The Rookie of the Year award is given each year to the first-year NBA player who makes the biggest impact on his team.
This year, the Rookie of the Year race is stacked with the arrivals of such sure NBA talents as Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, and O.J. Mayo.
But the race has an interesting twist this year, as two delayed draft picks will try to steal the award away from the stars of the 2008 draft. Portland’s Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez are two definite contenders for the Rookie of the Year award, despite missing their first year under contract in the League.
Fernandez and Oden join a Blazers team that is undoubtedly on the rise, which will make it difficult for either player to post RoY-caliber numbers. But if the Rookie of the Year race of 2008 is rated on the same scale as the MVP, there should be no question who the winner will be.
Let me make this clear—barring major injury, Greg Oden will have the greatest impact on his team as a rookie since LeBron James. I’ll give you five reasons why:
There has not been a draft pick as hyped in this league as Oden since LeBron. The image of Oden dunking became locker room chatter as early as his freshman year in high school. Though Oden’s games were not televised like LeBron‘s, he shares the distinction with King James of being the only High School Junior to win the National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
In college, Greg Oden’s story is even more documented. After suffering a ligament tear in his good hand, Oden was forced to use his off hand as his primary for the majority of the season. By the time the NCAA tournament rolled around, Oden was ready to showcase his skills at a national level. Despite losing the Championship, Oden’s 25 and 12 effort against the talented Florida Gators was evidence that this was the type of big man who only comes around once a decade.
In the last year, Oden’s microfracture surgery has reduced some of the mystique that follows the enigmatic big man. But make no mistake—if Oden starts dunking and blocking shots like he's capable of doing, the myth and the legend will return. Once people see that Oden’s knee has recovered, the League will remember what a physical phenom this kid truly is.
I will admit outright that I am an avid and diehard Blazer fan. But let’s be honest. Of all the teams sporting a Rookie of the Year candidate, Portland has probably the greatest chance of making a playoff appearance.
In the past, the Blazers' success could have been bad for Oden’s Rookie of the Year campaign, because his stats might be deflated amongst so many talented players. That is not the case this year.
Although Portland is considered by many to be a playoff team, the Blazers have not had a postseason appearance since 2003. This bodes well for Oden, who is expected to play a central role in the team’s improvement from last year.
In a recent NBA poll of GMs, 48 percent believed Beasley would win the award, compared to only 29 percent for Oden. When asked which player would have a greater impact in five years, their answer changed to Oden (30 percent to Beasley's 23 percent). The poll suggests that Oden’s potential to influence his team might be greater than Beasley's.
There is little doubt that Beasley—and other rookies like Mayo, Rose, and even Love—might outdo Oden in terms of stats. But Oden’s ability to change shots and draw double teams will have a greater impact on a Blazers team that is much more prepared to capitalize on the big man’s presence.
Portland forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye have already started to orient their games to the perimeter to complement Oden, while the sure shooting of Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster, and Brandon Roy is sure to improve with the rookie center’s arrival.
With so much talent around him, Oden has the perfect opportunity to be the driving force on what might be the league’s most improved team.
Unlike last year, when Kevin Durant pretty much had the award locked in January, there is a lot of competition this year for Rookie of the Year. As mentioned before, Mayo, Beasley, and Rose all look to have a shot to take the prestigious honor home.
Of the three of these, only one has a legit shot at beating Oden.
Beasley, the odds-on favorite by NBA GMs to take the award, has a good chance at posting some good numbers in Miami. Though it's likely that Beasley will make it over the 15 ppg mark and rebound at a decent rate, it will be tough for him to showcase the presence Oden has on the court.
In preseason, Beasley has shown an affinity for drifting toward the outside, a skill that may have been pushed on him as a result of the inside game of Udonis Haslem. Should Miami mold Beasley after their other big man, Shawn Marion, the young rookie may struggle to find the same aggressiveness he thrived off of as a back-to-the-basket monster at Kansas State.
As for Mayo, it is highly unlikely that the Grizzlies have the talent around him to warrant any real rookie of the year consideration. Last year, Durant took the award despite the Sonics being one of the worst teams in the League. Mayo will not be able to do the same this year with Oden, Rose, and Beasley making contributions to much more improved squads.
Of the three rookies competing with Oden, Derrick Rose has the greatest shot at stealing the Rookie of the Year crown. In the last few preseason games, Derrick Rose has shown the propensity to be the next Chris Paul or Deron Williams. Scoring 30 points and six assists coming off the bench against the Mavericks—and following that up with a 17 and six performance against Minnesota—speaks to this kid’s potential.
Despite his strengths though, Rose showed that he could be bullied in summer league. Only time can tell whether or not Rose can handle the NBA like Paul or Williams, but the League and the press is certainly going to give him every opportunity to do so.
Although Rose does have a shot, none of these rookies can match the combination of athleticism, stat potential, and overall team talent that Oden offers as a Rookie of the Year candidate. If, on the other-hand, Rose, Beasley, or Mayo can somehow push their squads into the playoffs, the rookie race may suddenly become much tighter.
Recently, a prominent Portland sports journalist labeled Greg Oden’s performance thus far in the preseason as “underwhelming.” The journalist’s comment resounded throughout Portland, starting rumors that Oden may be underachieving or “less than” advertised.
These conclusions could not be farther from the truth.
Though Oden’s 11 points and 8 rebound average are far from mindblowing, he has only been playing close to 20 minutes per game. In addition, the Blazers have spread their attention fairly evenly between their rookies in the preseason, doing their best to mix in all their new pieces.
The fact of the matter is the "underwhelming" label is probably borne out by Oden’s paltry statistical showing, not his actual performance. If you watch any of the Blazers preseason games, Oden’s presence is apparent. It seems almost too obvious that Oden’s activity in the paint has opened up the floor for LaMarcus Aldridge, a change that could spell an All-Star appearance for the third-year power forward.
Furthermore, Oden’s dominance in some ways has been outshined by the flashy play of Rudy Fernandez. Rudy’s between-the-legs dribbles, alley-oops, and seemingly impossible passes may be more exciting than Oden’s plodding and powerful post moves—but they are nowhere near as integral to the team’s success.
If anyone doubts Oden’s performance thus far in the preseason, just take a closer look at his last game against the Clippers. Gathering 12 points and 13 rebounds, Oden dominated Chris Kaman, holding him to only six points.
What’s more is Oden scored his points with sheer force, dunking almost every ball over the NBA-tested Kaman. The Clips’ Ricky Davis was even rumored to put a bounty out for dunking on Oden, a privilege that is reserved for only the game’s best interior defenders.
Though Oden had some jitters in his first few games, he has shed his critics’ labels and begun to “overwhelm” his opponents.
At the end of the day, there is one simple reason why Greg Oden should win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in 2008-2009—dominance.
Almost anyone would agree that Greg Oden is the best big man to come around since Dwight Howard—if not Tim Duncan or Shaq. But while the League is caught up with Greg’s upcoming matchups against these big men, and others such as Amare Stoudamire and Kevin Garnett, few still appreciate Oden’s lingering potential.
Sure, we can see that he can dunk on just about anybody, like Dwight Howard, or that most guys are afraid to challenge Greg in the paint—much like Shaq—but few see that Greg is far from complete as a player. Aside from the fact that in his first few games, Greg will already be close to on par with the power of Howard, Greg has a multitude of post moves that will develop beyond the Howard's skills.
Similarly, though Greg will provide nearly the same inside presence as Shaq from day one, he has the athleticism to become a better on-ball defender than Shaq ever was.
What has been lost since Greg’s surgery is the fact—not the myth—that Greg Oden has superior talent to any center prospect coming into the League in the last 10 years. As the regular season gets started, Greg Oden will begin to remind everyone why he was drafted first.
f he can stay healthy and live up to that potential, which all indications now show he can, there should be no better candidate for the Rookie of Year Award in 2008.