If his track record of yearly improvement is any indication, Victor Oladipo could turn out to be the best player in the 2013 draft class. The rise of Indiana's athletically gifted swingman may not be fast enough to make him the No. 1 overall selection this June, but suffice it to say that TNT's Kenny Smith will get enough practice saying his name that he won't mispronounce it as he did on air last weekend.
Oladipo was a starter for just one season in high school at powerhouse DeMatha in Maryland, and was a middling prospect as he made his way to Indiana. Last season was his first as a full-time starter for the Hoosiers, and he made his mark as an energetic defender, delivering 1.4 steals per game in 26.7 minutes of action. Offensively, he was raw, at best. He notched just 10.8 points per game and shot a woeful 20.8% from three-point range. Thanks in large measure to a dramatic rise in his outside shooting ability, Oladipo has ascended into the elite this year. He's a 43.3% three-point shooter as a junior this season, and his overall field goal percentage has risen to 59.4%, remarkably high for a perimeter player. Together, that gives him an effective field goal percentage of 64%, and no lottery prospect has done better, as DraftExpress points out.
Oladipo is sixth on both the DraftExpress and ESPN rankings of draft hopefuls, though there's dispute over whether he's the best prospect on his own team. Cody Zeller was supposed to be the focal point for Indiana entering the season, but his relatively disappointing play coupled with Oladipo's emergence has forced the center to share the spotlight, if not cede it completely. The stacked Hoosiers roster helps explain why scouts are so high on Oladipo even though he averages just 13.6 PPG. He takes just 8.5 shot attempts a game, a number that figures to be higher next season in the NBA. In a way, it's reminiscent of Dion Waiters' role with Syracuse last season. Though Waivers was a sixth man and Oladipo starts, Waiters averaged about one more shot attempt per game than Oladipo does this year. The Cavs drafted Waiters No. 4 overall, and now he's putting up 14.7 PPG on 13.4 field goal attempts per game as the starting two guard for Cleveland.
The glaring difference between Oladipo and Waiters is on defense, where Oladipo's athleticism and motor have allowed him to dominate. Much could come down to Oladipo's pre-draft measurements. He's listed at 6'5", but if the tape shows he's any shorter, teams might downgrade him based on the concern that he couldn't guard small forwards. His effort and skill have never been in question, and that could help him overcome a size disadvantage, but such hairs are often split when deciding between the top 10 most heralded players in the world. In any case, he should be able to defend both guard positions, at least, and his enticing combination of athleticism and rebounding ability might be enough to sway any skeptics. His 6.4 rebounds per game average is second only to Zeller's on the team.
Often, fast risers up the draft board are international players about whom relatively little is known. This time, it's a homegrown product turning heads, and NBA executives will no doubt pay keen attention to his performance in the final rounds of the NCAA tournament. A poor shooting night may put a dent in his stock, particularly among teams that question whether this season's numbers are unsustainably high, but Oladipo doesn't seem conditioned to end with a whimper. There's a long way to go between March and the June 27th draft, and as some execs get their first in-person glimpses at him during pre-draft workouts, I wouldn't be surprised to see Oladipo's rise continue.