Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Where would Victor Oladipo make the most sense?

What uniform is in Victor Oladipo’s future?
What uniform is in Victor Oladipo’s future?
Image: Getty Images

Who wants Victor Oladipo?

For months, and even following his move from the Indiana Pacers to the Houston Rockets, Oladipo’s name has been tossed around in trade rumors as much as anyone in basketball. Most notably, Oladipo’s been linked to the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, and New York Knicks, but it’s common for NBA stars to find themselves in situations few around the league saw coming. It’s how Oladipo found himself in Houston to begin with.

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In assessing his own value, we have multiple examples of Oladipo rejecting contract extensions to remain in his situation. While with the Pacers, Oladipo ultimately turned down a four-year deal worth $80 million, and late last month it was reported that he shook off a two-year, $45 million offer from the Rockets, which was the max Houston could offer. This offseason, Oladipo will be among a once-heralded free-agent class that has been watered down compared to the expectations we had before last summer. Though it makes Oladipo stand out as one of this pending summer’s best possible additions, it also indicates that teams aren’t entering with the same cap space they once had, and it might be advantageous for a team trading for Oladipo to eventually extend him as well.

Or is Oladipo, 28, a rental at this point?

As a player on an expiring deal, Oladipo is in a career-defining contract year. He was once believed to be in max-contract territory, but that’s becoming increasingly unlikely as time goes, as moves further away from his back-to-back All-Star seasons of 2018 and 2019 before he suffered a ruptured quad tendon.

Outside of his 2017-18, where he landed the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, Oladipo’s generally averaged between 16-20 points per game, 3 to 5 assists and rebounds, while shooting between 40 and 44 percent from the floor. Early on in his rise to stardom, he averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, along with a league-best 2.4 steals per contest. His shooting splits were easily career-best tallies of 47.7 and 37.1 from the field and from three-point-range, respectively. But his dropoff since has been significant, not because he has regressed, but because it’s challenging to assess his situation following his injury. Last year was his first since the surgery, and this year he had been adjusting to a new-look Pacer team built around Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis, where he was trying to squeeze in as a third option before Indiana moved him in the James Harden trade.

With the Pacers this season, Oladipo posted 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.7 steals, his overall best tallies since his two All-Star seasons, although he only shot 42.1 / 36.2 / 73.0 splits through nine games. With Houston, where he’s logged 15 appearances, Oladipo’s averaging 19.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists — nearly 20-5-5 — along with 1.4 steals per outing. However, his shooting splits only stand at 38.7/31.3/75.9. In Houston, he’s also been a third option, this time behind Christian Wood and John Wall.

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Now let’s go through his possible destinations.

With the Miami Heat, does it really make sense? Salary matching complications aside, the main piece Miami would have to part with would be Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, or Kendrick Nunn. The hesitancy to deal Herro and or Robinson has already been clear amid the Harden fiasco. But at this point, it’s debatable whether Oladipo would be an actual upgrade from even Nunn’s fit. Sure, he’s a veteran, who might be unhappy where he is and will turn it on when he gets to the place he’s allegedly wanted from day one, but Nunn’s recent resurgence has been understated. After being out of the rotation for the first 10 games of the season, Nunn’s averaging 16-4-3 points, rebounds, and assists on 46.8 / 38.0 / 91.7 shooting splits, fitting in nicely amongst the Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo led group. Nunn’s offensive rating of 105 blows Oladipo’s 97 out of the water while maintaining a comparable defensive rating (97-to-110). Nunn’s also heading for free agency but won’t command what Oladipo will.

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For the Knicks. No, just, no. You have a good thing going with Julius Randle, and an Oladipo deal might not serve the development of second-year guard R.J. Barrett, which should be atop the organization’s concerns at the moment. It would be very old-school Knicks, so, no.

But the Warriors? Hmm. It will be challenging to complete, but it’s worth pondering if you’re Golden State. People in Minnesota will be perpetually disappointed in Andrew Wiggins, but he’s remade himself — with the help of the Warriors’ organization — into a viable NBA player aiding the Steph Curry-led club. And if Oladipo wants more touches, he’d probably supersede Wiggins as the next best offensive option. Wiggins is posting 17/4.5/2.2 points, rebounds, and assists while shooting 46.3-percent from the floor and 35-percent from three. The difficulty comes with matching salaries. The Warriors aren’t dealing Draymond Green ($22 million), Wiggins at $29 million, and Kelly Oubre at $14 million makes this complicated; plus, the rest of the players on the roster sits under $5 million, other than James Wiseman. But the Warriors also have picks to use; they’ll just need a third team.

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In this league, never say never.