CHICAGO – “I feel like I defend at a high level and I can impact a game at both ends of the floor.”
Sweeter words have never been uttered in the mind of Chicago Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is regarded by many as one of the finest defensive tacticians in the NBA.
That quote was spoken by Indiana guard Victor Oladipo earlier this spring as he underwent interviews with NBA teams in preparation of the NBA Draft (Thursday at 7 p.m., ESPN). And that belief –and love of defense – is precisely why many teams feel Oladipo may be the best player available on Thursday night.
Several media reports emanated out of Chicago on Monday that the Bulls were in the process of putting together a package to move up in the Draft in order to secure Oladipo, who isn't projected to last long.
“I feel like I am a good leader and I can rebound at a high level, as well,” Oladipo said. “I'm just an all-around good player.”
ESPN analyst Chad Ford thinks that Oladipo is selling himself short. Ford interviewed general managers throughout the NBA to rank their favorite prospects and Oladipo ended up being ranked above any other player, including projected top pick Nerlens Noel of Kentucky.
“A number of GMs have privately confided in me that he's their favorite player in the draft,” Ford wrote on Monday. “Not necessarily ranked No. 1 on their boards, but their favorite player."
The Oladipo highlight reel shown to the national television audience after his selection will most certainly include some great dunks and other offensive moves. However, as the league executives comprehend, it is Oladipo's ability at the defensive end that makes him extraordinary.
“Since I was a little kid, defense was all that I could do,” Oladipo said. “I didn't really have (an offensive) skill package. I wasn't highly-skilled at a young age, so for me to get on the floor, I had to guard the other team's best player.”
The same held true when he arrived at Indiana three seasons ago.
Other players were higher thought of, as well as more talented offensively. But Oladipo worked his way onto the floor. He started just five games as a freshman, but was the Sporting News National Player of the Year as a junior.
“I feel like defense has gotten me this far, so I'm not going to lose that,” Oladipo explained. “But at the same time, I'm going to grow and become better at the offensive end.”
Oladipo has the size (6-feet-4) and physical strength to guard each of the three perimeter positions. Most mock drafts have Oladipo going second overall to the Orlando Magic (if a team doesn't trade up for him), but it wouldn't be a shock if the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him with the top pick.
“I've proven myself,” Oladipo said. “I've shown what I can do this past season. I just feel like I have a lot of potential to be really great.”
He isn't alone in that opinion.