At the end of the 2016-17 season, Victor Oladipo made a decision that would change the course of his career. This would come before the trade that sent the 25-year-old and Domantas Sabonis to the Pacers for Paul George.
Oladipo was fresh off his first trip to the playoffs after four seasons in the NBA. It was a short run, as the Rockets dispatched the Thunder in five games in a first-round series that wasn’t as competitive as the final scores may have indicated. Nonetheless, playing regular season games with consequences as well as a brief playoff run wore on Oladipo.
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In those five games against Houston, Oladipo averaged only 10.8 points on 34.4 percent shooting (24 percent from 3-point range). Oladipo decided to make a sacrifice in order to ensure it wouldn’t ever happen again.
“I had no clue where I was going to be. But I knew what I was going to do,” Oladipo said. “I knew I needed to get in better shape. So, I changed my diet. It’s really true that you can’t outwork a bad diet.”
Oladipo swore off fast food, bread and soda. It was tough at first, but once he noticed the results, he became encouraged.
“My workouts were better because I was properly fueled,” Oladipo said. “I was sleeping better and I noticed a difference in how I felt overall. It allowed me to work on my game even better.”
Oladipo lost over 20 pounds before the start the season. The wheels were in motion before the trade and kicked into high gear after a meeting with Pacers head coach Nate McMillian.
“I told him that we had high expectations for him here,” McMillian said. “We wanted him to know we believe in him and want him to make a home here.”
Oladipo played college ball at Indiana University, which is less than an hour from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. His homecoming has brought the sweet sounds of success. Prior to a sore right knee which has sidelined him for the last three games, Oladipo was averaging 24.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game. All of these are career-highs, and it seems the best is yet to come.
“He has such positive energy and great work ethic,” McMillian said. “His confidence is evident in in his play this season and its impacting our team.”
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His confidence shows on and off the court. On the court, it’s evidenced in his increased 3-point shooting — he’s hitting 42.3 percent of his shots beyond the arc, well above his career percentage of 34.6 prior to this season.
It’s not just spot-up opportunities. Oladipo has drilled more than half of his pull-up 3-pointers this season (27 of 51, 52.9 percent) by using the threat of his speed to create space. Defenders fear Oladipo blowing by them for an easy bucket, but Oladipo can now counter with a hesitation dribble before finding his balance and launching his improved jumper.
“It’s something I worked on in the summer,” Oladipo said. “It feels good every time I shoot it. I feel really strong and I’m in a good place. I want more, but I like where I am now. I’m never satisfied but I also trust the work I’ve put in.”
Oladipo isn’t a man of many words off the court. Well, until he begins to sing.
“That guy is hilarious,” Sabonis said. “He’s always singing some song and really loud. He keeps us light. You can’t help but smile when he’s around.”
The 6-4 guard is like a human jukebox and actually can carry a tune. If you walk into the Pacers locker room or a team practice, you can find Oladipo with your eyes closed. He’ll be the one jamming out to Prince, Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston, doing his best to belt out the tunes.
He even has his own EP, “Songs for You,” which features a cover of a Donny Hathaway’s original “A Song For You” as the lead single. The music video released before the season features Oladipo donning a Ne-Yo look while singing and playing the piano.
“Most guys have their beats headphones on. I like to chill,” Oladipo said. “I play motor controlled when I listen to smooth music. My game is about being smooth and that’s how I like to prepare.”
Whether it’s hitting the high notes to boost team morale or hitting 3-pointers to secure a win, it’s clear Indiana needs Oladipo if it wants to play beyond the regular season.
At 19-18 overall, the Pacers are in the thick of the playoff race, currently holding the final spot in the Eastern Conference bracket just ahead of the Knicks and Sixers. However, the Pacers have lost their last three games without Oladipo, and it’s unclear when he will return.
Don’t expect Oladipo’s singing, scoring ways to stop, though. He is a man out to prove the surprising starts both for him individually and his team are no fluke.
“That’s only the beginning,” Oladipo said. “We have a good squad here. We’re supposed to be in the hunt. I want us to be great.”