When the Oklahoma City Thunder gave Victor Oladipo a four-year, $84 million contract last year, many were skeptical of the deal.
Although he was just 24-years-old at the time, he had not played a single game with the Thunder yet and had just failed to make a step forward in his third season with the Orlando Magic.
After starting 71 of 72 games for the Magic in the 2014-2015 season, averaging 17.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 35.7 minutes, he started 52 of 72 games in 2015-2016, averaging 16.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 33.0 minutes.
While his athleticism has never been questioned, the 6’4”, 210-pound shooting guard has struggled with efficiency at the offensive end, shooting 43.4 percent overall, including 34.6 percent from three-point range.
Playing second-fiddle to Russell Westbrook for his one and only year with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, Oladipo started all 67 regular-season games that he played in and averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 33.2 minutes.
But, he failed to make a major leap forward once again, thus creating the realistic possibility that he will never develop into the All-Star that he was projected to be when he was taken second overall in the 2013 Draft by Orlando.
After being traded to the Indiana Pacers in part of the Paul George deal, he may finally have his shot to shine in a prominent role.
"I feel like the past couple of years I was just concerned about so much, that it kind of consumed my basketball talent," Oladipo told NBA TV in advance of Wednesday’s opening-game victory over the Brooklyn Nets. "I was concerned about what people may think about me, what others are saying, I was worried about stuff I can't control.”
Oladipo played his college ball at the University of Indiana. Therefore, he’s familiar to the state and in particular, he’s familiar at dominating there.
“I think it's going to be a nice homecoming. Really, I think that people will enjoy that I'm back playing for the Pacers, and I'm going to give them something good to watch,” he told DeAntae Price of Sports Illustrated in a late-September interview.
“I've come a long way since then, from my very first game as an IU freshman to know, being back and playing for the Pacers, playing for the NBA team there. I've come a long way and I look forward to the journey that lies ahead,” he said.
Most of all, he’s ready to take on a leadership role for the rebuilding club that lost three veterans from last year’s team in Paul George, Jeff Teague and C.J. Miles.
“I’m preparing for my role as a leader, I'm preparing for my role on the team and I can't wait to embrace that role… Dominate, man. I just want to go out there and dominate. I was to pick everybody up, lead and make everybody better, and at the same time try to do something special,” Oladipo explained.
If Wednesday’s victory over the Nets is any indication, he could be in for a huge season. Leading the Pacers in scoring with 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting in just 25 minutes due to foul trouble, the versatile guard grabbed five rebounds, dished out four assists and also swiped four steals during his time on the court. Indiana scored an NBA-high 140 points in the season-opener.
Head coach Nate McMillan preached a balanced attack, as four starters and two reserves each took double-digit field goal attempts in the game, but based on the frantic pace that the contest was played at, Oladipo was able to stand out. Part of the reason for that is because Brooklyn is one of the most up-tempo teams in the league under head coach Kenny Atkinson, but it worked out pretty well for the Pacers in their opener.
Eager to lead and with a fresh start, keep an eye on Oladipo this season. There’s something about the state of Indiana that brings out the best in him.