The pick-and-roll connection between Victor Oladipo and Nik Vučević played a major role in the Orlando Magic's 95-85 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The rookie guard, filling in at the point for the injured Jameer Nelson, and the third-year center used that action to hook up several times throughout that game, to great effect. We'll get to a breakdown of some specific plays momentarily, but first we want to point out that the two Orlando teammates weren't always in sync.
"You guys should have seen us," Oladipo said to the media following the win. "Even in practice, we couldn't even pocket pass [or] pick-and-roll. We just couldn't read each other for nothin'."
Moments earlier, across the locker room and well out of earshot from Oladipo, Vučević offered a similar assessment.
"Early in the year we couldn't really get it together as far as pick-and-roll and stuff like that, which is normal," the seven-footer said. "It's our first year playing together." He noted that he needed time to become accustomed to playing alongside Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick in the 2012/13 season, his first in Magic pinstripes, and that he relayed that message to Oladipo early in Oladipo's rookie season.
The pair seem to have made progress in ironing out the kinks in their on-court relationship. "Definitely," Oladipo said when one reporter asked him if he had a good connection with Vučević. "And it can even get better."
"I think now we have a pretty good chemistry, pick-and-roll wise, when he drives for dump-offs and stuff," Vučević said. "It's great. I think it'll be huge for us going in the future."
The pick-and-roll will indeed figure prominently in the Magic's future, if Tuesday's win is any indication. We've compiled each of the four clips in this post into a longer video at the top of this page; you're welcome to provide your own soundtrack, but we recommend Glass Candy's "Warm in the Winter." What follows is our breakdown of each individual clip.
Off a sideline out-of-bounds set, Oladipo dribbles to his left off a pair of staggered screens from Tobias Harris and then Vučević. Harris' man, Dorell Wright, switched with Oladipo's man, Mo Williams, on the initial screen, and Wright struggles to catch up to Oladipo. As a result, Robin Lopez has to contain Oladipo on the drive and Vučević on the dive all by himself, as both Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum elect to stay on Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo in the left and right corners, respectively, rather than help Lopez--or even just stunt--on the play.
Portland's initial switch leaves Lopez in a bad spot here. Oladipo slings the ball to Vučević, and he finishes through contact from Lopez with the right hand for an and-one.
Oladipo didn't tally an assist on this play, nor should he have, but it's still noteworthy in the way it highlights the growing comfort level between him and his pick-and-roll partner.
Oladipo runs Williams right off a Vučević screen, and then back to his left, effectively shaking the veteran point guard and leaving him trailing the play. Batum helps off Afflalo from the left wing and Lopez steps up from Vučević on the roll to contain Oladipo. The rookie steps to his left and tries a lefty banker, which misses the mark. However, Vučević tips the ball in milliseconds after it leaves the cylinder.
The guilty party for Portland is Wright, who accomplishes nothing on this play. He leaves Harris alone in the right corner, but doesn't even attempt to box out Vučević as Oladipo's shot goes up, instead only placing his hand on the Magic pivot's back.
The following play demonstrates the extent to which unused screens can be effective as decoys. Vučević sets a screen to Lillard's right near the right wing, setting Oladipo up for a drive to Oladipo's left. Oladipo feints as though he plans to use the screen, only to reject it and cross the ball back over to this right hand. This bit of trickery works as well as a screen might have: Lillard shuffled to his right, anticipating having to fight through it, and is thus left in the dust when Oladipo begins his drive.
Lopez steps up to deny Oladipo, creating an open passing lane to Vučević. He dumps it off and Vučević finishes the play with a dunk.
Vučević turns this pick-and-roll into a post-up against Lopez, a seven-footer who, despite his frequent appearances on video in this story, ranks as a soundly above-average defender.
Oladipo dribbles Lillard off the Vučević screen and almost into the paint, where Lopez meets him. Oladipo picks up his dribble near the left elbow, reverse-pivots to create a passing lane, and feeds Vučević, whom Portland finally decides to cover: Batum leaves Harkless all by his lonesome in the right corner to stunt.
Vučević takes one hard dribble with his left hand, lowers his right shoulder into Lopez's chest to create separation, and elevates for a difficult finish with his left hand off the glass. The same long arms which make Vučević a terror on the boards also work to his advantage here, as his length enables him to avoid Lopez's excellent contest.
Thanks in part to his improving chemistry with Oladipo and the rookie's own budding skills as a ballhandler, Vučević finished Tuesday's win with 22 points, his best offensive output since he hung 30 on the Los Angeles Clippers on November 6th. Now that he's adjusted to Oladipo's speed--the biggest trait, according to Vučević, which distinguishes the rookie from Nelson, another frequent pick-and-roll partner of Vučević's--the pair can continue fine-tuning their work together and perhaps forge an Orlando pick-and-roll combination stylistically divergent from, but no less lethal than, the one between Nelson and Dwight Howard from the franchise's most successful days.