Without a doubt, the Magic are handing the keys over to their kids.
It is Year Three of the rebuild, it is time to see exactly what the Magic have in their cupboard and figure out what the Magic will look like moving forward. It still seems like a bit of a mystery who will be with the team moving forward and who probably needs to move on. That will be a big chunk of this season.
What has become clear is that players like Victor Oladipo are going to take the reigns now in the locker room and on the court. The pressure is falling on Oladipo as much as anyone. He has the pressure of being the No. 2 overall pick from the 2013 NBA Draft, a Rookie of the Year runner up and the likely face of the franchise.
That is a lot of pressure to put on a 22 year old entering his second year.
“From the jump, they want me to lead the team,” Oladipo said. “They want me to be a leader out there. It’s the only way I know how to lead. High energy, like I play. I felt like they fed off me. I think I did a good job of that today. Little tiny mistakes and stuff like that. Everything can be correctible and I can still get a lot better. It’s Summer League, it’s a long way from the season. I can take some of the good things and apply them and continue to grow from them. And take the mistakes and bad things and keep getting better.”
Oladipo plays everything so smooth that you probably would not even know anything was different with him. It is pretty clear though that Oladipo will have some work to do this summer to improve his play to shoulder that load.
Last year, Oladipo averaged 13.8 points per game in the kind of up-and-down season you would expect from a rookie. He came into the league with a somewhat suspect shot and his shooting numbers bore that out. He made just 41.9 percent of his shots and posted a 45.8 percent effective field goal percentage.
Scoring and hitting jumpers remain a work in progress for Oladipo.
“He’s going to figure it out,” Jacque Vaughn said in February. “That’s the one thing that I give him a lot of credit. We talked about some of the shots that he had taken the last two games where the opponents wanted him to take those shots. And so that’s how you figure out this league, you want to take the shot that’s best for your team. Having that balance and knowing when to do it, he’ll continue to get better and better at it.”
That is all certainly not something you learn in just one year in the league, particularly in a player that has reached a starring role in just the last two years and has developed very quickly.
No one at this point seems to be doubting Oladipo’s desire to become a better player. Thunder coach Scott Brooks praised his aggression and his ability to score when the Thunder were in town during the regular season. NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams praised his defensive intensity and ability to attack the basket.
For Oladipo to reach the next level and become a leader for the team on the court, it will have to come with his ability to score more efficiently. It is easy to look at Oladipo and see that there is still some improvement and comfort to come in the second season of his career. He was playing point guard for the first time in his career and was thrown into the fire against difficult NBA defenders. There is always an adjustment.
And the losing did not help.
“Me, I just keep an even keel man,” Oladipo said. “Last year, there were days that I cried. There were days that I was frustrated. This year, is the game of basketball. You are going to have ups and downs. You are going to have good games and bad games. At the end of the day, you got to learn from your bad ones and minimize them. As a young vet, I learned that a lot last year. You just have to keep an even keel. I think it’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. There’s just so many games. It’s wear and tear on your body and your mind. You’ve got to be prepared for that.”
When you look at his shot chart, you see that Oladipo is getting to the rim quite a lot. He has not quite mastered the finishing part — shooting 55.4 percent at the rim and 24.4 percent from three to 10 feet. He will get there though. Already in Summer League, Oladipo looked a lot more comfortable with the pace of play and, in that setting at least, a little more confident to try new things.
Translating it to a full 82-game schedule is another matter entirely.
For the Magic to be successful though, it will be on Oladipo’s shoulders to add the 3-pointer to his game and become a much more efficient player.
Knowing Victor, he seems up for and excited about the challenge.
“As I grow as a player — I had a pretty good year last year — they are going to need me to be on my game for us to win,” Oladipo said. “I wouldn’t have it any way else. I’ve got to play at a high level for my team to win. I believe I need to play at a high level for us to be successful. I feel like we are on the same page with that.”