The Rise of Victor Ola-Defense

Insight4 weeks ago4 min readJuan Carlos Pardiño

Last week’s West Coast road trip was something of a coming-out party for Victor Oladipo. It included a remarkable breakout game in Utah, during which Oladipo, who had been struggling on offense, erupted for 23 points, five assists, and five boards on 4-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

But those who have been paying close attention know that Oladipo earned his spot in the rotation well before the Heat’s road trip, and this is because of his outstanding contributions on the defensive end.

Advanced metrics love Victor Oladipo’s defense. Dunks and Threes’ Defensive Plus-Minus has Oladipo at a plus-1.2 – this places him in the 87th percentile overall among qualifying defenders. He also boasts an impressive 3.2% steal percentage when he’s on the court, a figure that places him in the 97th percentile among all players in the league.

Essentially, this stat tells us that, when Oladipo is on the floor, 3.2% of all opponent possessions result in a steal. (It’s also worth noting that, of the players who rank higher than Oladipo in this metric, none average more than 20 minutes per game.)

But, the conventional stats love Oladipo’s defense, as well. On his own, Oladipo has snagged 35.1% of the Heat’s total steals. That makes him the most theft-happy defender on a team that averages 8.4 steals per game, which is third-best in the league.

The tape reveals a clinic in thievery. Oladipo pounces passing lanes, strips handlers when they least expect it, fronts bigs in the post to deflect entry passes, and simply out-hustles and out-muscles opponents.

But the steals aren’t all that separate Oladipo from the average wing defender. He’s exceptional at the top of the Heat’s zone, which, per Synergy Stats, is holding opponents to a stifling 0.93 points per possession. In the clips below, we see Oladipo’s elite footwork, core strength, and lateral quickness as he contains players attempting to drive past him from the perimeter. InStat has Oladipo limiting opposing players to just 0.94 points per possession on two catch-and-drive possessions per game.

I also love Oladipo’s unmatched tenacity when fighting through screens to contain pick-and-roll handlers. His ability to operate over, under, and basically through screens makes it nearly impossible for handlers to create an advantage on many possessions.

What should excite the average Heat fan about Victor Oladipo is what he brings at the point of attack on defense. Bam Adebayo is arguably the most elite defensive big in the league because he can not only reliably protect the rim, but also switch out onto the perimeter and contain virtually any player in the NBA. Jimmy Butler can match up with any wing in the league, and he provides unmatched ball-hawking skills at the nail.

Despite trotting out this duo on most nights, the Heat’s defense had been missing an above-average point-of-attack defender before Oladipo’s arrival – someone who could contain guards and wings that want to apply pressure at the rim. As we’ve seen in his stretch of increasingly impressive defensive performances, the emergence (and health) of Oladipo give the Heat just that.

With a trio of Oladipo, Butler, and Bam, the Heat have enough versatility and talent on the defensive end to check virtually any guard, wing, and big combo in the NBA. Right now, it’s a matter of getting these 3 on the floor together for consistent minutes and letting them find their rhythm.