(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Nowadays, when you hear the name of Greg Oden the words bust and Sam Bowie often come up. Yes, Sam Bowie is a word, not a name. This just simply should not be. I am not saying his NBA career has not been a disappointment so far, because it has been. Especially as a Blazers fan, it was very hard to see Kevin Durant tearing it up while Oden was sitting on the bench his whole first year recovering from the dreaded microfracture surgery. He has been injured a lot and that is not promising. However, when Oden plays he has been pretty effective, not extremely effective, but fairly effective. He has many things to work on, but if he gets those things down, Oden can yet be a star.
Rewind to June 28th, 2007. The Portland Trailblazers are sitting on the number one pick in the draft. There are two candidates for the top spot- Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Many people don't seem to remember that Greg Oden was WIDELY thought to be the best choice for Portland. He was the best high schooler since LeBron James, winning back to back national high school POY's. Then at Ohio State, after playing much of the season without a right arm (dominant hand, in a cast) he led the Buckeyes to the National Championship game against Florida, which the did lose. Oden did not disappoint though, dominating number 3 pick Al Horford and putting up 25 points, 12 boards, and swatting 4 shots. Not too shabby. This basically cemented Oden in that top spot in the draft. There was nothing to indicate that his knee was messed up at all. Oden was now being hyped as the next great NBA big man, with the likes of Bill Russell and Tim Duncan. Expectations be as good as those guys were completely unfair to Greg, I mean maybe five to ten other guys in NBA history measure up to Russell and Duncan. Kevin Durant meanwhile was sitting pretty, he didn't have the pressure to live up to enormous expectations that Oden had. He was going to a horrible Sonics team, while Oden was going to a Blazers team with lots of young talent which much was expected out of. Things were out of hand far before Oden slipped that Blazers jersey over his designer suit on draft day.
Once Oden is drafted by Portland, immediately the Blazers fans begin to talk dynasty. With Oden, budding superstar Brandon Roy, and emerging force Lamarcus Aldridge the Blazer "big three" would certainly rack up the championships in spectacular fashion. Even Oden himself said he could picture winning a half-dozen titles in Portland. He had a great personality; nobody could dislike the guy. He was a goofy, down to earth 20 year old kid who had the same interests as many other 20 year olds. The fans loved him, the media loved him, everybody LOVED him. Again, just setting the table for getting ripped mercilessly on what would transpire just weeks later.
Microfracture surgery. The term is associated with players like Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber, and Allen Houston
, who were never the same after having the dreaded surgery. Now, the "next great center" was going under the knife for the exact same surgery. The barrage had begun. Now many of the same people who had been saying Oden was the next big thing were now saying he was injury prone and saying Durant was should have been the first choice instead. The Blazers would have picked Durant first if they had known he would miss his entire first season, but there was no way of knowing that. The Blazers were on their way to building a winning machine and the dominant center was the key piece missing. But the Blazers who lucked out by getting the number one pick, had their fortunes turned for the worse as Oden has been defined by his injuries so far in his very short NBA career.
Oden entered the 2008-2009 out of shape. He had added a lot of muscle, yes, but also a lot of extra fat as well. He could not work out very well after the surgery and he was busting his tail everyday to get back to full health before the season. It was painfully and immediately obvious that Oden was not 100% when he went down just minutes into his first NBA game. Although it was unrelated to his knee (it was his foot), Oden was still overweight and hadn't played a real game of basketball (besides preseason) for over a year. Somebody can train all they want, but until they get out there they're not going to know how their body will feel. Oden hadn't experienced this before, when he missed the start of the season at Ohio State, he had an arm injury. So he could still work out and get all of his body in basketball shape. With the knee, he had to concentrate on the knee so much and never take it too hard so he was not in full basketball shape. Really, I don't think Oden was in basketball shape all year. Maybe right before the knee collision with Corey Maggette he was at his best shape and was playing well too, but he got injured again and was stripped of his health. This is a very large reason for Oden's poor performance this year. Most rookies come in fresh because of the long break between the end of the college season and the draft. Oden had a long break, but had a year of painstaking recovery from surgery instead of working out at full strength everyday. Once Oden gets in shape, which he will this offseason, he will have one of the biggest physical advantages in the game and will start to show why he was the number one pick.
Imagine being a professional athlete and not playing your sport for a entire year and being expected to go and dominate at a level that you have never played. This is what was asked of one Gregory Oden. Not even Michael Jordan, in his physical prime, came back at his full level after being out of basketball for one and a half years. He did not have the same success that one year as he did with the championship years that surrounded it. That said, could Greg Oden possibly play his best in his first NBA season after not playing a basketball game for over a year? That is pretty insane. If MJ couldn't do it in his prime, how is Oden supposed to do it after surgery? This explains how Oden has been a fouling machine so far. He's always been THE man wherever he's played. He has always gotten many of the calls he is getting called against him now. Oden just hasn't found the right balance on being physical and fouling at this point. Oden is smart dude and I'm sure he will be studying to see what he was doing wrong this year as far as fouling. I think the foul numbers will go down considerably and he will start getting major minutes, putting up pretty good stats in those minutes.
Because of fouls and injury precaution this season Oden only played just over 20 minutes per game this season. He averaged about 9 points and 7 rebounds. However, in his per 36 minute totals he averaged about 15 points and 12 rebounds. So if Greg didn't get so many fouls and was on the court for that long you're talking about one of the top 10 centers in basketball. Lakers
fans might find it surprising that Oden's per minute stats are much better than their young, injury-prone center Andrew Bynum, especially in rebounding. Oden's per minute numbers were actually better than fellow number one pick Dwight Howard's rookie stats. So now say Oden fixes his fouling problem, which I believe he will, and gets in shape. He would probably be on the court 30-35 minutes per game. So that 15-12 line is a very reasonable expectation for next season.
Mr. Greg Oden has been unfairly scrutinized over the past two years. Next year is the year he proves all the haters wrong. You can bet Oden is going to work himself hard this offseason and improve on a self- admitted bad season. I think Oden will be one of the biggest stories next season. Sure KD will probably put up 27-28 points but I really think a 20-14 season is not out of the question next year if the Blazers start running plays for Oden. A lot of Oden's points came off putbacks this season. In all seriousness I think Oden will put up a similar statline next year: 16-17 points, 12-13 rebounds, and 2-2.5 blocks. Greg Oden will not be a bust come next season, he will be a beast!