It’s only been five games, but Victor Oladipo has started off this season better than anyone could have reasonably expected. Except for himself.
“I’m used to people sleeping on me,” Oladipo told Sports Illustrated before the season, “and I’m used to waking people up too.”
Whether you’re looking at Oladipo through the eye test, the analytics test, or the makes-you-audibly-gasp-a-few-times-per-game test, Oladipo has aced them all so far this season.
He’s on the Honor Roll, the Dean’s List, and he will be an All Star for the Eastern Conference if he keeps playing anywhere near this level.
Oladipo, who is averaging 26 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game, warned us before the season this was coming, telling SI he wanted to dominate with his new team that’s expected to be rebuilding.
“I just want to go out there and dominate,” Oladipo told SI. “I want to pick everybody up, lead and make everybody better, and at the same time try to do something special.”
Before the press conference that introduced Oladipo, along with newcomers Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison, Oladipo, who has led the Pacers in scoring in each of the team’s five games, told Pritchard that he wanted his usage rate to go up with Indiana, and it has skyrocketed so far this season to 30.2% from last season’s rate of just 20.6%.
“We try to go to him as much as possible,” said Head Coach Nate McMillan on Oladipo.
With increased usage, typically players get less efficient, but for Oladipo, whose inefficiency and jump shot have been knocks on his game to this point in his career, the opposite has been true. His efficiency through the first five games, including a pair of back-to-backs, have all been career best numbers.
Oladipo’s PSA (points per 100 shot attempts) is currently in the 82nd percentile for players at his position at 126.2 points via Cleaning the Glass. For a player with a usage rate that is in the 94th percentile, this is very impressive as typically good role players with smaller usage rates have an easier time getting a higher PSA because they can be more selective with their shot attempts than someone who is a primary option.
Oladipo’s previous high in PSA placed him in the 66th percentile in his second season as a member of the Orlando Magic. Last year with the Thunder, Oladipo was only in the 46th percentile in PSA.
“He’s doing a good job of not forcing the issue,” said McMillan after the game against the Thunder. “His shot selection is better. He’s been knocking down shots and in a pretty good rhythm.”
His effective field goal percentage of 57.6% also ranks him in the 82nd percentile per Cleaning the Glass. All of his shooting percentage numbers would be career highs for an entire season by wide margins. He’s shooting 50% overall from the field and 45% from 3-point territory.
Oladipo has also been very good at drawing shooting fouls this season as he’s gotten fouled on 15% of his shot attempts, which ranks in the 84th percentile for his position. When he gets to the line, he’s connecting as well as anyone at his position in the league with his 88.6% at the free throw ranking in the 100th percentile.
This Pacers team that is designed to run, run, run (after three years of failing to get the right pieces to do just that) seems to be a perfect fit for the talents of Oladipo, who goes coast to coast so often that I’ve taken to calling him Space Ghost.
“I think the biggest thing with Victor is his commitment this offseason,” his former coach Billy Donovan said after last night’s game. “He’s done a great job of taking care of himself physically. He’s lost a lot of weight. He’s gotten himself in incredible shape. As fast as they’re playing, and the condition he’s in, he’s really capitalized on that.”
Oladipo, whose PER is an absurd 27.8 so far (double the below average 13.6 PER he had last season), has been versatile in his methods of scoring so far this season whether it’s on the fast break, in isolation in the midrange, coming off the screen, crossover step-backs that leave his defenders wondering what happened, floaters in the lane, handoffs with Sabonis, finishing at the rim or transition 3-pointers. These are just examples seen in one game’s highlight reel.
“I think he’s finally figured out what he needs to do to become the player he wants to become,” said Donovan of the former no. 2 overall pick.
And even with the increase in usage, his turnover rate hasn’t gone out of control. He’s averaging 2.8 turnovers per game, but his turnover percentage is still about even with his performance from last season as compared to other players at his position (dropping from 46th percentile to 43rd percentile).
As long as Oladipo’s jump shot stays with him consistently this year, there’s no reason he can’t keep up something close to this level of play this season.
The consistency of his 3-point shooting is something to watch for however as last season, Oladipo would go from hot to cold from month to month from the outside (From August to April: 25%, 44%, 25%, 36%, 25%, 49%, 18%).
Encouraging, however, is that his overall shooting percentages have improved every single season of his career to this point going from 41.9% to 44.2% overall and from 32.1% to 36.1% from 3-point.
Defensively, Oladipo’s reputation is probably still better for some than the reality as he currently has a slightly negative overall rating in the NBA Math TPA (Total Points Added) metric on that end of the court at -1.68, but he’s been very good at creating fast break opportunities with steals so far this season.
He’s averaged 2.2 steals per game and his steal per play percentage of 2.9% ranks in the 94th percentile of players at his position.
“I think we’ve got a promising future this year,” said Oladipo after the Thunder game, “and our best basketball is ahead of us.”
With Domantas Sabonis giving Pacers faithful hope as well, more and more people may start saying, “Maybe the Pacers didn’t do so bad with this Paul George trade after all.”