Twelve months ago, saying Victor Oladipo was going to bolt out of Bloomington after his junior season and be in play for the top overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft would've gotten you tossed into a straight jacket.
But that's exactly the position Oladipo is in.
After a remarkable junior campaign, Oladipo is one of the players Cleveland is considering with the top selection in Thursday night's NBA Draft, which begins at 7:30 p.m.
If I'm the Cavaliers, I would grab Oladipo without hesitation. And I'm not alone. In a recent poll, NBA general managers tabbed Oladipo as the top player in the draft. In that poll, Chad Ford, ESPN's NBA Insider, twisted the arms of NBA front office types and got them to anonymously rank the draft's top 50 players on a 1-10 scale. Oladipo came out on top despite not receiving any 10s, but he was ranked between a seven and a nine on every single ballot. Nerlens Noel and Alex Len, the two other players in the discussion for the top choice, each received at least one vote as low as a four.
That right there sums up how I feel about Oladipo: his ceiling may not be that of an NBA star, or even an All-Star, but his floor is that of a solid player who is a No. 3 or 4 option. He's not going to be a failure.
In short, that's why the Cavaliers should take him. With Kyrie Irving as the centerpiece, Cleveland is building something and is in position to contend for a playoff spot next season. The Cavs can't afford to swing and miss with this No. 1 pick; they need to get someone who, at the minimum, can come in and contribute. There's a part of me that's a little worried about Noel and Len (and Ben McLemore, and anyone else in this draft) flaming out. There isn't a single fiber in my being that thinks Oladipo is going to be a bust.
How did Oladipo -- who, as a sophomore, didn't get voted Honorable Mention All-Big Ten by the league's coaches -- get to this point?
Well, to say the kid from Upper Marlboro, Md. has had a meteoric rise over the last year would be like saying Taylor Swift is popular with girls ages 12 through 20.
Oladipo was the most athletic player on Indiana the moment he stepped on campus. He came in with explosive quickness and astounding leaping ability. Making the extraordinary play has always been in his repertoire. As a junior, he showcased the ability to make the simple play -- knocking down an open jumper, handling the ball against pressure and creating offense in a one-on-one situation.
Statistically, Oladipo only saw a huge jump in his shooting percentage and steals. His scoring (10.8 to 13.6), rebounding (5.3 to 6.3) and assists (2.0 to 2.1) only slightly improved from his sophomore year to his junior campaign. He swiped nearly one more steal (1.4 to 2.2) per game, but the staggering improvement came with his shooting.
As a sophomore, Oladipo shot just 47 percent from the field, including a lowly 21 percent (10 for 48) from 3-point land. Just how bad is 21 percent? Purdue's Terone Johnson has never shot worse than 29 percent from beyond the arc.
Everything changed this past season as Oladipo made 60 percent of his shots and hit 44 percent (30 of 68) from deep, nailing exactly three times as many 3-pointers as he did the year before. His effective field goal percentage, which is similar to traditional field goal percentage but is adjusted for the fact that 3-pointers are worth 50 percent more than 2-pointers, was through the roof at 64.8 percent. That mark was the fourth-best in the nation, which is remarkable for a guard.
That kind of year-to-year improvement doesn't just happen. It's not like Oladipo always had the tools and things just all of the sudden clicked for him. He made himself the player he is today by working his you know what off, earning the reputation as a tireless worker and a gym rat.
Oladipo's offensive game is as simple as it is efficient. When he's open for a 3-pointer, he takes it. If he's not shooting a 3-ball, he's driving it all the way to the bucket, where he hit 69 percent of his shots at the rim in the half court -- layups and 3-pointers, the two most efficient shots in basketball.
Victor Oladipo 2012-13 NBA Draft Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)
Another weapon in his arsenal is his movement without the ball. Oladipo is constantly in motion on offense, with 13.1 percent of his scoring coming from cutting.
While the offensive improvement was nice, and absolutely necessary for him to even be in position to ever be an NBA player, Oladipo's calling card is his defense.
Oladipo is a smothering, relentless on-ball defender whom scouts expect to be able to step in and defend NBA two-guards right away. His defensive effectiveness comes from his natural athleticism and wingspan mixed with his intensity and non-stop motor. As previously mentioned, he pilfered 2.2 steals per game, with most of those coming as a result of his activity and anticipation in help defense.
Despite being just 6-foot-4, Oladipo has always rebounded well, especially for a two-guard. His ability to get up off the floor certainly helps, but his movement without the ball makes him tough to block out, and his attacking mentality doesn't allow him to just stand idly on the perimeter when the shot goes up.
Oladipo is by no means a player without weaknesses. As far as his shooting has come, he still has a lot of room to grow in that department, especially considering the step back to the NBA 3-point line. He has made strides with his ballhandling, but that's another area where he still needs to improve, particularly with his left hand.
Given how big of a leap Oladipo took last season, it's hard to pinpoint exactly where his ceiling is as a pro. When looking for a current NBA comparison for Oladipo, the name I hear most often in the draft buildup is Memphis defensive stalwart Tony Allen, with most believing Oladpio is a better offensive player. That means Oladipo, at worst, is a 12-6 guy who can be a major piece on a successful team.
Ford, the Mel Kiper, Jr. of the NBA Draft, had the perfect quote about Oladipo when he was talking with Bill Simmons on this week's B.S. Report. He said, "Whatever Victor's ceiling is, I'm confident that he will max it out." He also said that "coaches love Oladipo. Every coach loves this guy," today on SVP and Russillo.
I'll tell you which coach would really appreciate what Oladipo brings to the table: Cleveland coach Mike Brown, who has long been known as one of the league's top defensive minds. The fact that the Cavs spent an early pick on Dion Waters last year shouldn't scare them off of Oladipo. In my eyes, Waiters is perfectly suited to be that sixth-man, instant-offense-off-the-bench, Jamal-Crawford kind of player. With Oladipo, Irving and Waiters, the Cavs would be set with a young, diverse backcourt for the next six to seven years.
The buzzwords you hear this time of year are "upside" and "potential." Teams don't draft based on what players have done, but rather what they will do. Oladipo has been labeled as the "safe pick" in this year's draft. I agree with that in the sense that I don't think there's any chance Oladipo doesn't turn into a solid NBA player, but I'd argue Victor has as much upside and potential as anyone. No one in the draft can match his athleticism, and we've already seen he has the ability and work ethic to drastically improve his game in a short amount of time.
Maybe I'm wrong -- it wouldn't be the first time -- but Oladipo is the best player in the draft, and Cleveland, who isn't very far away from getting out of the lottery for a while, would be wise to make him the first player off the board tomorrow night.