Greg Oden has experienced a lot of negativity from the media. Apparently, anything short of coming out and throwing down six dunks a night, scoring 20 points, pulling down a dozen boards, and blocking three shots a night is a colossal failure.
Never mind that he is playing his first uninjured season in four years. Never mind that he is coming back from micro-fracture surgery. Never mind that he is still developing physically, still learning how to play night after night against players with nearly the same size he has.
If anything, Oden has been very impressive under those circumstances. It generally takes over a year after players return to the floor to regain their lateral movement, their quickness, and explosiveness. And Oden certainly has not shown those things too much.
Coming out of the draft, the line on Oden had him showing the lateral movement, the agility and quickness of a guard. What we have seen is a slow big man who tries to overpower everyone and everything.
His development was also hindered by an unexpected event that fell under the radar of all too many Blazers' fans. Take a look at LaMarcus Aldridge for what I am referring too.
Aldridge was criticized for having no post up game. However, some time spent with Maurice Lucas turned that around. Aldridge has shown continued development. He has a back-to-the-basket game that is now reliable, has recently started using a sweeping hook across the lane, and has gone from a power forward at his best shooting 18-foot jumpers to a guy who at times has shown moves reminiscent of the Dreamshake.
Unfortunately for Oden, Lucas developed pneumonia. For several weeks he was battling a serious illness. His return to the bench was rightfully greeted with a huge cheer...and it showed up on the floor shortly thereafter.
Even without the presence of Lucas, Oden was showing occasional flashes of the player he will eventually develop into. Against Sacramento there was the flash into the lane that surprised everyone with its quickness, he easily handled the pass on the move and dunked.
There was the moment against the Hornets when he came off his man across the lane and blocked a shot that had flown over the tips of Aldridge's fully extended arms...and Aldridge is 6'11" with long arms. That was a moment of such speed, agility, and skill that I watched it over a dozen times.
He has also shown a real talent for rebounding. He is pulling down almost eight boards a game in just under 23 minutes a game. He is blocking 1.63 blocks a game. In other words, he is already showing a big affect on the game from a standpoint of defense and controlling the boards.
Nor are all his rebounds of the "I am big, tall, and under the boards, rrrrraaaaaaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhhhh" ball falls into his arms type. A lot of them are the long bounces off the rim that he is reading well and getting to before smaller, quicker players can.
At times he is showing the same sort of dominance that Joel Przybilla did late last season where any ball coming off the rim that lands in anyone else's hands is a minor upset.
After struggling to rebound all season last year, this year the Blazers are out-rebounding opponents by over five per game. Oden is making a huge, huge impact.
But since the return of Lucas, we have been seeing things that show Oden is going to develop into an offensive force as well. For now, he is doing just fine shooting over 53 percent but the truth is; the majority of his shots come as the result of guard penetration that pulls away his defender or else offensive rebounds. Working with Lucas is giving him a bit more to work with.
Early in the season, an Oden offensive possession was essentially catch the ball and go bull in a china shop, trying to bulldoze his defender and dunk. The few hooks or turnarounds he threw up were painful to watch and more likely to break the rim or bruise a fan in the second row than go in the hoop.
Lately, particularly since he has been working with Lucas, he is turning into a real offensive player. The Denver game showed four fine examples of his development.
Early in the game, he caught the ball on the low block. Instead of trying to run over his defender, he started the back-down, then went with a short turnaround. It gave him a clean look at the basket and he buried it.
Later, from the other side, he caught the ball and went with a quick move across the lane, throwing up a left hook from about six feet. Early in the season it would have dented the rim. Now it smoothly went through the net for another deuce. It was a gorgeous move.
Even more impressive, however, were two third quarter possessions where he did not attempt a shot. In the first one he drew a double team. With no hesitancy he found an open shooter for three.
The next possession, he again drew a double, and again found the open teammate, this time for a dunk.
Those two passes were smooth, quick, decisive, and led to open looks. They were a result of his developing offense where he actually is showing moves and demonstrating a touch around the basket.
His legion of critics will point out he is scoring "only" eight points a game. It is ridiculous criticism. Portland does not need him to score 15 a game this year. Brandon Roy is a man on a mission, scoring almost 23 a game. Aldridge is chipping in close to 17. Shots are needed for Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, and even a few for Steve Blake to stretch the defense.
There simply are not 15 to 20 shots a game available for Oden right now. To put it bluntly, almost every play run for Oden has a lesser chance of being effective than a play run for any of the aforementioned players.
In the next year or two as his speed, explosiveness, and agility return, that will change. He will provide a nice addendum to Aldridge's post-up game as he continues to develop under the tutelage of Lucas. Already we are starting to see flashes of what will come.
The main thing Oden needs right now is time and patience. He needs to know we the fans are not as critical as the media. We just appreciate his talent and look forward to watching him develop.
The other night when the Blazers retired Terry Porter's jersey, they interviewed Porter and several questions were about the Championship seasons. Again and again, Porter responded with comments along the lines of, "What I really remember was the journey" or, "I really enjoyed the journey."
The same sentiment holds true with Oden. Don't demand things he is not ready to provide. Let him work with Lucas, learn the NBA game on a terrific team, and for yourself...just enjoy the journey.