October 10, 2009
By: Zachariah Blott
Greg Oden recently declared that his personal goal for the season is to be an All-Star. Although this more or less received a polite chuckle from the media—both local and national—there are more than a few reasons it could actually happen. Here they are, in no particular order.
1) Oden is primed for a big season. As a rookie last year averaging 21 minutes per game, coming off of a horrendously debilitating microfracture surgery and noticeably discouraged from getting in frequent foul trouble, Oden posted a better rebound rate (1 every 3.10 minutes) than Tim Duncan (3.14), who finished fourth in the league with 10.7 per contest, and right below David Lee (2.98) who was third with 11.7. With an awkward offensive game and almost no real moves, GO still shot 56% from the field and had 1.53 points per shot (PPS) on his way to 8.9 ppg. Big men who had similar scoring efficiencies include Pau Gasol (57%, 1.47), Tim Duncan (50%, 1.30), Chris Bosh (49%, 1.38), and Dwight Howard (57%, 1.66). As Oden’s role and skills increase, his scoring numbers will blossom, especially on a team whose leading scorer—Brandon Roy—is lauded for his unselfishness.
And since last year? Oden had a dominating defensive performance at the USA try-outs in August, and he spent the rest of the summer working with Blazers’ assistant Bill Bayno, particularly on his offensive game. He’s already shown improvement in his first three preseason games, in which Oden is averaging 15.3 points (52%, 1.67) and 9.7 rebounds, in 24 minutes per contest. He’s demonstrated a variety of spin moves and hook shots unseen in his rookie campaign, not to mention his combination of upper body strength and naturally quick feet that are leading to a ton of free throws. And lest we forget, the last contest he played in before his surgery was the 2007 NCAA Championship game, in which he dropped 25 points (game high), 12 rebounds (game high), and 4 blocks (more than everyone else in the game combined) against a Florida frontcourt that placed its three starters in the lottery of that year’s draft—Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer.
Greg Oden photo credit: Icon SMI
2) Greg Oden is a popular player. Being named the best non-NBA center in America as a sophomore in high school kinda got things rolling. Then ESPN broadcast one of his games as a senior. Every left handed free throw at Ohio State was discussed and analyzed non-stop as he carried the Buckeyes into the national championship game, where he dominated the aforementioned lottery-bound trio (two of whom were starting centers in the playoffs last year). He was also named a first-team All-American in his one collegiate season before becoming the #1 pick in the NBA Draft. He’s known for his humor and is a media darling even after playing only 61 games the past two years. Fans still check how he performs in games, and this is the year he’s actually supposed to start putting up good numbers. If statistics were similar, who do you think wins this popularity contest: Nene, Biedrins, Bynum, Okafor, Okur, or Oden? If Bynum was something higher than his team’s fourth option, he’d have a chance as a Laker, but that’s not the case.
Three more arguments for Greg Oden as an All Star, after the jump …
3) Oden is always a center, unlike other potential All-Star big men. Even though Tim Duncan has clearly been the center for the Spurs for a few years now, he continues to play in the All-Star game as a forward. Amar’e Stoudemire’s only All-Star start came last year as a forward. He’ll be the no-doubt-about-it center for the Suns this year, but can he stay healthy? How good will his numbers need to be (he’s never even averaged 10 rebounds per game in a season) on a non-playoff club in order to get the votes, especially if Oden has a breakout season? And Minnesota’s Al Jefferson ends up listed some places as a power forward with Kevin Love as the center. Maybe the Spurs, Suns, and T’Wolves will all name these guys as centers to improve their chances of starting in the All-Star game, but there’s no question where Oden will appear on the ballot.
4) Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal are out of the running. The decade’s two most popular centers cannot win the vote; Yao due to season-ending surgery, and O’Neal due to being back in the East. For some unknown reason, the entire nation of China is allowed to vote for the starters of the NBA All-Star game, so a troublesome foot injury has become the only way someone other than the big Chinese product will ever start for the West. For even less known reasons, the NBA caved under O’Neal’s immense popularity and awarded him a share of the All-Star Game MVP trophy last season after he appeared in the contest for almost 11 minutes. With these two and their 22 All-Star game appearances out of the way, Oden instantly becomes one of the very few well-known centers in the West.
5) Andre Miller is known for setting up centers. When the journeyman point guard signed with Portland in September, it was noted by many journalists that this would mean many more lob opportunities for Oden. Miller has the reputation for lobbing to centers out of the paint, which he finds himself in regularly off drives or when posting up weaker guards. Through three preseason games, it has become quickly evident that Miller and Oden play together very well, and most Blazer fans are clamoring for the pair to become the regular starters. With Portland being an overall unselfish team— particularly noted by Roy’s team-first attitude—there won’t be many complaints if Oden sees more of the ball and continues to produce at the rates he did last year. Additionally, Miller likes to push the pace, so there will be more scoring and rebounding opportunities for the big man. This, coupled with the experience and improved fitness to stay out of foul trouble, means Oden could be in for 15 ppg, 11 rpg, and 2 bpg, good enough to achieve his goal.
Zachariah Blott is a teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.