Scott Levy is a sports undergrad who majors in NBA ball. He’s followed the Thunder since they moved from Seattle, and although he isn’t the truest FAN in the typical sense, he probably shed a few tears when that one guy went to that one place this summer. If Westbrook doesn’t win MVP, Levy may or may not have to shave his head due to a reckless bet with a friend.
When Victor Oladipo was acquired by the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason, he was deemed a Dion Waiters replacement and if not a slight upgrade. If you recall, Dion, while often a media punching bag, served a vital role in OKC’s trip through last year’s playoffs. Oladipo also is a powerful and athletic guard who possesses the ability to make plays for himself and others. He also brings a bulldog defensive mindset to the perimeter, something that OKC has always valued from it’s shooting guard position. The difference this time around is that Oladipo finally presents the promise of being a 2-way player the way that James Harden was so many years ago.
The thing that Oladipo still struggles in, and is perhaps even worse than Waiters, is three-point shooting. He had become serviceable in Orlando, especially when given open looks, but he still never shot even 35 percent from three in any season. Although the feeling was he would bring a new feeling to the team, he still wouldn't be a perfect fit for the new-look Thunder and fill the need OKC desperately needs to fill.
In the early going of the 2016-17 NBA season, this issue has borne out. Oklahoma City's team defense and offensive pace have been outstanding. Oladipo has been underwhelming on the offensive side though, shooting just 34 percent from the floor and turning the ball over nearly 15 times per 100 plays.
Overall his numbers are down across the board:
This Season FG% - .328, PPG - 15.0, AST - 2.0, REB - 4.0
Career: FG% - .429, PPG - 15.8, AST - 4.4, REB - 4.4
Which includes roughly 2 minutes more played per game this season than his career average.
Russell Westbrook has dominated everything through three games, leaving few opportunities for teammates. Despite Westbrook’s ball dominance, Oladipo is above his career usage rate this year and setting a career-high in field-goal attempts per 100 possessions. But through 4 games, he is simply missing a lot. That is bad news for OKC, whose main misgiving about signing Oladipo to a new long-term deal was the question of his ability to become a good shooter opposite Westbrook. The team signed him anyway, feeling as though the extension would be worth it in this new cap landscape, but if Oladipo doesn't develop into a capable shooter, not only does it not help their spacing issues with their dearth of 3-point shooters, but may even make them worse.
Fortunately, it seems that he and Westbrook form a nice pairing off the court, so chemistry will hopefully not be an issue. Oladipo spoke glowingly of Westbrook's demeanor and attitude. The two should also develop into a nice pair on the court in time. Defensively, they form a premiere duo at the top of the key. Though they are somewhat duplicitous offensively, each player's skills are valuable in this league. Oladipo isn't as good as Westbrook obviously, but he can get to the paint and create, particularly against smaller defenders. He is also a good rebounder, especially on the defensive end. The remaining question is whether each player can make the other’s job easier, and given that this was the same question that plagued Westbrook and Kevin Durant for years, there is no simple answer available.
It all comes back to shooting, since Oladipo is going to play almost exclusively off the ball when sharing the court with Westbrook. The two have almost identical shooting splits over the course of their careers from two-point range, within five feet of the basket, and from deep twos. Oladipo separates himself from three, but that's only because Westbrook is one of the worst three-point volume shooters in league history.
It is too early to be discouraged. After all, the team is 4-0 heading into a seminal visit to the Oracle where they will encounter their departed, Kevin Durant. Right after that they will find themselves on the Celtics schedule for a nationally televised game at TD Garden. Perhaps Oladipo picks up his game against the stiff competition. Even if he doesn't, his place on this roster is secure. He just has to grow comfortable in his new role.