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Friday, December 26, 2008

Clutch player

Nothing riles up readers more than discussion of Sarah Palin's miracle birth (another one is due any day now). But discussion of Greg Oden comes in second. Last night, as the Blazers showed how they are not quite ready for the second round of the playoffs, mostly because they are weakly coached on offense, Mr. Oden had a big 4 points and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes on the floor.

The other night, in a comment, I wrote:

Somewhere later in the season, I'll bet the pressure is going to be put on Nate and the boys to make Oden into an NBA player faster. Could wind up costing some games.
Today, my friend Dwight Jaynes wrote:
A lot of you are ready to pull the plug on him, but I would go the other way. I continue to believe he needs more than six shots a game if he’s going to improve. I don’t care if it ends up costing the team games, this guy is the hub for everything that’s going to happen here and his improvement must be maximized.
Yep. Oden is going to learn how to drive a stick shift on your car, because he's going to be the next Mario Andretti.

Comments (24)

The future is now. Pryz should be starting and when the game's well in hand, Oden can season himself up.

Maybe Nate should send Oden to the development league.

The Blazers need to get a serious big man coach working with Oden. And better help with offensive coaching.

They have Maurice Lucas working with him but unfortunately Maurice was sick for a couple of months.
You know what Oden really could have used in college and high school? The dunk rule. Back when Lou Alcindor was in college they outlawed dunks forcing him to perfect the sky-hook.
If you look at Oden's high school videos on YouTube the highlights are all dunks and blocks. In the NBA both these stats have dwindled because NBA players can deal with people this size.
Oden is now trying to learn things that others have been working on since they were little kids. I mean does he have a jump shot at all? Why not? I'd love to see him launch a 20-footer just for the hell of it.
I think Oden got his kicks dunking the ball and blocking shots, and now he's trying to learn new skills on the fly. It's a little like switching instruments after the band's already famous.
There's my suggestion: At least one jump shot a game.

Everybody knew he had a long way to go. I'm just a bit surprised at how little progress he's made.

Speaking of old films, last night I stumbled across a video replay of a 1981 Oregon State-Arizona State contest with Byron Scott, Fat Lever, Steve Johnson, and Charlie Sitton. It was the last game of the season, and ASU denied OSU an undefeated record.

The tight little shorts were something, as were the laughably crude TV graphics, but the absence of a 3-point line was even more impressive.

I sort of saw this transition coming. He was hyped more than most rooks deserve to be, but no GM in the NBA would, in their right mind, pass on someone like Oden. The fact is he hasn't grown into that body of his yet. In college and high school, your physical gifts can stand out like a sore thumb... you can get by on your differences. Now, as a 20 year old, he's a young buck in a sea of hardened, physical vets looking to show him up. You can't discount experience or the point when the game comes to you by instinct.

Plus, it's obvious to anyone who's watching that he gets whistled for fouls if he merely breathes on a player. They're not allowing him to play like the big player he is.

He's a rookie. He's a third of the way through one season. There's an adjustment period. Is it worth over-analyzing?

If a year from now, he's putting up, say, 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, everyone will forget this stretch. But I'm having a hard time seeing that happen.

I think I'll remember the Suns game. That was legendary.
At least the Dallas game was good entertainment 'til the end. Nowitzki was in the zone and Rudy made a few dazzling plays. The Blazers are now must see television - for me anyway - as compared to a few years ago when they kind of made you sick.
I find myself thinking of other line-ups sometimes and all the other second-guessing stuff but basically I'm into this. Right now the fun easy first wave of success is over and the league has adjusted to us. Now we have to adjust to their adjustments.
Obviously, the refs aren't going to let a bunch of young upstarts come in and get any extra breaks. That's how it should be and we have to play through it 'til we've got more seniority.
One other note: How come Joel and Blake are playing so much better this season? I think Oden's presence has helped in ways that aren't immediately apparent.

"I think I'll remember the Suns game. That was legendary."

Uh, who was the legendary Suns center covering Oden then? Funny how his big games are always against no names, while an old man like Shaq can still make him look slow. I am with Mr Bog on this one.

I think I achieved blog zen reading that. I just meant it was memorable as a Blazer game especially for Brandon's 52 and the excitement level.
None of the games last year was as entertaining for me - not the Memphis game, not Martel's scoring barrage. This could be the 3rd great chapter in Rip City lore.

Oden's only significant obstacle is the foul trouble.

"15 and 10" is an arbitrary plateau that bears little significance on the quality of Oden's play, but I'll play along. If three things can happen, Oden will reach that 15/10 Jack seeks: (1) he works himself into better shape, eliminating those fouls which are a result of him getting beat by guards who have already run around Portland's pitiful perimeter defense; (2) he learns to let his man elevate and release the ball before leaping up to block it, eliminating those especially annoying fouls where Greg's enormous arms are dropping on opponents just gathering themselves for a shot in the paint; and (3) he earns some veteran respect, eliminating those fouls which are a result of Shaquille O'Neal throwing himself into the photographers to create the impression that Oden's single, partially extended arm somehow caused the fall.

Is it really so inconceivable he can make these strides?

What Jack probably fails to appreciate is that Oden has been productive when he's been on the court. His rebounding percentage (that is, the percentage of available rebounds he pulls down) ranks only behind Joel Przybilla, Dwight Howard, and Marcus Camby in the NBA. His turnover rate (measured by turnovers per touch) is lower than that of Przybilla. He attempts nearly twice as many free throws per minute as Joel while converting at nearly as high a percentage (the two are about equal in free throws made per field goal attempt). His scoring efficiency dwarfs that of LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, or even Brandon Roy--and yes, I'm accounting for three pointers.

But if you refuse to go beyond the box score in evaluating players, at least be honest enough to check out Oden's per minute numbers to see how they'd look if only fouls weren't keeping him on the bench. And acknowledge that the Blazers play at the slowest pace in the NBA, meaning he has fewer offensive possessions per minute and per game in order to put up numbers than he would have playing for any other team.

Here are his numbers, adjusted to 36 minutes per game:

12.3 points
11.6 rebounds
2.2 blocks
2.4 turnovers

and, of course...

6.2 fouls

The foul trouble is a very real problem that must be corrected before Oden can be successful, and I understand that. But to subject Oden to mockery as though he is BAD at basketball is lazy and makes it look like you just want to be out in front of the pack just in case he does bust. Oden is having a very good rookie season considering his recoveries from micro fracture surgery and a sprained ankle and his sixteen months away from real basketball competition.

The fouling is going to take care of itself over time. Remember Brandon Roy's comments this week about how he's now getting the calls that stars get? As far as NBA officiating goes, familiarity breeds exempt.

But I don't think the Blazers are doing Oden any favors with the way they're handling him. As of Decd. 26, he's neither the best center nor the best rookie on the team. He needs to earn that stuff.

I was looking down into a big puddle of slush today and I saw a vision: Next Tuesday the Blazers will beat the Celtics. Oden will get 10 boards and 15 points.
Garnett will not talk to the press afterwards and slip into a monk-like vow of silence for the rest of his career.
Go Blazers!!!!!!

you heard it here first:

before the season is out, Oden will suffer a season-ending injury.

within three seasons, regardless of improvement, Oden will be traded.

Here are his numbers, adjusted to 36 minutes per game

This guy can't stay on the court for that length of time. He's not in good enough shape, and he can't stay out of foul trouble.

Oden has not shown speed for the NBA game. You can tell every team is watching film of Oden and playing him the same way--no need to double team him, just rotate if he gets it and slap it out of his hands before he can bend his elbows and lift the ball up to his chest. Defensively, he's half a step behind the average starting forward. Until he gets NBA speed, he won't be anything but a big body.

The elephant in the room is Kevin Durant, who is now clearly the best player in the 2007 draft. Maybe Oden gets there, but it's clearly going to be at least another season of development and it doesn't look like he will ever be the next Patrick Ewing or Shaq. Durant is on path to be the next Kobe Bryant.

...But Oden isn't the problem ...And Oden recognizes his problems and is intensely dealing with them in his own mind.

The problem is Portland still doesn't have a starting PG who can run the break and take advantage of numbers at the opposite end. The game to Dallas was lost because Roy was shut down with double teams and Blake can't penetrate a defense. He will usually pull up at the 3pt line and wait for the offense to catch up, even if he has a 3 on 2 break going. If this team had a guy like Rod Strickland (personality not withstanding) or Terry Porter who could carry a break to the basket and dish or score, they would one of the top 8 teams in the league already.

"Durant is on path to be the next Kobe Bryant."

Wait...what? Are you serious? Durant is good, but in the NBA his talent/bodyframe is a dime a dozen.

This guy can't stay on the court for that length of time. He's not in good enough shape, and he can't stay out of foul trouble.

And, of course, I acknowledged that. I only posted the per minute numbers to dispute your characterization that Oden is not only playing limited minutes, but also is playing poorly.

If he played 1 minute and scored 2 points, he'd be averaging 60 a game, I guess.

If he played 1 minute and scored 2 points, he'd be averaging 60 a game, I guess.

He's playing 22.2 minutes per game. It's a meaningful sample.

15 and 10 in a year seems reasonable. The fouls are tough right now. He still doesn't have his quickness back.

With this group, I don't think he needs to be the second coming of Wilt or Shaq. Strong defense (sans fouls), and a decent post game is enough. I think he can get there.

Sebastian, when you wrote "a decent post game is enough", did you mean "a decent post game interview"?

By the way, I like Oden just for his interviews.

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