As the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Greg Oden's career has been defined by one word: injuries.
Or perhaps the best word would be "unlucky." Very, very unlucky.
After missing his entire rookie season with the Portland Trailblazers due to surgery on a nagging knee injury, Oden has played only 82 games in his first three seasons and has never averaged more than 24 minutes per game.
Due to his inability to stay healthy, critics have constantly attacked Oden, calling him a bust and claiming the Blazers made a mistake by drafting him over rising superstar Kevin Durant.
Oden got off to a strong start last season, averaging 11 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in just 24 minutes per game, while shooting 60 percent from the field and 76 percent from the free-throw line. Those stats meant that Oden was averaging 22 points, 17 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per 48 minutes. Not too shabby for a supposed bust.
Oden’s efficiency and defensive prowess were enabling him to prove his critics wrong, and Blazers fans were beginning to believe that he might finally be starting to reach his full potential, and that maybe the Blazers front office made the right move in drafting him over Durant.
But then, on December 5, 2009, tragedy struck once again. Oden fractured his left patella in a collision and was forced to undergo surgery on the knee and miss the rest of his second season. After 21 games in which it looked as if Oden’s misfortune had come to an end, his hopes for the season came to a brutal halt.
After several months of rehabilitation, Oden recently announced that although his knee no longer pains him, the injury is healing slowly and he will not be available for the preseason or opening night.
Both Oden’s doctors and the Trailblazers management want Oden to take it slow and wait until he is fully healthy to return to the court. And although Oden says there is currently no real timetable for his recovery, he may not be available until December or January, which is well into the season.
At this point, it seems likely that the Blazers starting center will miss at least a third of the coming NBA season. In addition, Portland’s veteran backup center Joel Pryzbilla is also recovering from injury and may not return until November of December.
Fortunately, veteran shot blocker Marcus Camby should fill the Trailblazers’ void at center. Although the 36-year-old Camby doesn’t possess the offensive potential or beef that Oden brings to the table, he is still one of the top rebounders and post defenders in the league, and with athletic second-year center Jeff Pendergraph backing him up, the Blazers should be able to keep up with the top centers in the league, at least on the defensive side.
LaMarcus Aldridge will handle most of the post scoring for the Blazers, and he has reportedly bulked up over the summer, but they will miss Oden’s ability to dominate games early on in the season, as a healthy Oden is a big improvement over Camby.
Oden’s absence may have a detrimental effect on the Blazers in the win column, but considering their ability to win 50-games last season despite all the injuries, the Blazers should be just fine, and will likely be a high playoff seed barring more unfortunate injuries.
Although they should do just fine throughout the regular season without Oden, the Blazers will need him in the playoffs. Oden is one of the top shot blockers in the league, and at 7'0" and over 270 pounds, Oden is perfectly capable of bodying up against the league’s elite centers like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Andrew Bogut.
Over the past couple of years, the championship teams have all had big, skilled inside players who could body up against opponents, protect the paint and rebound.
For Oden and the Trailblazers organization, the main goal for the former first overall pick should be to get healthy, stay healthy, and be ready to make an impact come playoff time. The Blazers need Oden to prove that he can stay healthy and deliver on a consistent basis, or they may decide he is no longer worth the drama.
Time is running out for Oden, and unless he can manage to stay healthy, live up to his potential, and come up big in the postseason, his time as a Blazer may be drawing to a close.