The Orlando Magic are currently 1-4, which consists of two home losses to the Washington Wizards and the Oklahoma City Thunder and a loss to the Houston Rockets. The contest versus the Wizards was a tough one point loss that gave the Wizards their ninth win in a row against this young Magic team. The final score of 88-87 was a hard fault defensive team effort for the Magic that came up just short in the closing minutes. Orlando would next be welcoming into town the visiting Thunder, who were coming off an impressive season opening win against the San Antonio Spurs. I was lucky enough to attend this game, a game that would prove to be one of the most exciting of possibly the entire NBA season and also of this newly revamped Magic team.
The Magic came out in the first half and played, up to this point to probably be their best looking offensive game in a long time that gave them an impressive half-time lead of 67-53. Still leading by as much as 18 in the fourth, the Magic slowly slipped into their old late game habits and allowed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to eventually tie the game with very little time left. With what was to be assumed to be the last play of the game, the Magic left the ball in the hands of the player who since his days in Indiana proved he was capable of handling big time situations. Leaving only 3 seconds on the clock Victor Oladipo drilled a step back 3 to put the Magic up 117-114.
With no time-outs left the Thunder were forced to inbound at full court. Russell Westbrook then proceeded to break the heart of every home fan in the arena by sinking a half court heave off the glass. Overtime proved to be a somewhat slow and grueling affair for Magic fans. The team came alive late though and with another fantastic play, with no doubt designed to go to only one person, Oladipo made a tying three-point shot with a hand in his face to take the game into its second overtime. The Magic seemed somewhat gassed and a tad sloppy to end the game and were ultimately not able to get a good look at the basket to win. But make no mistake, two very good teams had to face two very different Magic teams. One night depicted a very tough defensive team effort, while the second game showcased the capabilities of our reworked passing team offensive system. But, after the game two loss to the Thunder, some are finally starting to see what I have believed and seen all along. That Victor Oladipo will be the clutch All-Star type of player the Magic feel they will need to take that next big step.
Oladipo, through both local and coaching connections has had the privelege of being around and benefitting from the influence of two of the most successful players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade. Wade and Oladipo share a bond with coach Tom Crean who was with Wade during his years at Marquette and then took over in Indiana where he would meet Victor. Both players are known to usually work with Victor in the offseason. Both players have praised Oladipo’s work ethic and capabilities to take that next step. Beginning from his childhood and home-life situation, Victor’s basketball career benefitted personally from a strict father and a very close family situation that filtered all of his hard work and focus into his passion for basketball. These strong connections and fierce work ethic would eventually see Oladipo complete a very successful three-year college career for Indiana. Having a major impact on his team’s sweet sixteen run combined with his known progression and work ethic Oladipo shot up draft boards and found himself heading to Orlando. The Magic chose him with second overall pick in the 2013 draft.
After the trade of Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers the Magic have had one of the worst records in the NBA and have finished in the bottom of a very weak Eastern Conference, aside from the three time NBA Champion Miami Heat of course. The East seems to be on the verge of a resurgence and after facing mostly nothing but losses in his first two seasons, both Oladipo and the Magic seem poised and hungry to start winning again. After giving former coach Jaque Vaughn a well deserved boot, the franchise hired Scott Skiles to get this undeniably talented team an identity and the structure it needs. It seems the organization and the coaching staff are poised to put the success of the team on Oladipo’s shoulders when the game is on the line and look to him to lead this team on the court. He has a history of answering this call and after Friday night proved that he is truly capable of not only having the confidence to take those type of shots, but to actually make those shots. Few players can actually say they are clutch, Oladipo is proving he can be that player for Orlando.
In similar fashion to last Friday’s contest, during a game last season Oladipo rose to the occasion with late game heroics but only this time he was the victor. It was April 8th, 2015 in a contest versus the Chicago Bulls, as one team was charging towards the playoffs, the other, Orlando, was awaiting the end of the another underwhelming season which saw a coaching change but not yet a change in attitude. With that said, on that night Oladipo didn’t care all the while staring defeat and Jimmy Butler in the face. Oladipo displayed poise as he faced and then blew by Butler, one of the better defenders in the league, and then soared around Joakim Noah to convert the game winning layup.
Such a much in such a moment takes a fortitude that many young athletes fail to have, Oladipo seems to have the “clutch” gene and it goes a long way when one’s ascension is concerned. His work ethic and passion for the game has paid off many time, dunking on the likes of Al Hordord and Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks and having huge blocks against quality scorers like Carmelo Anthony and Damian Lillard. Oladipo’s stats also show the leaps he makes every year. His field goal percentages have steadily risen, he has improved both his free throw and three pointer percentages every year as well. His recent game against the Thunder is the best example of how he continues to show his progress and ability to make difficult shots. It may have taken a little longer than some others for him to get there but I feel Oladipo has shown that he has the drive to be the best he can be on a basketball court that he will reach the next level and step up for Orlando.
Yes the Magic are 1-3, they still have to figure out exactly how to close out games but the recent win against New Orleans was a good start. After just four games, the rest of the league are already starting to see the Magic are going to be nothing like they were last year. New coach Scott Skiles has the team looking sharp on both ends of the floor and the wins will come, hopefully sooner rather than later. Everyone from the ownership down to the players and the fan base are eyeing the playoffs, if Oladipo and the new look Magic can pull off the same feat the Milwaukee Bucks did during the 2014-2015 I think we will truly see what Victor Oladipo is made of and if he can truly ascend into that elite caliber player I believe him to be. I also believe that he will elevate his game and will be a different animal if he can experience and play in that Playoff win-or-go-home environment. The playoffs would be the perfect stage for him to show his passion and hard work, I for one truly hope we get to see if Victor Oladipo can put the Magic on his back and lead them into the playoffs.