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Better days are ahead for the Rockets with Victor Oladipo leading the way

Despite a five-point loss to the Bulls, Victor Oladipo’s debut proved better days are ahead for the Rockets.

Houston Rockets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Stephen Silas was two picks away from drafting Victor Oladipo during the 2013 NBA Draft. He was part of the then-Charlotte Bobcats draft process as an assistant coach for the team. With the Bobcats holding the fourth pick, Silas studied some of the top draft prospects coming out of college. One of which was Oladipo, who just took home the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors at Indiana University Bloomington.

But as he reminisced on the draft process via Zoom on Sunday. Silas said his team did not spend too much time on Oladipo, as the future All-Star guard was out of their range. When it came time for the draft, the Orlando Magic selected Oladipo with the second overall pick. Silas and the Bobcats drafted Cody Zeller — Oladipo’s teammate at Indiana.

The prospect that Silas missed out on seven years ago is now his starting two-guard as a member of the Houston Rockets.

“To have Vic is exciting. He is a big shot taker who is not afraid of the moment. But he is also a quality defensive-minded player. He is a true two-way guy, who can be effective on the offensive end and change the game defensively as well. We are definitely excited to have him join this team.” — Silas

Oladipo was acquired by the Rockets in a four-team deal that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

He made his Rocket debut Monday night in a 125-120 loss to the Chicago Bulls inside the United Center. Turnovers. Lack of perimeter defense. And a sluggish first quarter spoiled an impressing debut from Oladipo. His 32-point outing became the second-highest scoring debut in team history — trailing only Harden (37) from 2012.

It wasn’t a surprise that Oladipo struggled to take care of the ball. Since his arrival from Indiana, Oladipo only had one practice and a few film studies during his first 48 hours with the Rockets. The unfamiliarity with his new teammates ended with Oladipo recording seven turnovers in the loss.

But while it was challenging for Oladipo to get accustomed to his new teammates on the fly, the chemistry with Christian Wood came naturally.

During his introductory press conference, Oladipo expressed his excitement to play with Wood as his primary pick-and-roll partner. In their first game together as teammates, seven of Oladipo’s nine assists were to Wood. The duo combined for 62 points with Wood adding 30 points on the night.

“Vic looked great today. With me and him in pick-and-rolls is going to be amazing. He brings two defenders with him at all times, which allows me to either pop or roll. He can see the corner guys. And he can get the offense going for us.” — Wood

It may take some time for Oladipo to find his chemistry on the court. Given the league’s health and safety protocols and lack of practice, the on-court camaraderie has been a consistent problem for the Rockets in 2021. But what hasn’t been an issue is their determination to prove their doubters wrong. It’s an aspiration that grew following Harden’s words that deemed the team “not good enough” during his final hours as a Rocket.

Led by Silas as a first-year head coach, Houston’s roster consists of six undrafted players. Three players trying to work their way back from career-altering injuries. All orchestrated by first-year general manager Rafael Stone. And Oladipo fits the Rockets’ mold.

“I play with the same chip. To be able to join a unit that has the same mentality and goal, usually great things happens. I have to prove everything. That’s how I have always been. It’s bigger than a chip now. I am looking forward to competing every single night.” — Oladipo

Two years ago, Oladipo could not even walk. He sustained a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in January of 2019 and has been working his way back ever since. Oladipo would go on to miss 100 out of the next 155 games for the Pacers. In the 19 games he played following his return, questions arose on whether Oladipo could regain his All-Star form. Prior to his trade to the Rockets, Oladipo was averaging 20.0 points through his first nine games of the season. His scoring output during his debut marked his first 30-point game since Jan. 4, 2019.

Oladipo’s career in Houston began on a great note. But his pending free agency has the general public asking if he will be one and done with the Rockets. His long-term commitment is still a conundrum. But for now, Oladipo’s main focus is winning.

Oladipo says this is an opportunity to help impact winning at the highest level. It’s all he ever wanted to do his whole career. And he wants to do it here — in Houston. Oladipo fell short of his goal of winning during his debut against the Bulls. And he has a tough road ahead trying to change the fortunes of the Rockets following a 4-8 start to the season.

It’s a task Oladipo is awe too familiar with since he was drafted by the 20-62 Magic in 2013. The hope of becoming a foundational piece for a franchise on the cusp of a rebuild. It has been a murky start for the Rockets throughout their first 12 games of the season. But with Oladipo, a bright future lies ahead for Silas and the organization.

“Our better days are ahead of us — definitely. This is only the beginning. It is just the little stuff like playing with the guys and being better defensively. Once we do that and click, we can be really special. I truly believe that.” — Oladipo