Hoosiers In the NBA: Oladipo Impresses, But Ultimately Falls Short

It was yet another fantastic All-Star Weekend, once again showing why the NBA’s All-Star break is the best in professional sports. A few Hoosiers were participating this past weekend, with Victor Oladipo flashing his hops in the Slam Dunk Contest and Cody Zeller reuniting with Oladipo in the Rising Stars Challenge. Let’s grade how they performed this weekend as well as how they performed overall during the first half of the season. Also, we’ll see what each ex-IU all-star has to look forward to now that we are reaching the second half of the season:

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

@ Washington (L 96-80): 13 points (6-18 FG)(1-1 FT), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, steal, 2 personal fouls, 39 minutes.

Vs New York (W 89-83): 19 points (4-11 FG)(11-11 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, steal, block, 3 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, 38 minutes.

All-Star Weekend (Grade: A-):

Vs World (L 121-112): 22 points (8-21 FG)(3-4 FT), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 4 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 26 minutes.

Slam Dunk Contest: Round 1 – 89 (50/39), Round 2 – 75 (31/44), 2nd place

While Oladipo had a very impressive showing at All-Star Weekend, there was still a sense that it could have been even better. In both of his events, Oladipo started hot out of the gate. In the Rising Stars Challenge, he scored 16 points on 5 of 11 shooting, while he captured the entire world’s attention with his Mr. 360(540?) dunk after singing “New York, New York”. Then things started to crumble as Oladipo only scored 6 points on 3 of 10 shooting in the 2nd half of the Rising Stars Challenge, and botched one dunk, and had to go with a backup dunk in the championship round of the Slam Dunk Contest. (Yes Zach LaVine was amazing, but Oladipo still had a chance. LaVine posted 45/49 in the final round, meaning Oladipo could have tied if he made his first dunk and it was scored a 50, which was definitely possible.) But I’m nit-picking here, as Oladipo was able to introduce himself to the casual fan and leave a positive imprint on them.

1st Half Grade: A. There is so much to say about Oladipo and so little space. After starting the season late due to injury, Oladipo has taken the Sophomore leap and is becoming one of the NBA’s best young guards. More than anything, Oladipo has become a lot more consistent, which was his biggest problem last year. Just look at these streaks that are still active: 26 straight games with a steal, 24 straight games with 10+ points, and 29 straight free throws made. That last one is new and might be his most impressive feat, culminating in an 11 of 11 performance against the New York Knicks. The only thing keeping this from an A+ is the fact that his three-point shooting has really fallen off. After hovering around 40% for most of the season, Oladipo has shot 20.5% (8 of 39) over the last four weeks. That’s something that needs to be fixed ASAP.

2nd Half Outlook: Now that he has more public recognition, I expect Oladipo to take it upon himself to up his game even more. While the scoring might not increase much, I expect the rebounds and assists to increase significantly. I also expect Oladipo to correct whatever has caused his three-point slump and return to between 38-40%. Other than that, I just see more of the same. However, I expect big changes coming in year three.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Detroit (L 106-78): 8 points (3-8 FG)(2-2 FT), 7 rebounds, block, 4 personal fouls, 26 minutes.

All-Star Weekend (Grade: B):

Vs World (L 121-112): 12 points (6-7 FG), 4 rebounds, assist, 3 steals, 20 minutes.

Similar to Oladipo, Zeller was amazing in the first half but faded in the second half. Zeller scored all 12 of his points in the first half and didn’t even attempt a shot after halftime. It’s worth noting that Zeller made all of his two-point attempts, including an impressive 20-footer. He also relived his IU days, scoring twice on assists from Oladipo including a dunk right before the halftime buzzer. It was a good performance, but it was easily overshadowed by other big men in the game like Rudy Gobert and Mason Plumlee.

1st Half Grade: B-. Zeller’s performance has had a wide variation; sometimes he’s played like a D+, and other times he’s played like an A. So we’ll meet in the middle for the first half of the grade. Honestly, Zeller has shown his potential numerous times this season, but with every step forward comes to a step backward. This season for Zeller is starting to feel similar to Oladipo’s rookie season in that regard. Zeller has bobbled up rebounds one game and then grab only two or three the next. The Charlotte Hornets have had a lot of injuries in the frontcourt, which has caused Zeller’s role in the offense to change almost weekly, but that shouldn’t affect his shooting percentages as much as it has this season. All in all, we’ve seen plenty of promise (20 vs. Boston and 21 vs. Denver), but the fact that it surprises us when it happens isn’t the best of signs.

2nd Half Outlook: I expect Zeller to be more consistent during the second half of the season. Whether consistent is 12 points/8 rebounds or 8points/6 rebounds is unknown but Zeller just needs to have a “normal” game. I also expect that the rebounds and assists will continue to rise, as Zeller has already improved in both and thus proving to still be a net positive for the Hornets even when he has a hard time shooting.

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

Vs Utah (L 100-96): 31 points (9-14 FG)(6-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 6 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 39 minutes.

Vs Indiana (L 106-93): 6 points (2-10 FG), rebound, 2 assists, steal, 2 turnovers, personal foul, 24 minutes.

1st Half Grade: C+. If we were looking at this objectively in a vacuum, this would be considered one of Eric Gordon’s worst seasons and probably a D+ at best. However, I’m giving major points to Gordon for coming back from injury and performing significantly better than he did at the beginning of the season. He’s having the second-best passing season (he averaged 4.4 assists in his third season) and by far the best three-point shooting season of his career (he’s never shot above 40% from deep in the season, but has made 44.9% of his threes this season). Yes, his points per game (12.6) and fouls per game (2.7) as career-worsts by wide margins but that’s what makes this season so interesting. This is year seven and we’re seeing Gordon’s game evolve to match his physical capabilities. We may look back at this season and mark it as when Gordon entered the second part of his NBA career. I

2nd Half Outlook: Gordon will continue to show his worth as the New Orleans Pelicans try desperately to stay in the playoff race. With Anthony Davis continuing to evolve into a top-five player, Gordon should continue to have good open looks from behind the arc so that three-point percent won’t be going anywhere. I expect the assists to dip a little when Jrue Holiday returns, but not that much.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Detroit (L 106-78): 4 points (1-3 FG)(2-2 FT), rebound, block, 7 minutes.

1st Half Grade: INC. It’s hard to grade Noah Vonleh when he’s only played 91 minutes the entire season, so I’m giving him the “incomplete” grade. If you forced me to grade based on minimal information we have, I’d give him a C- but again he hasn’t even played two game’s worth of minutes so it’s kind of pointless. He’s shown he can rebound very well and he’s starting to block more shots (3 blocks in his last two games). Yet at the same time, he hasn’t found his shot yet (42.3% overall and 20% from deep). Vonleh hasn’t been given a chance to find a rhythm because he’s been forced to play spot duty whenever something happens to a Hornets’ big man. I hate to call the first half of his rookie season a waste since any experience is a good experience, but it definitely hasn’t been ideal.

2nd Half Outlook: Once the Hornets are healthy up front again, I expect Vonleh to start playing in the D-League where he can play consistent minutes. With someone as raw as Vonleh, playing time and experience is what will help him the most. I expect him to do very well once he gets in a grove, and when he returns to the Hornets either at the end of this season or the beginning of next, he’ll be much more prepared to contribute.

Season averages:

Victor Oladipo: 16.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 3.8apg, 1.59spg, 0.15bpg, 2.8tpg, 2.5fpg, 44.3% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 81.5% FT, 34.2mpg.

Cody Zeller: 7.5ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.6apg, 0.59spg, 0.80bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.6fpg, 45.2% FG, 100.0% 3FG, 75.4% FT, 24.5mpg.

Eric Gordon: 12.6ppg, 2.8rpg, 3.8apg, 0.91spg, 0.22bpg, 2.0tpg, 2.7fpg, 42.2% FG, 44.9% 3FG, 82.5% FT, 32.5mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.0ppg, 2.4rpg, 0.2apg, 0.18spg, 0.36bpg, 0.4tpg, 0.6fpg, 42.3% FG, 20.0% 3FG, 71.4% FT, 8.3mpg.

Christian Watford: Forward, Maine Red Claws (D-League affiliate of the Boston Celtics):

D-League Season averages:

Christian Watford: 12.1ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.5apg, 0.68spg, 0.41bpg, 1.9tpg, 1.7fpg, 39.3% FG, 29.0% 3FG, 75.3% FT, 28.4mpg

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