Rob Foldy/USA TODAY
You see what Victor Oladipo can become in flashes.
You can see it in the perfectly delivered pocket pass through the defense and into the rolling hands of the big man. You can see it in the growing patience he has off the pick and roll and his decisionmaking with the ball in his hands.
With the Magic passing the halfway point of the season, it is becoming easier to think of Oladipo less and less as a young guy learning to play point guard, but rather as a guard. Exactly how Rob Hennigan and teh Magic want people to think about Oladipo.
"From the jump I felt like it was a challenge that I could face and I could overcome," Oladipo said. "There are still a lot of things I need to work on. I'm just going to continue to keep improving. A lot of people don't think I should be playing it or I can't play it. That's fine. I'm just going to keep continuing to get better at it."
There certainly remains growing pains for Oladipo in learning how to run a team. But considering the level of competition, Oladipo has certainly performed better than expected. He has taken to the position pretty well early on in his career. Whether he stays there is a decision for beyond the end of the season.
Oladipo is averaging a meager 3.8 assists per game against 3.2 turnovers per game this year. His assist rate sits at 20.1 percent and his turnover rate is at 18.9 percent. He currently has a -0.8 offensive win shares, according to Basketball-Reference.
Oladipo has played a little bit more than a quarter of the Magic's minutes at point guard according to 82games.com. In those minutes, Oladipo has posted an estimated 13.0 PER, a 43.3 percent effective field goal percentage, 21.2 points per 48 minutes and 8.5 assists per 48 minutes against 5.8 turnovers per 48 minutes.
Those numbers show the kind of mixed bag it has been for Oladipo at point guard. He is still much more efficient at shooting guard (12.9 PER, 20.2 points per 48 minutes) and his defense against opposing point guards could still use work.
That is life as a rookie, however. Oladipo is learning.
"I do think he goes through his ups and downs mentally dealing with that," Arron Afflalo said. "He has a great support system here. The coaches believe in him. His teammates believe in him. And most of us understand the growing pains of playing the point guard position, not even being his natural position. He's got a lot of support within us to help grow through that and learn a little bit. The only way to do that is to go out on the court."
Having that full support from everyone on the team to get through these rookie growing pains has been key for Oladipo's development at that position.
Coach Jacque Vaughn, a steady point guard throughout his career, said point guard is an extremely difficult position to learn. The point guard has to learn how to control the pace of the game while managing everyone else's involvement in the offense. Vaughn has constantly and consistently challenged Oladipo by giving him more and more responsibility as the season has worn on. He continues to learn to make these kinds of plays instinctual.
"I've just got to keep learning and just keep running the team, taking charge and being more vocal and go out there with a confidence and keep playing," Oladipo said. "Go out there and play hard on both ends and try to impact the game in a positive way."
In recent games, Oladipo has done just that.
In his last five games, Oladipo is averaging 15.2 points per game, but 4.2 assists per game against 2.0 turnovers per game. Oladipo has shown some momentary improvement in point guard statistics despite playing more than 35 minutes per game. He has settled down a lto more and is continuing to blow past that rookie wall at the midpoint in the season.
Oladipo's January has been extremely solid — 15.6 points per game, 4.3 assists per game, 2.9 turnovers per game 44.0 percent field goal shooting. All those are highs this year except for the turnovers per game. Oladipo seems to be bursting through the rookie wall and getting better as he gets used to the NBA's level of play.
"The one thing that has been a staple has been his ability to compete, and at this level that is a great start for him," Vaughn said early on in the year. "He has great energy and he is a great teammate. Now he'll start cleaning up those things as he matures and he sees different teams and he sees a team a second or third time. The one area that we have all struggled with is turning the ball over. That is something we will continue to address. And that comes with handling the ball more. That comes with decision making more and seeing different scenarios over and over again."
Is Oladipo a perfect point guard? Hardly.
He still has his troubles finishing at the rim — he is shooting 53.2 percent from less than five feet, but 25.9 percent from 5-9 feet and 34.2 percent from 10-14 feet. Oladipo also has to prove he can run a team. The wins are not exactly flowing for the Magic and he has to prove himself defensively at this level for long stretches.
As Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel recently detailed, Oladipo is still learning the best way to attack the basket efficiently with taking the hard falls. Arron Afflalo noted that would be a key for Oladipo even early in the season. Not only that, but he has had to do that while looking to dish too.
"I think that will be the biggest key is his ability to find open guys with that knack for getting into the paint," Afflalo said. "In this league, when guys know you're coming in there looking to score, even the best finishers have a tough time because it's just hands and long defenders. But once you can start being a little more crafty, finding your teammate, keeping them off balance, but that's going to come with time. I think he'll get better."
Oladipo has shown plenty of progress and the experiment is going to continue. He has done a good job handling the responsibilities and continuing his growth as a player.
Vaughn has turned more responsibility to Oladipo as the season has gone on. That should only continue as Oladipo continues to grow this season.