March 19, 2012
The Trailblazers provided the perfect example of why teams should select players based more on talent and less on position. Portland’s major faux pas occurred when they believed it was more important to draft a center with potential than take an established scoring threat in Texas‘ Kevin Durant. Durant ended up going to Seattle (now Oklahoma City) and while the Thunder are competing for a potential conference crown behind the former scoring champion, Portland hasn’t been able to make up much ground in catching the West’s elite teams.
Where did it all go wrong for Oden? Injuries, obviously. In five years in Portland, Oden hasn’t been able to stay healthy, battling knee injuries throughout his career. Thus far, he’s played only the equivalent of one full NBA season.
The frustrating thing about Oden’s situation is that while he’s not a dominant player, he’s certainly a solid center when healthy. That’s rare, of course, but he boasts surprising career numbers of more than nine points and seven rebounds while shooting nearly 60% from the field. No one will mistake him for Shaquille O’Neal anytime soon, but in averaging nearly a double double, many teams could do worse with him as their center.
And lately, he seemed as if he were putting it all together. Going up against the juggernaut Miami Heat in his next to last game before his latest setback in December, he had 13 points, 20 rebounds, and four blocks. And in the preceding month of November, Oden was averaging nearly 13 points and eight rebounds, surpassing his career totals. No one knows if he could have kept up that pace, but by providing a glimpse of what he was capable of, he gave fans a reason to be optimistic.
There’s a bright side to this sad tale, though. Oden just turned 24 in January and isn’t even likely to reach his prime for another few seasons. His injury history isn’t promising, but if he can somehow put it all together, Oden could still have a long, productive NBA career. With what Durant has accomplished in a short time frame, barring a lopsided total in championship rings, Oden won’t be able to convince most fans that he was worth selecting first. But I believe that a healthy Oden could be a valuable piece on a good team.
A career without setbacks, however, is far from a guarantee. Oden’s issues have been with his knees – a troublesome area for a seven-footer that needs to be able to run up and down the court on a nightly basis. He could defy the odds and become pain-free after his latest round of operations, but with all of the trouble he’s had to date, that seems far-fetched.
So will another franchise make the plunge and roll the dice on Oden? Almost assuredly. He’s a young, legitimate center and when healthy, has proven he has some skill. The potential is simply too great for another team not to gamble at least a small amount. Oden isn’t expected to be ready to play again until well into next season, but at a relatively tidy (and recently re-negotiated) $1.5 million salary for the remainder of this year, he could be worth a waiver claim. And with little production in five seasons, he should be signable at a moderate cost for future years.
Oden hasn’t come close to living up to the enormous hype surrounding him coming out of Ohio State, but there’s plenty of time for him to right the ship and turn things around.