Upon hearing the news yesterday that Greg Oden would undergo another micro-fracture surgery and miss the remainder of this season, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy who on draft night in 2007 had the world at his feet.
The hot topic back then was should the Blazers draft Oden or Kevin Durant? Deciding that his defensive prowess and ability to rebound in college was too much to pass up, the Blazers selected Oden who has unfortunately been plagued by injuries ever since.
It seems that ever since Oden missed his rookie campaign due to his first micro-fracture surgery, it has been one injury after another. In his eventual debut a year later, he would leave the game with a foot injury after playing barely 13 minutes. Later that season he was forced off-court once again, this time with a chipped bone in his knee.
The most recent knee injury suffered was the fractured left patella suffered early last season which sidelined him for the remainder of 2009-10 season and now the news that he won't return this season either. It probably plays on Oden's mind that he is forever linked with the upward trajectory of Kevin Durant's career.
Since being taken No. 2 by the then-Seattle Supersonics, Durant has only gone from strength to strength culminating in a playoff debut last season and an offseason where he arguably single-handedly won the gold medal for Team USA in Turkey.
For all the people labelling Oden a bust at No. 1 must realise one thing. It is through no fault of his own that Oden is injured. The potential to be a good NBA player is there, he just hasn't had the ability to showcase it.
A bust is a player who has been given an opportunity to play, to develop his talent and never follows through on said talent. Oden has played in only 82 games in parts of two seasons, hardly enough to make a judgment call such as a bust.
When he has been on court for the Blazers, he's given glimpses as to why he was picked first. Now let's look at the numbers (said in my best Hubie Brown voice), "The points are there at 9.4 for his career, now what you look for is the rebounds. Is he rebounding the ball and protecting the paint? You look at the rebounds at 7.3 per game and 1.4 blocks and you say, well, yes he is. You see he's right about there, defensively he changes the game for you when you have a 7'0" shot-blocker who can gobble up rebounds."
I decided to go back and read Sports Illustrated's season preview and there was a quote from Greg Oden which summed up the situation regarding both his injury woes and forever being intrinsically linked with Durant and that No. 1 pick.
"Looking at the problems I've been through and the success that KD has had, I didn't feel worthy of it sometimes," Oden said. "But I have to embrace it. I have to be myself. I can't look at what he is doing and take it personally."
He added, "Do you know where I can get a voodoo doll (of myself)? I would put it in a glass case. I would never allow anything sharp near it."
For Greg's sake, I hope he makes a successful recovery from this and comes back to the game injury-free for the remainder of his career. Perhaps he will never be an All-Star, maybe never even play on a championship squad, but if Greg Oden can come back, play solidly and contribute the way he can, he will go a long way to reminding people that he is not a bust.
If he perseveres through adversity that alone will make him worthy of that No. 1 pick.
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