Sometime during this past college basketball season, when the hype surrounding Indiana was at its height, there was a brief debate over Hoosiers guard Victor Oladipo drawing comparisons (albeit very timid comparisons) to Michael Jordan.
Of course, the debate was more like a one-sided gang initiation. After all, if the MJ-worshipping masses will still rain disdain on those who put LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the same paragraph as Jordan, a late bloomer like Oladipo – who arguably wasn’t even the best player on his college team – will only make them angry.
Unfortunately for Oladipo, with the Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats now holding the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft, he could wind up playing for MJ and reigniting the beatdown – um, I mean, the debate – all over again. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pressure on any young player, but at the same time, I don’t see what’s so wrong about comparing Oladipo to Jordan at this stage in his career.
Step back and think clearly: As a player, 1984 Michael Jordan was not 1992 Michael Jordan. The junior coming out of North Carolina was not dropping 30 points a night against Detroit and Cleveland; he was scoring 19 per game against Duke and Clemson.
Jordan the draft prospect was not the clear-cut best player in the world. He wasn’t even a clear-cut pick for the best player in his draft class. Don’t let the revisionist historians fool you: At the time, there was not a huge uproar when Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie were chosen ahead of Jordan.
Longtime NBA exec Rod Thorn, the Bulls’ GM who drafted Jordan, said as much in a 2009 New York Daily News article:
“When I drafted him, I said, ‘OK, we’re gonna get a good player here,’” Thorn was quoted. “I thought he’ll come in and play and help us. But to think that he would be what he turned out to be? No way. No way.”
Jordan was viewed as a talented two-guard with a suspect outside jumper who needed to bulk up his 6-6, 195-pound frame. No scouting reports in ’84 said he would be equal to and eventually better than Julius Erving and Jerry West. Remember, Dr. Jack Ramsay was one of the men responsible for taking Bowie over Jordan with Portland’s No. 2 pick, and Dr. Jack Ramsay has forgotten more about basketball than most of us will ever know.
The Jordan we know now as the Greatest of All Time was a beast bred in the pros. In college, he was merely an elite player with a lot of potential. So where is the definitive evidence that Oladipo – who averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals as a junior in a modern-day college hoops climate in which it’s tougher than ever for scorers to score – can’t live up to the Jordan comparisons?
Oladipo has the size (6-5, 214) and athleticism to fit the bill. He’s a better shooter (44 percent from three-point range last season) at this stage in his career than Jordan was at the same stage. And from all reports I’ve read, Oladipo has the kind of drive and work ethic that leads to continued improvement on the next level.
I’m not going to predict that Victor Oladipo will become the next Michael Jordan. Maybe his ceiling is closer to Dwyane Wade. Maybe he won’t be any better than Rodney Stuckey. In the NBA draft, you really do never know. Which is why I try not to discount any possibility.
So when it’s this early in the game, how can anybody say with certainty that Oladipo is incapable of running with the G.O.A.T.?
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