Victor Oladipo’s rise has certainly been meteoric. Twelve months ago, IU followers were wondering what his potential was as a college player. After two years in Bloomington, it wasn’t clear if the man from Maryland would ever be anything more than an ace defender.
This month, NBA general managers are trying to decide if the Indiana graduate (he earned his diploma in three years) is the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s draft.
To those who have followed Oladipo’s career closely, it all seems a little crazy. He wasn’t even considered the best player on his high school team and was overshadowed a good part of the last two years by IU teammate Cody Zeller.
Zeller is in this draft, too, but no one is talking about him as a top pick. He’s scarcely mentioned as a top five possibility. (He’s projected somewhere between No. 7 and No. 12).
“It may be a bit of a surprise, but in polling them, one constant theme I heard from NBA general managers is that Oladipo is our favorite player in the draft,” said Chad Ford, ESPN college basketball analyst.
But is Oladipo really that good? Is he a future NBA superstar? Or a safety net?
He may be both.
While some NBA executives say it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Oladipo will be selected with the overall No. 1 pick, they’re not going all-in with this bet. Ford thinks the allure of a big man will induce Cleveland to select Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel first, despite the fact that he’s battling a knee injury. Maryland center Alex Len is another big man that could go No. 1.
Still, said Ford, there’s lots to like about Oladipo. He has a 42-inch vertical leap, a 6-foot-9-inch wing span and blazing speed. While his jump shot still needs work, most agree he’s the best defender in this draft. Draft prognosticators seem to think he’ll go no lower than No. 4 to Charlotte or No. 5 to Phoenix.
“He’s [general managers'] favorite because they don’t see him failing in the NBA,” Ford said. “[Oladipo] may be the safest pick in the draft of the top six picks in the draft right now. He’s an elite athlete. He’s already going to be an elite defender on the perimeter.”
But that’s not all.
“He improved dramatically his junior season at Indiana,” Ford added. “He improved his jump shot and his ball handling. He’s such a hard worker. I think people think he’s going to get it and become an elite player at some point in his career.”
Ford isn’t the only one raving about Oladipo as the draft approaches.
Tom Penn, the former vice president of basketball operations for the Portland Trailblazers, said the more time NBA general managers spend with Oladipo, the higher his stock rises.
“He becomes your favorite player when you meet him, when you get to know him as a person,” said Penn, who also works as an ESPN analyst. “The interview process … is a huge part of this. You have to interview with these players, look them eyeball to eyeball. And this kid is the real deal.”
There's little doubt, general managers said, that Oladipo is going to max out his potential.
“So then, the question is, how high is his ceiling?” Penn said.
Penn’s next proclamation may seem even crazier than the thought of Oladipo going No. 1 in this year’s draft.
“It may very well be [his potential is] just as high as this player [Oladipo] gets compared to, and that’s Dwyane Wade,” Penn said. “That’s a bold statement. Nobody thought this about Wade back then. It’s what’s inside. You have to work your tail off. This kid is a worker. He’s got a big, big chance.”