Greg Oden: Another First Round Bust For The Portland Trail Blazers?

Grant Correspondent IDecember 29, 2008


National organization seeking teenage candidates to fill professional positions. These select openings provide an opportunity to succeed in a team-oriented environment. 

Eighty-two day work year with a seven-figure starting salary.  No college experience necessary. Will train the right person for several years until skills become pertinent. 

It sounds too good to be true because it is.  Besides professional sports, what other skilled area of business would hire someone based on high school performance alone?

Over the past week I've read several articles complaining about the futility of the Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum.  His youth is not his fault.  The blame rests solely on the general managers of the NBA and the environment they have created.

The developing culture in professional basketball over the past decade has thrust too many unprepared teenagers, such as Bynum, into situations they are certainly not ready for.  While all of these players are physically capable of the challenge, only a small few are mentally ready for the limelight.

I am tired of seeing young men barely eligible for military conscription selected in the first round of the NBA draft and then having to wait several seasons before they are relevant players.

I understand no franchise wants to miss out on the next Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. 

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However, many organizations have crippled themselves by focusing mainly on drafting high schoolers.  For example, the Portland Trailblazers were the model of consistency qualifying for the playoffs 25 years in a row.  But the search for the next 18-year old phenom quickly drained their talent pool, leaving them average and arid.

Who could forget a few of their recent first rounders such as Sebastian Telfair, Montell Webster, Erick Barkley, or Qyntal Woods?  All had one year or less experience at the collegiate level. 

The latest in this trend by the Blazers is Greg Oden.   He is undoubtedly going to be a star sometime in the future, but for now the difference in the skill level between high school and professional basketball remains astronomical (to me the half-season Oden played at Ohio State barely counts as experience). Constantly plagued by foul trouble and a propensity to injury forecast mediocrity long ahead of success. 

Fifteen years before the draft in 2007, another young center of similar height and weight to Oden was taken as the first pick in the first round.  This particular player, however, had three years of NCAA basketball action to better prepare his game for the NBA.

His name was Shaquille O'Neal.  In his rookie season O'Neal averaged 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds per contest.

In no way am I suggesting Greg Oden will ever be the dominant force in the paint Shaq was, and somewhat still is.  I am merely stating the seven-foot, 275-pound Oden would be cooking up better numbers than 8.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game with more college seasoning.

Therefore, a more apt comparison would be to Jermaine O'Neal.  Also a much-touted high school big man selected in the first round by Portland, Jermaine needed several seasons to come into his own.  During his four-year stint with the Trail Blazers, O'Neal warmed the bench averaging 3.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.  It must be noted  he was competing for playing time with Arvydas Sabonis, Clifford Robinson, and Rasheed Wallace.

Today, Greg Oden is splitting minutes with basketball juggernaut Joel Przybilla.

It is expected for rookies to need time to acclimate themselves to the nuances of the game, but is it wrong to assume a few trips to the Final Four would have made Oden a better player?