When the number one pick went to the Portland Trail Blazers two seasons ago, it was supposed to be the start of a new era. The crime spree masked as a basketball team was over and Greg Oden, who was coined as Patrick Ewing with personality, was expected to lead a formerly proud franchise back to prominence.
But the question everyone failed to ask was this: How would Oden, a true throwback, handle a league that was quickly embracing the seven seconds or less idea and just as rapidly, abolishing half-court sets that called for a true center? The answer is not very well.
I watched Oden twice last week as he struggled against a really awful Knicks team just as much as he did against the defending World Champions. But it wasn’t the missed dunks or poor positioning that really made me cringe; it was watching just how slow he truly is. Forget a sore thumb, Oden is the beer gut of the Blazers. He essentially forces the rest of his team to stop in its tracks as they wait for him to catch up, and before you know it, the opposing is team is pushing the ball back the other way.
Oden has the tools to be a great defender, just not in a LeBron, Kobe, Wade and Paul-led league. Everyone on the floor -the other players, the referees, hell, even the photographers - easily beat him down the floor. And if they don’t it’s because he’s not in position, which obviously limits his ability.
It’s too bad, because he seems like a nice kid. And his likeability will definitely buy him some time. But as ESPN’s Bill Simmons so accurately pointed out earlier this season, you know when a big man has what it takes to be a star in the NBA right away. David Robinson and Shaq were instant stars. Oden has had one great game and it was against a Golden State, who looks a lot more like an undersized mid-major team than an NBA franchise.
Luckily, the Blazers are on their way up no matter what their center’s numbers are. Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez are talented enough that all Oden has to do is fill space. But how long does a number one pick have before just being the fourth option becomes unacceptable?
Because at this point, the kid looks a lot more like Kwame Brown than Patrick Ewing.