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Welcome to a new season of Hoosiers In the NBA! Just like Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller (who were the main focus back when this was just called Zeller and Oladipo Watch) this column is entering its third season. Also just like them, I hope I am able to improve upon the progress I made last season and I hope you all continue to enjoy reading it. For this week’s addition, I’ll begin by posting each ex-Hoosier’s previous season stats and their preseason stats this year. I’ll also go over everyone’s goals for the upcoming season as well as how I think they can attain those goals. Finally, I’ll give my statistical projections for each Hoosier. Now, let’s take a look at the players we will be following this season and what they are trying to accomplish:
Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:
2014-2015 stats: 13.4ppg, 2.6rpg, 3.8apg, 0.82spg, 0.23bpg, 2.0tpg, 2.4fpg, 41.1% FG, 44.8% 3FG, 80.5% FT, 33.1mpg. (61 games)
2015 Preseason stats: 13.4ppg, 2.2rpg, 1.6apg, 1.00spg, 0.6tpg, 2.0fpg, 34.0% FG, 32.0% 3FG, 78.6% FT, 24.4mpg. (5 games)
This season’s goals:
- Stay healthy
- Continue to shoot around 40% from three-point range
- Have the occasional throwback game when the team needs it
How to obtain those goals: Some things you can’t control and that can be especially true when it comes to injuries. However, one way Gordon can avoid injuries is to not take too any unnecessary risks. By this I mean don’t go diving out of bounds to save a loose ball. I know some people may disagree with what I am saying, but Gordon is a bigger asset to the Pelicans healthy than sitting on the bench. Of course that example is circumstantial. If that loose ball occurred in the final minute of a game in late March with New Orleans fighting for playoff positioning, then Gordon should take the risk and dive for that loose ball. It’s those throw away loose balls in the middle of the second quarter in December that he should avoid altogether.
Gordon is very important to this Pelicans team, as he is basically the team’s best guard and arguably their second best player at the moment. With Tyreke Evans out a couple months and Jrue Holiday being put on a minutes restriction, Gordon needs to be healthy and play well these first few months so the Pelicans don’t fall behind early in the season. That means Gordon may have to reach back and play aggressively (drive to the basket, generate more free throws) for the first few months so any and all unnecessary risks need to be eliminated. When Evans returns and Holiday is off his minutes restriction, Gordon can reprise his role from last season, a knockdown three-point shooter. Last season was a career year from behind the arc and while I doubt he will near 45% again this year, as long as he doesn’t neglect that part of his game the first part of the season when he’s playing more aggressively, he should find his stroke and average around 40% for the rest of the season.
Predicted stats: 14.3ppg, 3.1rpg, 4.2apg, 46% FG, 40% 3FG, 83% FT.
Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:
2014-2015 stats: 17.9ppg, 4.2rpg, 4.1apg, 1.67spg, 0.26bpg, 2.8tpg, 2.6fpg, 43.6% FG, 33.9% 3FG, 81.9% FT, 35.7mpg. (72 games)
2015 Preseason stats: 10.1ppg, 3.9rpg, 2.6apg, 1.38spg, 0.25bpg, 1.1tpg, 2.1fpg, 47.6% FG, 40.9% 3FG, 66.7% FT, 24.3mpg. (8 games)
This season’s goals:
- Improve on defense
- Become a more efficient offensive player/better three-point shooter
- Cut down on the turnovers
How to obtain those goals: Coming into the NBA, it was thought that Oladipo was guaranteed to be a great defensive player who could become a great overall player if he developed his offensive game. Two years in and it turned out that the opposite was true. Oladipo has blown away expectations offensively, nearly averaging 18 points in his sophomore campaign and shooting decently from three-point range until a late-season slump brought down his shooting average. It has actually been the defensive side of his game that has troubled Oladipo. To a lot of people’s surprise, the Orlando Magic actually gave up 4.6 less points per 100 possessions when Oladipo was off the floor than they did when he was on the floor. Part of the reason has been that Oladipo has focused more on the offensive side of the ball because the Magic had a very hard time scoring for most of the season, but he no longer has that excuse. In addition to rookie Mario Hezonja and an improving Elfrid Payton likely to make the offense more lethal, the Magic brought in new head coach Scott Skiles, who is one of the better defensive NBA coaches in the league. Oladipo needs to learn everything he can from Skiles and regain his defensive form, because if he does he has the potential to become the superstar this team needs.
While Oladipo has been a successful offensive player, there are still a few things he needs to fix. He still needs to be a more consistent shooter. While not as bad as his rookie season, Oladipo still had far too many games where he just kept putting up brick after brick. That leads me to the other part of his game that needs fixing: forced turnovers. Oladipo improved a lot in terms of ball security last season, but he can improve even more this season. Part of that is realizing that while it doesn’t show up as a turnover on the stat sheet, a bad shot is basically the same thing as a turnover. Oladipo needs to play more disciplined offensively and if he can do that he will become a more efficient scorer.
Predicted stats: 18.6ppg, 5.1rpg, 4.7apg, 48% FG, 37% 3FG, 84% FT.
Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:
2014-2015 stats (Charlotte Hornets): 3.3ppg, 3.4rpg, 0.2apg, 0.16spg, 0.36bpg, 0.4tpg, 0.8fpg, 39.5% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 69.2% FT, 10.3mpg. (25 games)
2015 Preseason stats: 6.4ppg, 7.9rpg, 0.4apg, 0.29spg, 0.43bpg, 0.9tpg, 2.3fpg, 44.2% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 53.8% FT, 22.6mpg. (7 games)
This season’s goals:
- Continue to learn the game
- Continue to develop the three-point shot
- Take advantage of every opportunity
How to obtain those goals: Although the goals I laid out for Vonleh may seem silly, you need to remember that this guy, or should I say kid, isn’t even old enough to legally drink. Vonleh just turned 20 years old two months ago, making him around the same age as many of this year’s rookies. For the most part he still is a rookie after he wasted away on the Hornets bench neither being good enough to play in the NBA but at the same time too talented to play in the NBA’s D-League. While Vonleh is still a backup in Portland, his role is much more different and much more beneficial for his growth. He will be a part of the Trail Blazer’s second team lineup and will routinely see 10-15 minutes each game against other team’s first and second unit players. This should help develop Vonleh more than when he was just playing in garbage time, when you can’t guarantee that the opponent will be going all out, especially if they are the ones with the big lead. Vonleh needs to take advantage of this opportunity so that when he eventually gets his chance at starting he will have experience playing against high-level competition.
That brings us to Vonleh’s game. The former Big Ten Freshman of the Year was a lottery pick in 2014 for his upside, especially as a rebounder and a three-point shooter. While last season was a disappointing year for Vonleh, he did confirm to everyone that his rebounding skills will easily transfer to the NBA, averaging nearly 12 rebounds when adjusted to 40 minutes per game. Now he needs to work on his outside shot. While he didn’t shoot badly from behind the arc, it’s the fact that we don’t have that much of a sample size to judge him. Vonleh’s potential to stretch the floor makes him a valuable player, and if Vonleh wants to be starting by the end of this season or the start of next season, he’ll need to prove that he can consistently hit three-pointers, which means he needs to focus on that part of his game in practice until shooting threes becomes natural for him.
Predicted stats: 5.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 0.8apg, 48% FG, 35% 3FG, 71% FT.
Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:
2014-2015 stats: 7.6ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.6apg, 0.56spg, 0.79bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.5fpg, 46.1% FG, 100.0% 3FG, 77.4% FT, 24.0mpg. (62 games)
2015 Preseason stats: 7.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.5apg, 0.88spg, 0.25bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.3fpg, 60.6% FG, 66.7% 3FG, 57.7% FT, 22.1mpg. (8 games)
This season’s goals:
- Continue last season’s defensive improvement
- Become a more reliable offensive player
- Find your niche on the team
How to obtain those goals: Just like Oladipo, Zeller has also defied expectations, but for the exact opposite reason. Expected to be an offensive threat who would struggle to defend bigger players, Zeller ranked as one of the 25 best defensive players in the NBA according to Defensive Plus-Minus (+2.5). Subjective and complicated stats aside, Coach Steve Clifford, a coach who values defense heavily, is expected to still start Zeller at power forward even after an offseason where the Hornets brought in big men such as Frank Kaminsky, Tyler Hansbrough, and Spencer Hawes. Despite each one likely being an upgrade over Zeller offensively, Zeller’s defense is so crucial for the Hornets that Clifford will live with Zeller’s offensive shortcomings. Now that speaks volumes of a players defensive skill.
Now about those offensive shortcomings. Zeller holds the Indiana University record for best career shooting percentage. While college performance doesn’t always translate to NBA performance, there is a big drop off from being a 59% shooter in college to being a 44% shooter in the NBA. Those scouting reports that talked about Zeller struggling against bigger players were correct, but it has been bigger defenders that have given Zeller problems. Last season, Zeller shot better away from the basket than he did under the basket. You read that correctly: Zeller made 46.1% of his shots last season but when only counting layup attempts he shot 42.6%. Zeller has two options, either he bulks up and continues to try and battle in the post, or he can finally use his range to good use and become a stretch-four or a stretch-five. This is the season Zeller has to choose and it seems he has chosen the stretch big man route which I think is for the best. While it would be great to see Zeller dominate the post like he did back when he was donning the candy stripe pants, Zeller knows his niche in the NBA is currently his defense, as his athleticism and mobility let him guard both traditional and stretch power forwards. Bulking up would only slow him down and take away from his defensive versatility. If Zeller can start knocking down threes (he hit only one three last season but he hit dozens of 20-footers), we may start to see Zeller’s full potential.
Predicted stats: 9.2ppg, 7.4rpg, 2.0apg, 54% FG, 33% 3FG, 79% FT.