Sixth Pick Tournament Round One: Victor Oladipo vs. Dario Saric

Published: June 3, 2013
Russ Reed and Michael Pellissier go head to head in today’s matchup, which pits Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo against International small forward Dario Saric in round one of the Sixth Pick Tournament.

The Case for Victor Oladipo (Russ Reed)

Teams drafting in the lottery are generally left in something of a conundrum; youth, potential, and raw athleticism are usually favored in the earlier picks, but often at the expense of fundamental play and maturity. Victor Oladipo is a curious case; despite declaring for the draft as a junior, he’s the same age as the freshman Muhammad (who admittedly is something of a “special case” himself in this respect), and he combines a strong attitude and fundamental play with an impressive athletic profile(42” vertical and a 6’9” wingspan, coupled with fast twitch agility and strength), and a potential to improve (enormous increases in shooting percentage and offensive efficiency from year two to year three.). But for all of Oladipo’s offensive upside, what makes him a near lock to be, at his lowest projected career arc, an impact contributor to a team is his defensive ability. There is no wing better defender in the draft. There was perhaps no better wing defender in last year’s as well, MKG included. Oladipo essentially offers the best of both worlds; a legitimately projectable offensive game coupled with a sure thing in his defense. Should he not ultimately capitalize on the former, the latter will certainly keep him in the league for years to come.


Victor Oladipo is a terror on the defensive side of the ball. The numerical production is impressive: 3.1 steals (good for 2nd in the nation), 1.1 blocks, and 5.3 defensive rebounds per 40 min are all phenomenal numbers for a 6’4” guard. But where Oladipo truly shines is in shadowing his man on the perimeter and his ability to switch; he uses his impressive lateral quickness (10.69 lane agility at the combine, which actually seems a bit slow in comparison to his game tape) coupled with his wingspan to deny 1’s and 2’s penetration, and his chiseled frame and strength help him in bodying up 3’s and even 4’s at the college level. His athletic prowess isn’t wasted an iota; a high motor is a skill in the NBA, and Oladipo makes his living playing with high energy and hustle. He causes mayhem off the ball as well; boasting a 4.6 steal %, Oladipo uses his impressive awareness level, coupled with his speed and length, to peel off and deflect passes in the lane and to rotate to the shooter. He plays fundamentally sound; low, with his head up, and fully aware of the system he’s in. His energy is infectious; Oladipo is one of those rare players that makes watching his defense an exciting spectacle, and any team in the NBA could use him on this basis alone as a solid rotation player today.

Offensive Production

Perusing Oladipo’s advanced statistical offensive production is a pleasure. Oladipo ranks 8th in the nation both with a .599 FG% and a .671 TS%, including 44% from downtown and 75% at the stripe. While these numbers almost certainly have to be called “unrepeatable”, it is more due to just how incredible they are rather than a lack of faith in Oladipo’s offensive skill level. He shows good form on his jumpshot, and, coupled with his spike in production, there’s no reason to believe that Oladipo hasn’t legitimately improved on his shooting ability. But Oladipo’s spectacular offensive production (culminating in a 125.7 Offensive Rating, good for 20th in the nation) wasn’t just predicated on catch and shoot; his 3.6 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes, coupled with his elite finishing ability, accounted for 18% of his offense, and he uses his speed to get out in transition and finish above the rim. Oladipo was one of the most statistically impactful players in the nation, as his 6.8 win shares (good for 13th in the nation) and 28.9 PER (good for 20th) illustrate, but it was his unforeseen jump in offensive production (4.2 offensive win shares alone) that ultimately contributed to Oladipo’s steep rise up NBA draft boards.

Offensive Potential

While Oladipo has demonstrated a promising increase in his shooting, questions remain regarding his ball-handling and ability to create offense. In half court sets as the primary ball-handler, Oladipo was turnover prone, and only occasional flashed an advanced ball-handling skill; he instead was often found settling on his speed and explosion to simply blow past defenders and get to the basket area, where about two thirds of his offense came from. Despite his lack of consistent, advanced ball-handling moves, Tom Crean trusted Oladipo enough to use him in isolation at the top of the key in almost 20% of Indiana’s possessions. Some players can’t create off the dribble simply because they lack the athletic prowess (it requires not only speed but quickness and fast-twitch ability to consistently beat a man off the dribble), but Oladipo has all of these in spades. Rather, what Oladipo is missing is the requisite skill level, which could potentially be reached given enough reps (and which has been improved significantly from his freshman year on); if his rise in shooting production is any indication, it won’t be due to a lack of work ethic that Oladipo fails to establish an advanced ball-handling repertoire. He compares to former Hoosier Eric Gordon in this respect, who, despite obvious athletic ability, had questions regarding his ball-handling at the next level.

By Gordon’s third year in the NBA, he had become a good to very good ball-handler at the 2, who had the ability to consistently get to the rim while limiting turnovers. He certainly had a head start coming out as a freshman, but it isn’t absurd to believe Oladipo could show similar improvement. Getting to the rim is an extremely valuable skill in the NBA; it’s why Austin Rivers was picked 10th in the draft despite needing significant work in just about every other aspect of his game. Should Oladipo make strides in his ball-handling, we are looking at a potential All-NBA defender who rebounds, shoots for solid percentages, can get to the rim at a decent clip, and finishes way above it in transition. That sounds like a Dwayne Wade-esque ceiling, something every team should be shooting for in a draft as shallow at the top as this one. Which is precisely why Oladipo most likely won’t even be available at 6.

The Case Against Dario Saric

In many ways, Saric is the polar opposite to Oladipo. While Oladipo spent three years in college, Saric will enter the draft as a 19 year old European. While Oladipo has merely average height for his position, Saric stands at an imposing 6’10” at the small forward position. And while many consider creating offense to be the weakest part of Oladipo game’s, an equal amount consider it to be Saric’s greatest strength, at least in terms of creating for others. An ultra-young, ultra-big, potential point-forward with court-vision and passing ability, and one who fills the position of biggest need on the team; what’s not to love? Simply put, Saric differs from Oladipo in many respects, and few of them are as positive as the above. While Oladipo possesses supreme athleticism, Saric is merely average to slightly below in this category. While his lack of hops and speed isn’t a huge concern considering his size and play-style, his lack of lateral quickness is; this team would draft Saric as a 3, and that’s where his game fits. He will never have the frame necessary to guard NBA 4’s, and it seems, he lacks the prerequisite agility and foot-speed to guard the 3 (those who advise against taking Anthony Bennett, for example, for his defensive shortcomings on the perimeter, but advocate Saric, take notice; at least the former has the athleticism necessary to “keep up” occasionally).

And while it is certainly an awkward science when comparing European to American statistics, the results are nonetheless in Oladipo’s favor; Saric didn’t come close to his offensive efficiency, shooting 36% from the field, including 30% from three and 50% from the line (these are sub-Aminu numbers). And in terms of maturity, the two seem at opposite poles; Victor Oladipo has earned nothing but praise for his work ethic and attitude, while many question Saric on both counts (though to be fair, Saric’s youth seems to be a contributing factor). Should Oladipo fall to 6 (where Saric will surely be available), the choice is obvious; outside of the 4, no position on this roster is a “sure-thing”, and you never pick the inferior player because he seems to fill a greater need, particularly when your answer at SG is the oft-injured and potentially unhappy Eric Gordon. One can only hope this actually becomes a debate, and a short-lived one, come draft night.

Draft Express Video                     Combine Interview                   Career Stats

 The Case for Dario Šarić (Michael Pellissier)

When you read Dario Šarić’s name, you may have thought: “Oh, no, not another European wing: these guys are softer than Charmin.” Let me stop you right there. Dario Šarić is Eastern European, so you know he’s tough! In fact, Šarić means “cactus” in Croatian, and if you can stand the screaming, check out what a cactus did to this idiot. His stats will not astound you, but he has been playing professional basketball with grown men, and since returning to Croatia’s league, Šarić has averaged an impressive 15 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 1.9 steals per game; also, he has registered this statline in just 30 minutes per game.

Šarić’s rebounding and size would be a welcome addition to the Pelicans squad. Rebounding isn’t exactly a sexy stat, but good offensive rebounding creates extra possessions for a team and good defensive rebounding denies the opposing team extra possessions. Games can be won in many different ways, and rebounding is one of them.

Šarić is still very young (he just turned 19 in April), and he does have some warts: he needs to fill out his frame (typical of a 19 year old) and is also considered a fairly weak defender. His free-throw shooting, considered to be one of his weaknesses, improved significantly upon his return to the Croatian league, as he shot a respectable 73% from the line. He has a budding skill set and plenty of room to improve, and Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated had this to say about him.

While draft boards across the league will fluctuate wildly over the next few weeks, many agree on this: Saric is the most talented international import. An Eastern Conference executive described Saric as “skilled beyond his years”; a Western Conference talent evaluator said Saric is “the best passing big man in the draft”; and several personnel men cited his diverse offensive repertoire as proof that the 19-year-old Saric will be able to play right away.

Perhaps more important, Saric has the drive to get better. “He’s a workaholic,” a scout said. “He lives in the gym. With his basketball IQ, you’re talking about a kid with All-Star potential.”

Intelligence is the most undervalued skill in basketball. Players with jaw-dropping athleticism make GMs drool, but basketball is a chess game, and young players with skill and intelligence (like Šarić) can be plugged in immediately and contribute, especially if they have size. Saric’s height will allow him to see the floor with clarity (over defenses) and he is also a very skilled passer at a young age.

Shot-creation is at a premium in the NBA, particularly in regards to guys who can create for others. NBA offense is typically run through guards, and most small forwards are counted upon to score, not create for others. Šarić has the ability to create his own shot and find others, which is a rare combination at his position. This alleviates the ball-handling burden on the guards. There is something to be said for an NBA team that can switch the point of attack quickly, and having more facilitating options (with a wing like Šarić) means that a team can swing the ball and attack from several different places and exert more pressure on the defense to properly execute its rotations. This makes the offense less predictable and more effective, and the fact that few small forwards can do this makes Šarić a unique find.

Consider San Antonio’s offensive machine. Tony Parker is undeniably the key cog in the engine, but the Spurs are loaded with smart players who make the correct basketball plays and execute at a high level. These players enhance his ability to operate. The Spurs spread the floor, change the point of attack, and have weakside action to prevent weakside help and also to generate open looks. Simply put, their constant movement doesn’t allow a defense any respite and creates open looks for skilled finishers. This offense, however, relies upon having 5 offensive players who can think at a high level and that have definitive skill sets. Šarić is this type of player. He sees the game at a high level and is able to find his teammates in positions where they are capable of scoring. His size would also provide the Pelicans with another screen-setting option.

Also, word on the streets is that Šarić will make his Croatian home available for travel to any and all Pelicans fans, and his mother has a Croatian reputation for making the best Bagel Bites in the nation. A pizza sensation is quite a temptation.

Questions Regarding Oladipo

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I don’t like Victor Oladipo as an NBA prospect or as a Pelican. Hell, I love the guy’s intangibles and athleticism, but Oladipo does have question marks. First and foremost, Oladipo has already completed his junior season in college. His improvement on offense this year was impressive, but in 3 college seasons, he could not eclipse 14 points per game. As I said earlier, NBA guards carry a heavy burden of creating offense, and Oladipo took 3 years to make his mark scoring the ball.

Oladipo shot an impressive 44% from 3 last season, but was that a product of defenses keying in on Cody Zeller? In his previous two seasons, Oladipo shot 20% and 31% from deep. Sample size is a key consideration when evaluating someone’s shot. Oladipo could’ve put in work to establish a better outside shot, but one good shooting season does not necessarily indicate that he will be a successful jump shooter in the NBA.

If Oladipo is not as good of a shooter as his numbers from last year indicate, he may have trouble scoring in the NBA. Defenses are faster, more athletic, and smarter in the NBA than they are in college. If he cannot shoot, they can cut off his dribble penetration and leave him to take inefficient jumpers. His defender would also be able to help off of him and contain other Pelican players. Consider that Tyreke Evans entered the NBA after a college freshman season in which he averaged an impressive 17 points per game. He blasted out of the gate en route to a Rookie of the Year award, but the next year, Evans’s scoring dropped, and it has in every year since, because teams figured out that he can’t shoot jumpers. The knock on Oladipo (besides the questions about his shooting consistency) is that he cannot create his own shot. In isolation situations, Oladipo turned the ball over on 28% of his possessions (DraftExpress). Isolation also constituted just 8% of his offense (DraftExpress).

Oladipo’s defense may be a sure thing in the NBA, but his offensive ability is still unproven.


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For previous Sixth Pick Tournament Matchups, click here.