Victor Oladipo, focused on effort and defense, still finds time to raise offense

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BOSTON – Victor Oladipo didn’t start a game at DeMatha High School, a D.C.-area prep power, until his senior year. On teams stocked with college talent, it was hard to get noticed.

“I would just play hard. That was my role,” Oladipo said. “Play hard and defend, guard the other team’s best player.”

At Indiana under Tom Crean, it was more of the same. Defense, steals, blocks, hustle plays.

Until Oladipo’s junior year.

As much as his thunderous dunks excited everyone, his 3-point shooting really took him to the next level as an NBA prospect. That year, Oladipo shot 44 percent from beyond the arc, up from 24 percent the two years prior. It’s a big reason the Magic drafted him No. 2 overall in 2013.

But with increased offensive expectations as a rookie – Oladipo’s usage percentage actually went up from his final year at Indiana – Oladipo struggled to find the same efficiency. He shot just 41.9 percent from the field and 32.7 percent on 3-pointers.

This year, after a facial fracture set him back, Oladipo is finding his footing.

He’s shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 42.9 on 3-pointers, and his turnovers are down.

“Everybody talks about hard work, but there are certain guys that take it to a different level, and he’s one of those guys that has the reputation of taking it to a different level,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who faced Oladipo’s Hoosiers while coaching Butler. “And you can see it in the game. You can see it with his ball handling. He’s good going both directions. He’s shooting it.”

Oladipo is the only player who received multiple Rookie of the Year votes last season whose win shares per 48 minutes this season (blue) are up from last season (silver):

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That’s not to say only Oladipo has improved while Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, Mason Plumlee, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Gorgui Dieng haven’t. But those other five at least have improved on a scale that’s getting noticed by that stat.

There are other small indicators Oladipo is on the right track, too.

The Magic are scoring 100.0 points with Oladipo on the court and 97.9 when he sits. It’s a small uptick, but it’s remarkably better than last season, when they scored 97.8 with him and 102.1 without him.

How did Oladipo improve his efficiency? Sticking with his original mindset. As he develops, he’s shooting less.

“My game is not taking contested 3s,” Oladipo said. “But the open ones, you shoot with confidence.”

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.