Kim Klement/USA TODAY
In a rebuilding project, the focus inevitably falls on the team's top Draft pick. So much of the team's future and hope is sold on this one player. It is asking a lot of, essentially, a 20 year old to carry the entire future of the team.
The Magic have done a good job the last two years developing their young players and bringing them along a little bit slowly. Jacque Vaughn has eased his rookies into games and expanded their roles seemingly when they are ready to take them on.
Victor Oladipo was thrown somewhat straight into the fire. He is usually the first guy off the bench and he is going through the much-talked-about transition to point guard.
Oladipo has had his brilliant games — 19 points in the win over Brooklyn last week — and he has had some duds of games — five points on 2-for-8 shooting Saturday against Atlanta, for instance. He scored in double digits his first five games, but failed to break that mark in his last two, shooting 5 for 20 in the last two games.
It is the normal ups and downs of being a rookie.
"You keep telling him there is 82," Jacque Vaughn said after the Magic's win over the Clippers. "It's a long process. He did some good things for us tonight. The good thing is your team won and that is what really matters at the end of the day. We still trust him. We're going to put the ball back in his hands. Good thing his team won and we'll get back at it the next game."
Oladipo will be the first one to tell you that an 82-game season is a long season. He is learning very quickly that games come fast and furious. There is not time to dwell on the previous game or add extra preparation for the next one. The next game is usually only a day away.
The transition to the NBA is not an easy one. Despite the ups and downs already with Oladipo, he is seen as one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year early on in the year. He has a lot of guys around him who have helped guide him through the early parts of the season.
Again, he has already had his share of good game and bad games. He is averaging 11.4 points per game and shooting 40.5 percent from the floor. Oladipo is 15 for 36 at the rim and has shown an ability to get there — 36 of his 74 field goal attempts come at the rim — but is still learning how to finish there. He is dishing out 3.3 assists against 4.0 turnovers per game.
There are bright spots. There are areas of improvement. What is important is how the rookie bounces back and plays as he gets through the grind of the season.
"I think he's so competitive that when he has those downs, he is going to continue to fight and try to be good," Jameer Nelson said. "That's what you can see inside of him right away. I try to help him out as much as I can and stay in his ear about certain things. But he's in a great situation where he is going to be able to figure out some things by himself."
Oladipo's poise is what has impressed many of his teammates and coaches. Vaughn noted his poise in the preseason as he tried to will himself and his teammates when thre was a deficit. Vaughn said he has a "great temperament to continue to play."
Maurice Harkless, a close friend of Oladipo's on the team as they have worked out together for much of the summer, was impressed early on with how he would be able to bounce back after rough efforts. His advice to Victor to get through the year is to take care of his body and make sure he gets his rest for the grind.
That was in the preseason though. Even Victor has noted the increase in speed and intensity now that the games count. It is a bit of an adjustment for sure.
And Oladipo is learning a new position all the while. He said early in the season that he is taking it one game at a time and believes he is getting a grip on his role. More than that, he is finding out the rhythm of the NBA game and whne he has to look for his shot, drive or dish to teammates.
Oladipo has fit in quickly overall though. His effort and energy have helped with that. It appears the team loves having him around. This has helped him in his growth too. Kyle O'Quinn noted how quick Oladipo has picked up on things and soaked up the information the veterans on the team have given him. O'Quinn described him as "one of a kind."
That is what the Magic want to hear. Oladipo is an eager learner. And he still has a lot to learn.
"He barely has his feet wet," Vaughn said. "There is a lot he is going to see this season. Overall, what I really love about him is his demeanor. I think guys really like playing with him. His effort level doesn't change. It's a positive thing. Whether he is making shots or not, getting to the free throw line or not, I think you see an effort level every night from him that I think will be contagious."
A lot of what Oladipo does is intangible. You cannot quite quantify it. His numbers are OK and he has had his learning moments so far this season. There is still a long way to go though.