settled in. But that’s when I started getting really excited and looking forward to playing in Oklahoma City.
“It’s a little bit [bittersweet]. I mean, I’ve been here in Orlando for three years and you build a lot of relationships and things like that. But at the end of the day, it’s all a part of the business so I’m good. They’re going to be fine here. Now, I’m looking forward to the next step in my journey, the next chapter of my life.”
Oladipo recently attended the Orlando Summer League to show his support for the Thunder. He has also been communicating with his new teammates and working hard to expand his game for what he hopes is a breakout season.
“I’ve been working on a little bit of everything: a lot of catch-and-shoot stuff, a lot of on-the-ball stuff and different things like that,” Oladipo said. “I’m always trying to add little things to my game and improve my repertoire. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.
“I’m just looking forward to getting in the lab with the guys and put in the work.”
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