March 25, 2010
WhoYou Got? is a new original ETB series that looks at two players’ futures and aims to answer the following: if you had to select one of these players for the remainder of their career, independent of salary implications and their hypothetical future teammates, who would you take?
First up: Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah vs. Portland Trail Blazers C Greg Oden
This pair of centers first met in the 2007 NCAA Championship Game, a game in which Oden demolished Florida’s vaulted frontline, but Florida’s depth and experience carried them to their second consecutive title. Oden registered 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the loss, compared to Noah’s 8, 3, and 0 in the win.
Oden was the first pick in that summer’s draft, and Noah was 9th. Since then, Oden has been a strong interior presence for the Blazers, but he’s been riddled with injuries and missed huge chunks of time, including his entire “rookie season”. Noah has provided an energetic presence for Chicago, ADD-ing his way to 11 rebounds per this season.
The Case for Greg Oden
When he’s playing, his rates of production are very similar to Dwight Howard’s. In Oden’s 21 games this season, he shot 61% from the field, his true shooting percentage (TS%) was 65%, he grabbed 22% of all available rebounds, and he blocked 7.6% of opponents’ 2-point attempts. For comparision, Howard is shooting 61%, his TS% is 63%, he’s grabbed 22% of available rebounds, and he’s blocked 5.8% of opponents’ 2-point attempts. The numbers for Oden are all also improvements over his rookie season, so as a 45-year-old man he’s still getting better.
Oden’s pers are decent but can obviously increase significantly with more minutes (11 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, in 24 minutes per). He’s also currently Portland’s fourth or fifth scoring option at this point in his young career. With more opportunities and experience, he could post some fantastic statistics while becoming one of the top-two defensive forces in the league.
Almost every non-Jordan team that’s won a championship has had a great big man, and Oden has the potential to be this type of cornerstone; Noah doesn’t. Noah will always be a nice compliment, but he’s had trouble starting over an aging Brad Miller and Ben Wallace for the past 3 years. Even if Oden only plays a few seasons at his achieved potential, it’s easy to imagine his interior dominance contributing heavily to a championship team, like Bill Walton was able to do during his tragically small window of greatness. That’s as good a reason as any to take a chance on Oden.
The case for Joakim Noah, and the final verdict, after the break…
The Case for Joakim Noah
There is no question that Oden’s ceiling is higher, but will his body ever allow him to reach it? His numerous injuries have limited him to exactly one season’s worth of games, 82, over his first three seasons. Noah is dealing with heel problems right now, but he’s never had extended injuries that wiped away entire seasons. And it’s not like Noah’s been a slouch over his first three seasons with the Bulls.
With gradually increasing minutes each year, his scoring has risen, his rebounds are way up (near-NBA-best 11 per this season), his blocks are up, he’s getting to the free-throw line more, and he’s consistently been around a 50% shooter from the field. His high energy style of play is infectious, and he never takes plays off. You know you’re always getting 100% from Noah, which has made him one of the best interior defenders in the NBA.
Like Cleveland’s similarly-Sideshow-Bob-haired Anderson Varejao, he seemingly pesters everyone on the opposition who comes within 15 feet of the hoop, and his quickness makes him versatile enough to guard whomever he ends up with in the paint. He’s currently blocking 1.5 shots per, and he forces opponents to rethink a lot of passes and shots they’d normally attempt simply because he’s all over the place. A great defender and rebounder is someone you want on your team for the long haul, and Noah fits that role to a T.
This is a tough decision because one guy provides a shot at extreme dominance for what’s bound to be a short amount of time versus a consistently good performer who will never be the chief reason a team is winning an NBA title. If my GM job was on the line, though, I’d have to take Joakim Noah simply because Oden is starting to look like damaged goods. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. He’s had multiple, long-term issues with his knees, and his temperament has swung back-and-forth each time. Noah is a known commodity who you can safely pencil in as your team’s best defender, rebounder, and hustle guy for years to come.
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.