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Sometimes it takes a while for players to adjust to their teams on a yearly basis. Even if a player never changes teams during their career, that player still sees change from year-to-year in the form of new coaches or new teammates. Even an organization as stable as the San Antonio Spurs witnesses change every season. With former franchise guys like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili getting older, Head Coach Greg Popovich has had to change his approach every season to account for those players’ declined skills and find a way to replace that production, such as giving more offensive control to Kawhi Leonard. Now Leonard is the star while Duncan and Ginobili are the role players.
All four of our former Hoosiers have seen their role change from last season and surprisingly enough each one has already settled into their new role. This week I will go over how each ex-Hoosier’s role has changed from last season and why they have been able to succeed in those roles so far this season:
Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:
Vs Orlando (L 103-94): 21 points (8-19 FG)(1-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 38 minutes.
Vs Atlanta (L 121-115): 22 points (8-15 FG)(3-3 FT), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, block, turnover, 5 personal fouls, 39 minutes.
@ Dallas (L 107-98): 21 points (7-15 FG)(2-2 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, steal, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 41 minutes.
Another way someone’s role can change is when someone else on the team gets injured and can’t play. A year after transitioning himself into a three-point specialist, Eric Gordon is back to being the lead scoring guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Gordon saw his role reduced so that Tyreke Evans, who had arguably his best season since his rookie of the year campaign, could be a bigger part of the offense. However, after off-season knee surgery, Evans has yet to take the court and probably won’t for the next couple of months. This has given Gordon his chance to shine once again in the role he was expected to hold for a decade when he came to New Orleans in the Chris Paul-trade. Of course like any good veteran, Gordon didn’t just simply revert to how he played in this role during previous seasons. Instead he is taking advantage of his improved range as Gordon has made at least three three-pointers and has shot 33% or better from deep in all four of his 20-point games this season. This shows that while he is filling the lead guard role at the moment, he is also aware that he needs to keep his three-point skills sharp as he will eventually switch back to that role once Evans returns to the team.
Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:
@ New Orleans (W 103-94): 12 points (4-8 FG)(3-3 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, block, 2 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 36 minutes.
@ Houston (L 119-114 OT): 18 points (7-16 FG)(3-3 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 44 minutes.
Vs Toronto (W 92-87): 18 points (7-14 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, turnover, personal foul, 31 minutes.
@ Philadelphia (W 105-97): 15 points (6-18 FG)(2-2 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, turnover, 34 minutes.
I’ve talked a number of times about how Victor Oladipo can become the leader of the Orlando Magic. However, being the leader doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the best offensive player and the leading scorer. Despite surprising offensive success last season, I think what we saw last year was Oladipo overextending himself. By focusing so much on offense, his defense suffered. Now for the first time in his NBA career, Oladipo is posting an above average player efficiency rating (15.59 PER) and the Orlando Magic are starting to win. He is doing this despite shooting a career-worst 37.9% from the floor and 27.0% from deep. You may be asking how is that possible? Oladipo has made up for his poor shooting by grabbing nearly eight rebounds a game, creating nearly two steals a game, and greatly reducing his turnovers. That last one is huge as Oladipo has been a turnover machine at times (averaging three per game for his career) because he simply tries too hard sometimes. Now he is more careful and patient with the ball and has seen that number cut in half. If Oladipo can raise his shooting percentage north of 40% again, I think we may in for Oladipo’s best season yet.
Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:
@ Minnesota (W 106-101): 5 points (1-3 FG)(3-4 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 19 minutes.
@ Utah (W 108-92): 1 point (0-3 FG)(1-2 FT), turnover, 3 personal fouls, 13 minutes.
Vs Memphis (W 115-96): 2 points (1-4 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, personal foul, 11 minutes.
Vs Detroit (L 120-103): 4 points (2-3 FG), 3 rebounds, assist, turnover, personal foul, 10 minutes.
Being the only Hoosier to change teams this offseason, it was expected that Noah Vonleh’s role would change as he was with an entirely new organization. Sure enough, Vonleh finds himself in a completely different role with the Portland Trail Blazers as he has gone from last man off the bench to first big man off the bench. While the statistics don’t seem to show much improvement, there’s no way to downplay the fact that the Blazers are continuing to involve Vonleh even though he is still developing. Unlike in Charlotte, the Blazers know the importance long-term of getting Vonleh experience on the court, and that is why Vonleh has had more playing time than a veteran like Chris Kamen who could probably help the team more this season. Vonleh has given some quality minutes but he still needs to improve. However, as long as the Blazers keep supporting him, Vonleh will eventually reward Portland for its patience.
Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:
Vs Chicago (W 130-105): 6 points (2-5 FG)(2-2 FT), 5 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 16 minutes.
@ Dallas (W 108-94): 11 points (4-6 FG)(3-4 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 steals, block, 3 personal fouls, 19 minutes.
@ San Antonio (L 114-94): 2 points (0-4 FG)(2-4 FT), 5 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 24 minutes.
Cody Zeller has seen his role change more than any Hoosier I have covered for this column. So it’s no surprise that Zeller again finds himself in a new role for the Charlotte Hornets this season. Last year Zeller seemingly found his niche as an athletic post defender and that has been his primary role this season. The difference this year is that instead of playing alongside Al Jefferson in the starting lineup to help cover for Big Al defensively, Zeller is coming off the bench to force extra defensive pressure when the Hornets’ main scorers (Jefferson and Kemba Walker) are off the court. Not only that, but playing against other bench players gives Zeller a better chance to become more confident on the offensive side of the ball. While his offensive game hasn’t seen much progress, his defensive game has become more versatile. Zeller is currently averaging 1.17 steals per game and has had a steal in all seven games this year. This shows he is becoming more confident as a defender and that he is willing to be more aggressive. If Zeller is able to gain confidence offensively, I could see him moving back into the starting lineup and thus changing his role yet again.
Eric Gordon: 17.8ppg, 3.2rpg, 3.2apg, 0.83spg, 0.17bpg, 1.7tpg, 2.4fpg, 41.1% FG, 38.3% 3FG, 83.3% FT, 36.0mpg.
Victor Oladipo: 16.3ppg, 7.6rpg, 4.6apg, 1.86spg, 0.71bpg, 1.6tpg, 1.9fpg, 37.9% FG, 27.0% 3FG, 88.9% FT, 38.7mpg.
Noah Vonleh: 2.3ppg, 2.7rpg, 0.4apg, 0.43bpg, 1.0tpg, 1.7fpg, 30.0% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 66.7% FT, 13.4mpg.
Cody Zeller: 6.2ppg, 5.3rpg, 0.5apg, 1.17spg, 0.33bpg, 0.7tpg, 1.7fpg, 43.3% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 73.3% FT, 21.5mpg.