Inevitably, Victor Oladipo is going to be defined by his defense. His success or failure as a player early on in his career will be judged by how he develops as a defender.
Already, Oladipo has defined himself as a defender.
"Growing up, [defense] was pretty much all I can do," Oladipo said at his introductory press conference. "My family and my coaches in the stands can attest to that. I had no other skil. For me to stay on the court, and I love the game of basketball, I had to play defense. I was willing to guard the other team's best offensive player for me to be on the floor. It just stuck with me. It's the reason I'm here today."
Facing new competition at a higher level will challenge his defense much more. Oladipo will have to find a way to re-establish his defensive reputation at the NBA level. What he did in college is not relevant now that he has entered the NBA.
While that might be true, all the data we do have on Oladipo comes from his college game. And one thing we do know should translate to the NBA is work ethic. That is simply something no coach can teach, it has to come from the individual. In that sense, Oladipo is ahead of the game.
But just how good is Oladipo's defense? How can we measure that?
Defense is notoriously difficult to quantify. Intangible adjectives easily get thrown around when it comes to talk of defensive intensity and a lot of that plays a role in becoming a good defender. Length, speed, agility and basketball sense all go into the equation of a good defender.
"I think there is more than a few things [that make him a good defender]," Jacque Vaughn said during Oladipo's introductory press conference. "Just his overall athletic ability, his natural instincts within the course of a game. His length and his reach on the defensive end. His ability to slide his feet. That's a pretty good combination. It doesn't mean that he is perfect. We'll continue to challenge his skill set and try to maximize his skill set."
Hyperbole and intangibles indeed. So what exactly makes Oladipo a good defender?
Last year with Indiana, Oladipo averaged a +13.1 per game plus/minus rating according to StatSheet. That was 50th in the nation and third best in the vaunted Big Ten. This is at least a start for us in determining what kind of impact Oladipo's presence on the floor has.
Then again it is also deceiving. Oladipo had a strong supporting cast around him. Cody Zeller had a plus/minus average of +15.4 points per game. They probably shared the floor a lot so this part is not as surprising. The Hoosiers were the consensus No. 1 team at the beginning of the season and a team many picked tow in the national championship.
According to Sports-Reference, the Hoosiers posted a 86.9 defensive rating while Oladipo was on the floor last year. Oladipo contributed 2.7 defensive win shares. He was first in the Big Ten in both defensive win shares and defensive rating last year.
Again, more numbers that suggest Oladipo is a good defender. It is hard to ignore from these statistics that Oladipo makes a positive impact when he is on the floor. And Sports-Reference's numbers suggest much of that impact comes at the defensive end — since 1998, Oladipo has the 21st best career defensive rating in the Big Ten. That is no slouch of a conference for defense.
By these measures, Oladipo is a good defender. It is clear that it is not just scouts saying he is a good defender, there is actually something to this. The numbers back it up.
The intangibles still matter. It was something the Magic and Summer League coach James Borrego noticed last month.
"[Oladipo's defense] is contagious," Borrego said. "When he gets after it, it ignites our entire team defensively. They're talking, they're motivated. I think you saw a glimpse of it in the game today. In practice, it's probably amped up two or three times that. He's got to be smart about picking his times to be aggressive on the ball. But it's very contagious to the team."
This is where Oladipo's defense and defensive energy will truly make its impact. On how it spreads throughout the team. A strong defender playing hard can push others to play hard.
Defense can be contagious.
This is where we can really measure Oladipo's defensive ability.