Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY
When Victor Oladipo made his NBA debut back in October, it was a big deal for the home fans. Not because the Orlando fans were getting to see Oladipo for the first time in a game that counts, but rather because several of Oladipo's college fans were seeing him play in the NBA for the first time.
Oladipo did not start that game. In fact, no one was quite sure how his skills would translate, hundreds of red-striped clad (if not in body, then in spirit) fans packed Bankers Life Fieldhouse and cheered Oladipo on. There were noticeable cheers when Oladipo entered the game and certainly after he jammed home a rising two-handed slam in transition.
Considering how much red and candy-striped pants dot Amway Center every game and dot every NBA stadium as Oladipo makes his rounds, it should be no surprise that the crimson and cream faithful will be out in full force for Oladipo's return to Indiana.
In that first game, Oladipo scored 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench. Things have changed rather significantly for Oladipo since then. He has shown incredible strides running the pick and roll and as a point guard. He has improved his jumper and has gotten more comfortable playing at the NBA speed. He still makes plenty of mistakes, but he is a significantly better player since then.
Oladipo and the Magic return to Indiana tonight for the first time since that day and there are sure to be even more Hoosiers, especially after their big win over Michigan, in the building. What is more, the Magic have turned the keys over to Oladipo this road trip with Jameer Nelson nursing a sore knee and staying home in Orlando.
Oladipo will be starting his 31st game for the Magic. This one though could be really special as not only a homecoming, but the completion of a check up on his progress:
It’s a night of seeing growth from him," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn told John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com. "It’s not like it’s the second quarter and now the ball is in his hands; it’s from the beginning tap and can he get guys organized from the beginning of the game. And does he have the focus at the beginning of the game to get us in the right plays on both ends of the floor."
Oladipo struggled a bit in that checkup against the Celtics yesterday. He scored 12 points and dished out six assists, but made only three of his 16 shot attempts. Oladipo seemed to be rushing his shot attempts at the rim and playing sped up against stellar guards Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. The nerves of trying to prove something certainly could have gotten to him.
Oladipo, for his part, said he did just OK in his first start as the true point guard in some time as Nelson sat out.
Generally, Oladipo has been a solid option as a starter. In games he has started, Oladipo is averaging 14.8 points per game, 4.1 assists per game and 3.1 turnovers per game in about 36.4 minutes per game. He is shooting 40.5 percent from the floor as a starter. Obviously these are all numbers that seem to be improving as time passes and Oladipo adjusts to the speed of the NBA game.
Tonight provides another challenge with the big backcourt of Lance Stephenson and George Hill for Oladipo to match up against. Not to mention the Pacers are arguably the best team in the league and a tough team to beat at home.
It will be hard not to reflect on how far Oladipo has come as he returns to the place where the season all started -- and his ascent in college basketball started.