By: Mike McCann
In case you missed it, (and if you watch ESPN, you didn’t) Michael Jordan turned fifty, last weekend. Never has an athlete been more celebrated for a birthday, and deservedly so. This can be proclaimed as loud and clear as can come across the Internet: in my opinion, Michael Jordan is the greatest player in NBA history. But Jordan wasn’t always the best. He didn’t walk into the NBA and immediately assume the reins as the leader of the Santa’s sleigh. Jordan had to earn that title, and earn it he did. His resume needs no introduction.
But remember Jordan didn’t get drafted first. There were scouts who thought it was okay to pass on Michael, and draft someone else. That idea is essential to the rest of the argument, so if you can’t get over it, stop reading now. Comparing a college athlete to NBA great Michael Jordan is insane, stupid, and disrespectful. But comparing a college kid to Michael Jordan from North Carolina can be done. Victor Oladipo is the guy to compare.
Remember, Oladipo is not being evaluated on his NBA titles (or lack thereof), but rather on what he brings to the table as a college basketball player. Oladipo is explosive, aggressive, and smart, all three of which could be used to describe Jordan, and a lot of other tremendous college players. When Indiana beat Michigan back on February 2nd, it was early in the first half when Oladipo took off from the left wing, made a move and slammed it home, prompting Dick Vitale to initially compare Oladipo with “His Airness.” I thought it was ridiculous. How could anyone put an untested college player on the same level with the greatest of all-time? Tuesday night, Vitale touched on the comparison again, this time during the Indiana-Michigan State game. When you go into it, maybe he’s not that far off.
First things first: Michael Jordan, even in college, is a superior scorer to Oladipo. Michael had a career average of 17.7 ppg for UNC. Oladipo is at just over fourteen a night this season, and that’s the highest of his career. But other than that, it’s scary how their stat lines seem to match up. Jordan shot 54.0% from the floor throughout his college days; Oladipo is at 54.4%. Jordan averaged 5.0 rebounds per game, and dished out 1.8 assists a night. Oladipo (career stats) is at exactly 5.0 rebounds per contest, and 1.7 assists a game. The weird comparisons don’t stop there.
Perhaps the greatest comparisons between Oladipo and Jordan fall away from the pure offensive skill set. While Oladipo’s shooting numbers this year (64% from the floor, 51% from three) are better than Jordan at any point during his collegiate career, Jordan still takes the cake as to who is more gifted offensively. But the reason Oladipo has been so successful in putting up those numbers is his athleticism, something he shares with Jordan. Oladipo can leap through the roof, perhaps as good as any college shooting guard since Michael himself. He can make a move and get by pretty much anyone. When you watch Oladipo play, one of the main things that sticks out is how incredibly fast he is. He can get from one end of the floor to the other as quick as anyone. So could Michael. Jordan was so good in a half court set that his speed and agility in the open court often go unremembered. Jordan was as fast as any point guard when he was at Carolina, and even in his young NBA days he could outrun most. If there is a college point guard faster than Oladipo, I haven’t seen him, and that includes Trey Burke.
Oladipo’s defense is what separates him, an attribute Jordan also shared. Jordan averaged 1.7 steals a night, and just shy of one block per night. Oladipo is right in the same ballpark. He’s at 1.5 steals per game, and 0.5 blocks per game. But Oladipo’s 2.4 steals per game this season is higher than any number Jordan put up while in Chapel Hill. Oladipo looks like a better college defender then Jordan. Michael was a great defender, but he became a much better defender once he got to the NBA. Oladipo sits at the big boy table defensively with Jordan, and Victor may even have a better seat.
Another comparison that was brought up in the IU-MSU game is Oladipo to Dwayne Wade. There are certain similarities. Both played for Tom Crean, and both are tremendously athletic. But I don’t like the comparison because Wade used his physicality just as much as Oladipo uses his quickness. Wade was smaller (6’4 compared to Oladipo’s 6’5 or Jordan’s 6’6) and was used in a different role on offense, where he ran the point a lot. Wade was a different kind of rebounder than both Oladipo and Jordan, and was a much better passer (in terms of numbers). Dwayne averaged over six rebounds a night, and just shy of four assists a game for his college career, numbers that differ considerably from both Jordan and Oladipo. However on defense, all three are in the same league.
It’s hard to convince someone that Oladipo and Jordan are similar because it’s really not politically correct. People are afraid to draw comparisons because of how good Jordan became, once he reached the NBA. Am I saying Oladipo is going to win six NBA titles, a few gold medals, and go play in the outfield for Terry Francona? No; obviously not. But that doesn’t mean that the Oladipo-Jordan comparison is any less credible. Physically, Oladipo and Jordan have similar body types, and they both use their bodies the same way. Their overall quickness and intensity are unmatched by their opponents, collegiately. Oladipo uses his defense to create offense, the same way Michael did. Offensively, college Michael gets the edge, but defensively, I’d give the edge to Oladipo. What Oladipo lacks is that “signature” moment. He doesn’t have a game winner to sink Georgetown in the National Championship game. He needs something like that to complete the comparison. He needs to give ESPN a reason to celebrate his birthday.