By Justin Whitaker
— With the correct coaching in basketball, anyone can become a better shooter, passer, or defender. But the pure natural athleticism Indiana guard Victor Oladipo possesses is a special attribute that coaches cannot teach and players cannot acquire — no matter how many hours spent in the gym.
The majority of basketball rosters are filled with athletic freaks of nature, but very few can and have combined those athletic skills into each area of their game like Oladipo.
The unranked, three-star recruit from Upper Marlboro, Md., has transformed from a scrawny athlete to a muscular, NBA ready (and most likely NBA bound) guard in his three seasons at Indiana.
Each of the 6-foot-4 junior’s seasons at IU have been a steady improvement on the previous one. He’s averaging career-bests of 13.6 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 59.4 shooting from the field. Most dramatically, the elite defender, improved offensively as Oladipo’s 3-point shooting leapt from 20.8 percent as a sophomore to 43.3 percent this season.
He is third in the country at 68.4 percent in true shooting percentage, which measures shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
The continued improvement of Oladipo’s game earned him first-team All-American honors, Sporting News Player of the Year, and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He is also one of four finalists for the Naismith Award and deserves and should win National Player of the Year.
ESPN’s Dick Vitale, CBS’ Clark Kellogg, and others have compared Oladipo to Michael Jordan at different points of the season. Anytime a player is compared to arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, scrutiny immediately follows. But the comparison is not that Oladipo will go down as one of the greatest basketball players ever but more of that their styles of play are similar.
Both are known for their high intensity, non-stop motor and elite athleticism.
Jordan and Oladipo both are shooting guards known for being more slashing, attack-the-rim type of players than as sharpshooters.
Both are known for generating highlight reel dunks as Jordan won two NBA Slam Dunk Contests (1987-88) and a quick YouTube search for “Victor Oladipo dunk” yields 22,300 results.
Both are also known for their on-ball defense. Jordan was a nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection and Oladipo was the 2012-13 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
With Oladipo currently in his junior season and Jordan leaving for the NBA after his third year of college, both playing three years allow for convenient stat comparisons.
Jordan averaged 54 percent career shooting with a college-best of 55.1 percent his junior year. Oladipo has averaged 53.6 percent career shooting with a college-best of 59.4 percent this season. Jordan averaged 1.7 steals a game in his career, Oladipo sits at 1.5 currently. Jordan holds the college career advantage in assists slightly with 1.8 a game compared to Oladipo’s 1.7. Jordan leads the free-throw percentage at 74.8 percent to Oladipo’s 71.7 percent. Oladipo has averaged 5.2 rebounds per game in his career slightly besting Jordan’s five rebounds.
In terms of scoring, Jordan’s 17.7 points per game college career average blows Oladipo’s 10.7 points per game out of the water.
Are they the same player? No.
Is Oladipo the scorer that Jordan is? No, only two players with the first names of Kobe and LeBron can compare.
Will Oladipo go down as the greatest ever to play the sport? No, not even close.
But are Jordan and Oladipo comparable in the way that their elite athleticism enhances each aspect of their games, especially in their ability to finish at the rim and defense? Yes, without a doubt.
Oladipo’s continued and gradual improvement has shown that his ceiling as a basketball player is as tall as the sky and maybe even higher if he can leap over that.