The Case For The Wizards To Draft Victor Oladipo, Explained By Michael Jordan
In June of 1992, the Chicago Bulls won their second straight NBA title, taking down the Portland Trail Blazers in six games. A month earlier in May, right in the middle of the championship hunt, soon-to-be Finals MVP Mike Jordan sat down for a candid interview with Playboy magazine’s Mark Vancil.
Vancil and Jordan talked about life on the road in the NBA, Magic Johnson and HIV, Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Bad Boys, autographs, Phil Jackson, and more. The entire interview is worth a read, but there are a few parts particularly relevant to the upcoming NBA Draft.
Like when Vancil halfway into the interview asked Jordan about his childhood.
Playboy: What did you think you’d be when you grew up?
Jordan: I always thought I would be a professional athlete. I always loved sports. I knew one thing I didn’t want was a job. Me and working were never best friends. I enjoyed playing.
Playboy: Your dad once said that you were the laziest kid he had.
Jordan: He doesn’t lie. He tried to change me, but it never worked. He couldn’t keep me from playing sports. I think my first job was in the eleventh grade and I quit after a week.
Playboy: What was it?
Jordan: I was a hotel maintenance man. I was cleaning out pools, painting rails, changing air-conditioner filters and sweeping out the back room. I said, never again. I may be a wino first, but I will not have a nine-to-five job.
So, Jordan was disinterested in chores and odd jobs (“You don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” an irritated James Jordan would holler at his youngest son, Mike. “Go on in there with the women.”), but you definitely couldn’t call him lazy on the playground.
“Everybody has talent,” Jordan later said, “but ability takes hard work.”
Mike hadn’t always been a can’t miss prospect—it wasn’t always obvious that Jordan would become … well, Jordan. As a 15-year-old high school sophomore, MJ wasn’t picked to be a part of Laney High’s varsity basketball team. The varsity coach in 1978, Clifton “Pop” Herring, had already guaranteed most of the roster spots to returning players, but Pop did make an exception for Jordan’s friend and fellow sophomore Leroy Smith. The reason: height. Smith was 6’7″, Jordan was 5’10”.
A couple of years later, and a few inches taller, two of Jordan’s top schools—Virginia and UCLA—chose not to invest their time and efforts in recruiting the high schooler. The former simply sent him an admissions form, the latter simply balked, figuring Jordan would want to stay closer to home.
“I always wanted to go to UCLA,” Jordan told Playboy. “That was my dream school, because when I was growing up, they were a great team. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, John Wooden. But I never got recruited by UCLA.”
He ended up committing early to UNC after a visit. He said he liked the atmosphere.
Wearing Carolina blue, a sophomore Jordan hit the game-winning jumper from the left wing—swish—in the 1982 NCAA Championship game against Georgetown, led by John Thompson and Patrick Ewing.
It was a shot Jordan dreamed about making on the bus ride to the game—0:05 … 0:04 … 0:03 …
In three seasons in Chapel Hill, Jordan averaged 17.7 points, five rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. He shot .540 from the field and .748 from the free throw line.
Then came the 1984-85 NBA Draft. Hakeem Olajuwon was the consensus No. 1 pick. No complaints there. But everyone knows what happened next: the Portland Trail Blazers passed on Jordan in favor of Sam Bowie.
From USA Today in December 2012:
“The Blazers knew about Bowie’s injury-checkered past. He missed two full seasons at Kentucky because of shin injuries and had dealt with other leg injuries as well. Bowie averaged 17.4 points a game as a sophomore in 1980-81 but dipped to 10.5 points a game as a fifth-year senior when he returned to the court in 1983-84.
The Blazers needed a center, though, with Bill Walton’s turn as a superstar ending because of injuries. Hakeem Olajuwon went first overall to the Houston Rockets, so the Blazers selected Bowie ahead of Jordan, the national player of the year at North Carolina. The selection remains one of the worst in NBA draft history, though it seems more understandable now.
Understandable… because drafting for “need,” for some inexplicable reason, continues to be a sound management decision. Why is it that teams continue to pass on (the most) talented players just because they don’t fit neatly into their pre-draft battle plans?
Every GM should look take the best player available, regardless of position; that’s especially true in today’s NBA, governed by the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, which may have made the draft not only the most important aspect of team building, but also the most affordable.
As everybody’s favorite sideline reporter, David Aldridge, put it: “There are no more five-year plans.” You need players who can either play right away, or players who can improve over the course of an NBA season to contribute meaningful minutes in a playoff run.
“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” said Jason Levien, first-year CEO of the sabermetric-savvy Memphis Grizzlies. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team, how you build a roster, and you’ve got to keep the cap and the tax in mind.”
GAME OF INCHES
But back to Jordan and the ’84 draft. The Blazers supposedly needed a center, but by chasing one in Sam Bowie, they passed on the opportunity to add a rookie who would go on to be the greatest player of all time to the roster.
(Note: The Trail Blazers drafted Clyde Drexler one year earlier, 14th overall. In today’s NBA, you can never have too many wing players, but in the ’80s, the big man was considered king.)
Bowie averaged 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for his NBA career. Jordan, a few inches short of consideration for the No. 2 overall pick, put up career averages of 30.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game—and played nearly twice as many games as Bowie. Was the Blazers’ decision worth it? No. It rarely is.
Sportswriter John Feinstein provides some additional insight, recalling a dinner party with basketball personalities before the 1984-85 season:
“The Portland Trail Blazers,” I said rather loudly (I’d been drinking) will now go down in history not only as the team that took LaRue Martin with the No. 1 pick in the draft but as the team that took Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan.” (I didn’t kill the Houston Rockets for taking Hakeem Olajuwon because while I would have taken Jordan it was clear Olajuwon had the potential to be great. Bowie, it seemed to me, had the potential to be injured a lot).
[Los Angeles Lakers Coach Pat] Riley gave me one of those condescending looks he’s so good at. “You see,” he said, “this is the problem with you media people. You just don’t understand basketball. Did you know that when Jordan was measured he was only 6-4 and a half, not 6-6 the way he’s listed?”
I looked back at Riley, trying to look condescending. “I don’t care if he’s FIVE four,” I said. “He’s the best college player I’ve ever seen. He’s going to dominate your league.”
I was probably shouting. Back then, I had come to really like Jordan personally and I thought he was beyond amazing on the court.
“You know something,” Riley said, pointing a finger. “You’re young and you’re loud.”
Well, he had me there. I was definitely both. I was also right.
You can’t teach height, unfortunately. And you can’t seem convince personnel decision makers that an inch or two here or there isn’t the end of the world. There’s something to the measurements taken at the combine—wingspan, max reach, hand size, and, of course, height—but athletic data in a spreadsheet isn’t always the best predictor of a prospects pro career.
Good basketball players know how to play good basketball, and that’s much more important. Good basketball players don’t bust, they get better.
WITH THE THIRD PICK IN THE 2013 DRAFT, THE WASHINGTON WIZARDS SELECT . . .
Victor Oladipo, from Indiana University.
Oladipo was named the 2013 Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year by Sporting News, and won additional hardware as the national co-defensive player of the year and a first-team All-American. He was a finalist for the Wooden Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy, and earned an Academic All-Big Ten award in March.
That should be the pick. I’m not John Feinstein, but Victor Oladipo just might be the Jordan of this draft class.
BUT OLADIPO ISN’T EVEN 6-FOOT-5! you’re probably saying to yourself. Here we go again.
Two words: Lockdown. Defense. He runs with opponents like a shadow. He covers ground like Tony Allen (listed at 6’4″, so Allen is likely shorter), who put up the best Defensive Rating in the NBA this past season (94.3). No easy buckets. Asked to describe the team that would fit him best, Oladipo responded, “A defensive-oriented team. A team that’s growing and wants to work hard and just win games—win at a high level.”
That sounds like Wizards coach Randy Wittman’s dream team.
But Oladipo is not just a defensive stopper. There’s more to his game than that. In his third season at IU, Oladipo posted a better True Shooting Percentage and Offensive Rebound Rate than Anthony Davis did in his one year at Kentucky—the year Davis was crowned National Player of the Year.
Oladipo averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds (3.6 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes, pace adjusted, far better than SG prospect Ben McLemore (1.5)), 2.1 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.
(Note: Last year’s No. 3 pick, Bradley Beal, grabbed 1.6 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes, pace adjusted.)
Oladipo shot 59.9 percent from the field and made more than 44 percent of his 3-point attempts. “I feel like a shooter,” Oladipo told Paul Coro of AZ Central Sports. He now looks like one, too: his percentage on midrange J’s doubled in 2012-13. And Oladipo leads DraftExpress.com’s top 100 prospects in Effective Field Goal Percentage (67%).
He credits his work ethic and dedication to the game for his year-to-year improvement.
“I just stayed in the gym,” Oladipo said to a members of the media at the NBA Draft Combine, when asked how he improved his perimeter shooting. “I feel like it was all mental thing for me. Just repetition after repetition after repetition—realizing that if I miss, so what, just go on to the next shot and get it off quickly and keep shooting the ball at a high level.”
“Once I realized that I’m just going to shoot the good shots, and the open shots, and the shots I feel that are the best, I just started making them at a high level. I just kept shooting them and shooting them with confidence, and they just started going in at a high rate.”
Jordan had something to say about that.
Playboy: If you had to put a team around you, what’s the one quality you’d want?
Jordan: Heart. That would be the biggest thing. I think heart means a lot. It separates the great from the good players.
Playboy: Aside from the shots, what else do the great players have?
Jordan: Mental toughness. When you need a basket, you have to have the confidence in yourself to go out there and hit three great shots. You know you have to do it. That drives me.
NCAA TOURNAMENT SNAPSHOT – INDIANA vs. TEMPLE
“I was just open and I shot it,” said Oladipo, who led his team with 16 points. “It really didn’t have anything to do with the moment. I just caught it and shot it. I didn’t think about it. I think when I struggle is when I think about shots.”
LIFE IS SIMPLE: EAT, SLEEP, PLAY BASKETBALL
“I’m just abnormal, to be honest with you. I’m a weird dude, I’m not gonna lie to you.”
That’s how Oladipo opened his combine Q&A session, surrounded by reporters hungry for a good quote and a shareable story. At the event, Oladipo, 21, recorded a 33-inch standing vertical leap and an eye-popping 42-inch max vertical to go with a quick 3.25-second sprint (tied for 17th out of a pool of 63 players) and 10.69-second agility score (tied for 9th).
“When I’m in the apartment at Indiana and it’s midnight, you just finish watching a playoff game—Grizzlies vs. the Warriors, so it’s a late game, West Coast, East Coast time,” he continued, “you finish watching it, it’s about midnight, you have to wake up at 9:30 the next morning, but there’s something about you that just wants to get in the gym. So, I just get up and go. Twenty-four-hour access, you just swipe your card and you’re in there.”
Oladipo actually swiped his gym card so much it wore out: “It didn’t work anymore. I would have to swipe it like six times for it to start working, so I just got a new one and I was good after that.”
“I just want to get better, man. I wanna be the best basketball player I can possibly be.”
Is Oladipo a good fit on the Wizards? His lateral quickness and perimeter defending should translate to the NBA (he ranks second only behind Syracuse PG Michael Carter-Williams in steals per 40 minutes). But the value-added is his versatility on offense: “If you believe he’s going to improve his jump shot and tighten his handle, he has the potential to be the best 2-way player in the draft,” said ESPN Insider Chad Ford in a chat with fans.
There is no reason to think Oladipo won’t improve in both areas—he already has.
But where would he play in Washington? He could be a shooting guard off the bench, a backup point guard prospect, and perhaps contribute time at the 3. This is, after all, an era of new positionality.
Oladipo would be a huge upgrade over 6’6″ backup guard and D-League call-up Garrett Temple. No one even expected Temple to be a Wizard—he was a last-minute, Christmas day signing—but he played 24.8 minutes per game after the All-Star Break, and just under 20 minutes before it.
Basically, the Wizards need points from their bench, but without sacrificing defense. Although Washington’s bench averaged 36.3 points per game before the All-Star Break, 6th in the NBA, that number is skewed, slightly. Early in the season, the Wizards had Nene, Kevin Seraphin, and now dearly departed Jordan Crawford as scorers off the bench. Post-All-Star break, with Wall at the helm, the Wizards bench dropped to 12th in points per game (32.1). If you’re thinking, hey, that doesn’t look half bad, remember that the Wizards went 29-53.
Wall, Beal and Nene are capable offensive players, but they shouldn’t have to carry the scoring load alone. Trevor Ariza, who calls himself the team’s “sixth-starter,” provides solid defense but questionable shot selection (he’s erratic). Seraphin is a volume shooter and a suspect defender (he’s soft). Booker, Vesely, Singleton, Martin, etc.? I’d rather play Oladipo. He’ a guy you can count on.
Another thing to keep in mind: The Wizards like many teams around the league love to play small ball. If you want convincing evidence, consider that center Emeka Okafor, the team’s best post defender and rebounder, rarely got playing time in the fourth quarter. Okafor played 753 first-quarter minutes, 345 second-quarter minutes, and 725 third-quarter minutes. Okafor played 243 minutes in just 44 fourth quarters (78 games total).
According to NBA.com/stats, the Wiz played 14 different 5-man units for at least 10 minutes in the fourth quarter After Wall (A.W. – Jan. 12, 2013). Okafor appeared in only three of those 14 lineups, accounting for just 25.8 percent of combined minutes. Wittman preferred Wall-Beal-Webster-Ariza-Nene, and when that wasn’t getting it done, Wall-Webster-Ariza-Singleton-Nene.
Now, imagine a terrifying back court trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo on the break. Or hear it from Walker Beeken of DraftExpress (in February 2013): “Oladipo still does much of his damage offensively when he can get out in the open floor, as over 28% of his used possessions this season have come in transition. He’s an absolute blur leading the break with the ball in his hands or filling the lanes, where he’s capable of finishing with highlight-reel dunks.”
“ALMOST ZERO DOWNSIDE AND STILL SIGNIFICANT UPSIDE.”
—CHAD FORD ON OLADIPO
“[NBA teams] like my motor, the way I’m able to defend multiple positions, the energy I bring, and how I improve every year,” Oladipo said. “And every year, I feel I can grow even more. … I feel like I’m going to be a really solid player in the league, if not better. I’m going to do whatever it takes to separate myself. I’m looking forward to the journey.”
At least half of the GMs in the Association love Oladipo. They have called him their favorite player, “possibly the player with the most upside of anyone on the board.” However, not one of them will declare him the top player on their draft boards. Try to make sense of that, if you can see through the smoke screens.
“Athletically he’s so gifted,” one GM told Ford. “And he combines that with hard work both in the game and in practice. He keeps working on his game and getting better. His attitude was just special in the interview we had. He’s humble, but confident. He doesn’t draw attention to himself, but when he speaks he sounds like a leader. I worry about his jump shot a little and his ball handling, too. But I really feel like he’s going to get better. And if he does? We’ll all regret not taking him. All of us.”
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Height isn’t everything. And, by the numbers, it’s becoming less important in the NBA. The most recent data shows that of the 10 shortest seasons by average height in NBA history, five were in the 2000s.
The Wizards would be best served by not reaching for the 6’7″ Anthony Bennett, who has more red flags than China because there are “concerns about defense, screen-setting and selflessness.” Oh, and shot selection. Let’s marvel at this #SoWizards tweet:
Too lazy to get up ..
— Anthony Bennett (@AnthonyBennett) June 13, 2013
And the Wizards shouldn’t make a desperate play for the 6’8″ Otto Porter, who is as explosive as a bag of sour WarHeads. BUT OMG HE’S LIKE TOTALLY THE PROTOTYPICAL SIZE FOR SMALL FORWARD! Yeah, and his 27″ no-step vert was better than … um, Jeff Withey, Rudy Gobert and Kelly Olynyk. Yikes. Those flat feet will make it tough for him to score in traffic, or around the rim. Even more concerning, Porter can’t really shoot off the dribble, either (26%).
Now, Porter is a smart, hard-working player, and his length does allow him to be a solid rebounder (8.8 total rebounds per 40 minutes, pace adjusted). But the lanky wing is really no better than Oladipo in that department (8.7).
I don’t care that Georgetown coach John Thompson III said his Georgetown product is “by far the best player” in the draft. (I get it… What was he supposed to say?) This past season, Porter struggled inside the 3-point arc (with added attention from defenses). He needs to get stronger and fix his shooting mechanics. Let’s not forget Porter’s lackluster performances against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament (4-13 FG, and missed free throws) and Florida Gulf Coast in the Big Dance (5-17 FG, 2-9 in the paint).
“There’s a mystique around big guys in the NBA, where people just get irrational about it,” ESPN Insider Chad Ford told Bill Simmons in a conversation about the ’84 Draft. “There’s this deep-seeded belief among every GM in the league, that, if I can get a dominant big man, I am going to have a team that competes for a championship.”
If a player is 77 inches tall (or shorter), he’s a “yeah, but….”
If a player is 78 inches tall (or taller), he’s a GM’s fantasy.
That may explain why Nerlens Noel was forever considered the best player in the draft. Well, until he got hurt. His ACL tear opened a giant door for 7’1″ Alex Len, now considered the best NBA prospect in the world by DraftExpress and, as previously reported by ESPN.com, “he’s seriously in the mix with the Cavs for the No. 1 pick.”
Because, of course: height over hard work, size over smarts, big shoes over big heart.
[More on Alex Len and Nerlens Noel right here.]
TAI’s Adam McGinnis caught up with Ty Lawson during the regular season to chat about the competitive D.C. hoops scene—Lawson hails from Clinton, Maryland, and went to high school at Bishop McNamara in Virginia.
[Other talented hoopstars from the DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia) include, but are certainly not limited to: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Sam Cassell, Tim Legler, Steve Francis, Juan Dixon, Greivis Vasquez, Delonte West, Jeff Green, Gary Neal, Moochie Norris, Mugsy Bogues, Dave Bing, Elgin Baylor, Joe Forte, and, of course, Len Bias.]
Lawson sponsors an AAU team called “Team Takeover.” Victor Oladipo, who calls Upper Marlboro, Maryland, home, is one of Team Takeover’s best players. Lawson said that in six games defending top scorers on the AAU circuit, the tenacious Oladipo gave up a combined 15 points. “He is only going to get better,” Lawson added. “I’m going to work out with him this summer, it is going to be fun.”
In a similar conversation, Washington, D.C.’s Thomas Robinson said Oladipo “is the next one up.” In other words, the next big thing.
At 6’5″ (his listed height), Oladipo will be a solid role player and an instant contributor—he boxes out, he scraps for loose balls, he knows how to get the ball in the cup, whether that’s with a perfectly timed cut, a jump shot, or a smart pass to an open teammate.
When you consider the Wizards’ usual excuse for regular season disasters—injuries and a lack of depth—adding Oladipo to the roster, and giving him a spot in the rotation, sounds like a good call.
And if he grows an inch or two—we see this all the time in the NBA, from LeBron James to Paul George to JaVale McGee—Oladipo could become even better, perhaps an all-time great. But he may not even need to grow with his athleticism and 6’9.25″ wingspan. Either way, betting on a 21-year-old to grow another inch isn’t as crazy as expecting life-long knuckleheads to play like pros.
At the end of games, Kobe Bryant, 6’6″, loves to challenge the best player in the galaxy, 6’8″ LeBron James, on the defensive end. No one has an issue with that. No one cries out, “You can’t do that because you’re shorter than LeBron.” Dwyane Wade, 6’3″, used to D up against the pre-Decision LeBron. Handcuffs. I’ve seen Tony Allen shut down the 6’11” Kevin Durant. Jerry West, The Logo, was 6’2″. Oscar “The Big O” Robinson was 6’5″. Sir Charles Barkley was 6’5″—and he played power forward. The list goes on and on.
For what it’s worth, Hall of Famer Chris Mullin called Mike Jordan—an inch taller than Oladipo—the toughest defender he ever played against.
Point is, teams that pass on a shot at Oladipo on June 27 will regret it. And one team will surely do just that. The NBA is a league of extraordinarily tall men, and GMs can’t help but chase giants. They make decisions with their “trusty” measuring tape.
Hey, NBA, you’re doing it wrong.