Victor Oladipo is probably the most electrifying player in college basketball. His rapid ascent to near the top of the 2013 NBA Draft board has been both highly unusual, and, at the same time, strangely logical after you see him play.
There are no other players in college basketball like Victor Oladipo, and there hasn't been one in a while. Superstar shooting guards in college, the kind who tangibly affect every phase of the game, are few and far between.
The last dominant wing player remotely like Oladipo was probably Evan Turner, but Turner played on a much more cerebral level. Oladipo, on the other hand, leaves a breathtaking visceral imprint on the college game that we have not seen since Dwyane Wade played for Marquette back in 2003.
Superior shooting guards are not only a rare commodity in college, but in the pros. There are many good shooting guards in the NBA, but few great ones. The only superstar off guard drafted in the last five years is James Harden. The last one before that was Brandon Roy in 2006. Wade, Manu Ginobili, Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen all come from a totally different generation.
In short, we have no recent memories of watching future NBA superstar shooting guards playing in college. They don't seem to come along very often, and they are perhaps harder to evaluate when they do show up for this exact reason.
Turner wowed us at Ohio State—we couldn't remember seeing that dominant of a college wing player in years—but he has been a disappointment in the pros. Is Oladipo, as well as Ben McLemore, bound for a similarly depressing fate? Do we overvalue star college shooting guards because they come along so rarely?
Intangibles are something that are always discussed when it comes to top prospects in any draft, and often it is an overblown topic of little importance. However, when speaking about Oladipo, it is essential to know about the intangibles.
Oladipo, at the age of twenty, has already become something of a myth for what we don't see on the court: He is the hardest worker, most selfless, most energetic and most competitive player in the country—or so the stories go.
Despite Oladipo's incredible physical skills, it is these back channel stories regarding Oladipo's character that perhaps excite us most about his future. Oladipo appears to be the rare player with an incredible blend of talent, work ethic and selflessness. This bodes well for his future—if the stories bear any weight, and perhaps they do not.
The objective truth, in both the case of Oladipo and McLemore, is that they score less at the college level than you would like to see. Ed Weiland has been saying for years that scoring at least 20 points per 40 minutes is almost essential for any college shooting guard in order to reach NBA stardom. Both Oladipo and McLemore currently fall short of this benchmark.
With McLemore, who is more of a one-dimensional player than Oladipo, this lack of dominant scoring could be a very bad sign. But with Oladipo, we quickly start thinking about all of those mythical stories and of his marvelous efficiency. We wonder if perhaps Oladipo is the exception to the rule, the great player for which such a scoring benchmark does not apply. Oladipo easily elicits such reactions, and I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing when gauging his pro potential.
Oladipo's uniqueness at the next level will prove his NBA worth. How different will he be from his shooting guard peers? Is he really as unusual and amazing a player as his junior year in college has led us to believe?
Even if Oladipo can never figure out how to become a consistent NBA scorer, he will still probably be a slightly better version of Tony Allen. If he can learn to score by doing what he does best—in transition and by being in the right place—it is very easy to imagine him scoring 15 points a game without ever having a play called for him. Given his work ethic, it seems very likely he should be able to do at least this in the NBA and perhaps do it as soon next year.
So, if we are to be realistic, it is perhaps most likely to see Oladipo having a career like Eddie Jones had with the Lakers and Heat—that of a fantastic defender and a serviceable scorer. That would make Oladipo an All-Star player, as Jones was at his peak.
With Oladipo, however, there is the inclination to have grander sentiments. We watch him on the court, read the entrancing stories of his inner drive and momentarily think the comparisons to Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade are not so outlandish after all. Victor Oladipo makes us think magically, and that's the kind of player I enjoy watching.
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