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#ThunderRank: No. 3 – Victor Oladipo

#ThunderRank: No. 3 – Victor Oladipo
#ThunderRank – A look at the top 17 players for the Thunder and how their seasons might shake outPlayer Summary

Heading into the 2013 NBA Draft, one of the areas of need for the Oklahoma City Thunder was a dynamic guard that could score and play-make. Equipped with the No. 12, 29, and 32 pick, the Thunder were primed to either draft that player or use those assets to move up for that player. Following the 2012 trade of James Harden and the recent knee surgery of starting point guard Russell Westbrook, the Thunder were looking for a dynamic guard who could possibly ease Westbrook’s workload, and serve as insurance in case Westbrook never recovered 100% from the knee injury.

Unfortunately, all the top 2-guards were off the board by the time the Thunder came up at 12. Players like Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, Ben McLemore, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were picked in quick succession in the draft’s first 10 picks. It wasn’t all bad, though. The Thunder still eventually came out of that draft with their future starting center (Steven Adams) and their future starting 2-guard (Andre Roberson), which is not a bad haul for a draft. But the team still yearned for that talented guard who could play more like Westbrook, instead of Roberson/Sefolosha.

They thought they had their guy in Reggie Jackson, but he had visions of grandeur and ended up in Detroit after sulking his way to a trade. The same season they traded Jackson away, they also brought in Dion Waiters from the Cleveland Cavaliers. While not always consistent, Waiters brought a different dynamic to the team that worked well under the previous regime’s system. But with the departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, Waiters’ style of play wouldn’t have been as effective without those guys in the line-up. He eventually ended signing with the Miami Heat.

Which brings us to draft night, circa 2016. With Waiters coming up on an extension, and the rumors being that he could garner a contract in the $12+ million range, the Thunder were in search for a guard with a similar style of play via trade. Serge Ibaka, whose production had started to decline and who was coming up on the final year of his contract proved to be the trade piece another team was looking for. That other team was the Orlando Magic, who not only traded Oladipo to the Thunder, but also Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis.

In Oladipo, the Thunder finally had a dynamic guard who could complement Westbrook in the starting line-up. With Durant’s departure, Oladipo’s ability to score and play-make will be severely needed. He goes from being a tertiary option on a possible title-contending team, to being the secondary (or primary on some nights) option for a team that will be battling to be in the playoffs. He’s improved every year he’s been in the league, and the Thunder will need for him to continue that upward trend.

2015-16 Statistics

72 GP, 33 mins, 16.0 pts, 4.8 rebs, 3.9 asts, 1.6 stls, 0.8 blks, 43.8% FG, 34.8% 3pt FG, 83% FT

Best-Case Scenario

The best case scenario for Oladipo is if he continues to improve upon his 3-point shot and gets it up above 36%. Oladipo is a good all-around player and would’ve likely been a difference maker for a championship team had Durant stayed. With Durant gone, the feeling is that Oladipo is going to have to replicate what Durant did to keep the ship afloat. And that would be the furthest thing from the truth. Oladipo just needs to continue playing his game and making incremental improvements here and there.

Worst-Case Scenario

Regression is not something I’m worried about when it comes to Oladipo’s game. He’s a consistent player and he doesn’t need to change his game too much from his Orlando days to play in Oklahoma City. But there is a scenario that I’m very afraid of when it comes to an Oladipo/Westbrook backcourt. If their skill sets duplicate, then eventually defenses and scouting reports will catch on to this and make their lives a living hell. Neither guard is a prolific 3-point shooter, so defenses will be able to hunker down in the paint in order to prevent the duo’s dribble drives to the basket.

Besides the injuries, there’s another reason why the Eric Bledsoe/Brandon Knight backcourt never proved successful enough to lead Phoenix to a winning season. Without an effective release valve (perimeter shooter) in the starting line-up, neither player was able to be fully effective. Adding Devin Booker (a shooter) to the line-up may change that for the Suns, but that remains to be seen. The Thunder may find themselves in a similar situation, especially without an effective shooter in the line-up with them.

Percentage he’ll be traded sometime this season:

20% – The Thunder gave up a franchise pillar to obtain Oladipo (and Sabonis). They are likely not in the mood to trade him so quickly. Remember, they’ve been after this type of player for a long time.

But as mentioned above, if the play on the court between Oladipo and Westbrook doesn’t work out as planned, then the team may think twice about keeping a player who is coming up on restricted free agency and has visions of a max contract on his mind.

Oladipo’s Season Preview

I see Oladipo meshing well with Westbrook. The two seem to have developed a chemistry in the offseason that I think will carry over into the season. While he is very similar to Westbrook, I do think that he has a respectable enough jumper to balance Westbrook’s game. Oladipo’s defense will likely be the difference maker on how good the starting line-up can be. If he’s as good as advertised, then the Thunder head into the season with 3 (possibly 4) plus defenders in the starting line-up. Even through the loss of Durant and Ibaka, the Thunder may still be able to recover on the defensive end of the floor.

Off the floor, I see Oladipo becoming a leader on the team. He seems to have taken a liking to Westbrook’s approach to the game (almost Kobe-like) and seems to have a desire to win and win now.