Having already been deemed expendable by two franchises at age 25, Victor Oladipo is carrying a heavy burden — call it the burden of proof — into his fifth NBA season.
“It’s a brick. It’s like a brick building. A wall. A house. It’s not a chip anymore,” Oladipo said when asked to describe the weight on his shoulders. “It’s way bigger, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to show people how big the brick is.”
He’s particularly excited now that he finds himself back in familiar territory.
Oladipo, a 6-foot-4 guard and one of the best Indiana University basketball players in recent years, was the second overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft — but he has since been traded twice, by the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder just 13 months apart.
In July, Oladipo and promising 6-11 post Domantas Sabonis were shipped from the Thunder to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for four-time All-Star swingman Paul George.
The former Hoosier star is part of a franchise overhaul that includes a new president of basketball operations (Kevin Pritchard), a rookie forward and possible starter in former UCLA star T.J. Leaf, and a steamlined version of 6-10 post Al Jefferson, who became a vegetarian and shed 40 pounds since the end of last season.
Jefferson, who is with his fifth NBA franchise and is the Pacers’ second-oldest player at 32, likes what Oladipo brings to the team in terms of basketball skills and attitude.
“I would look at him as a small giant. He’s not the tallest guy on the court, but you notice his presence,” Jefferson said. “You’re born with that swag, man. He’s a swaggy guy; you can tell.
“It’s a swag league, but you’ve also got to bring something to go with it. When you look at him, he’s gotten better each and every year.”
Oladipo, who boasts career averages of 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists, is expected to be one of three new starters in the Pacers’ lineup when the team opens the regular season at home against Brooklyn on Oct. 18.
Third-year center/forward Myles Turner and forward Thaddeus Young are virtual locks, with four backcourt players (Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Cory Joseph and veteran point guard Darren Collison) also looking to crack the starting five.
Second-year Indiana coach Nate McMillan led the team to a 42-40 regular-season record in 2016-17. The Pacers were then swept in the opening round of the playoffs by eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland in four surprisingly competitive games.
Sixty-five percent of that team’s point production is gone, which means plenty of opportunities for Oladipo.
“The time is right for us to get him. He’s a guy who was drafted No. 2, and the expectations of that type of pick, and you’ve got several people giving up on you,” McMillan said. “He has the opportunity to go out and prove himself.”
“I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s not quite in his prime, which is great. We have an opportunity to work and hopefully develop him into what a lot of people expected him to be.”
Stephenson, the Pacers’ unpredictable and impulsive sixth man, remembers his reaction in July upon hearing Oladipo would soon be a teammate.
“I was happy. I know he brings that tough energy, he runs the floor and he wants to win,” Stephenson said. “He adds another spark to that aggressiveness. He can actually guard a 1, 2 or 3. I feel he’s very versatile at the defensive end.”
Oladipo has experienced plenty since he was playing home games at IU’s Assembly Hall, some 50 miles south of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He’s glad to be back on familiar soil.
“The funny thing is when I left (IU) I felt like there was something missing. I could have gave more,” said Oladipo, who left IU after his junior season. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
THE OLADIPO FILE
Name: Victor Oladipo
Born: Silver Spring, Maryland
High school: DeMatha (2010)
College: Indiana University (2010-13)
Draft status: Selected second overall by Orlando in the 2013 NBA Draft
Did you know?: Despite playing only three seasons at IU, Oladipo scored 1,117 career points.
The Pacers open the regular season Wednesday. A look at the first five games on the 2017-18 schedule:
Saturday;at Miami;8 p.m.
Oct. 24;at Minnesota;8 p.m.
Oct. 25;at Oklahoma City;8 p.m.