The one guy we haven’t talked about in our Player-by-Player assessment of the team is, of course, Greg Oden. It wasn’t appropriate to include him in the season recap but since we’re now transitioning properly into summer and anticipating the season to come it’s time to chat about his impact. Long story short…it’s going to be significant.
Oden’s calling card to this point in his career has been his defense, but he’ll also make a huge difference in the Blazers’ offense. While Oden’s post game isn’t polished yet (and will likely take a while to become NBA-ready) his sheer athleticism makes him a legitimate threat already. One of the reasons we had some difficulty with decision-making and attacking in the halfcourt offense this year was that opponents basically cheated off of the post. I love Joel Przybilla and what he did for us this year. We would not have been nearly the same team without him. But his presence in the offense allowed the defense considerable leeway to pinch and gamble against our better scorers. Many of our sets were just aching for somebody in the middle to catch and score. Joel wasn’t that man. He has trouble catching passes with the slightest imperfections. If he does catch the ball he has trouble doing anything productive with it in any kind of traffic. He doesn’t score or pass naturally. Even when he finds himself free Joel is unable to finish above the rim unless he’s already cutting towards the basket. Count the number of times Joel got passed to and couldn’t finish, then add all of the times his teammates looked the other direction. That ends up being a lot of possessions. All of that goes away with Oden on the floor. He has good, big hands that are only going to get better with practice. One of his best qualities is his fluidity. Watching him with the ball is like watching a much smaller man. Plus he’s huge and he’s not going to get bumped off of his line easily. He already has the rudiments of passing down and he’s showed some court vision last summer…more than some rookies I’ve seen anyway. I anticipate he’ll be at least a competent passer if not a downright good one. And Greg doesn’t have any trouble finishing above the rim. As a matter of fact he can get his forearms above the cylinder on a flat-footed jump and darn near get his elbows up there with a step and a half. Even if he doesn’t end up scoring big numbers at first he’s going to draw attention which will immediately create more open shots for everyone else. One of the key flaws in the Blazer offense this year was spending a bunch of time to create a mediocre shot. If the defense was dedicated we had trouble getting free. Once Oden gets rolling offensively it’s hard to see how we’re not going to get someone free. And with our new-found perimeter prowess that’s liable to be scary for the opposition.
Now let’s move to Oden’s strength…the defense. We played a style conducive to holding the opponent to a low percentage this year. Basically we forfeited aggressive attacking in favor of staying between the man and the basket. We suffered when good scorers figured out that we weren’t really going to challenge them on their moves, shadowing them instead. We suffered during those times when even playing the percentages couldn’t keep them out of the lane. We suffered continuously on the boards.
Greg Oden isn’t a one-man cure-all for these issues. However teams like
Oden will also eventually affect our running game positively. As we’ve said for the better part of a year now, Lamarcus and Travis are going to be able to fly more when Greg is rebounding. He’s going to make the opponent take longer shots more often, leading to long rebounds and breaks. His passing ability will also help him on the outlet…something we haven’t seen around here since Sabonis.
Is all of this going to happen immediately? Of course not. He’s going to need time to adjust. But you’re going to see some of these things--at least flashes of them--the minute he steps on the court. We ought to get a clear vision of the future in his first season. As for the rest…we’re young and we have plenty of time. I read comments about Greg not transforming the team completely in his first year and dealing with foul trouble and all of that, as if that were a negative. (By the way, he’ll also have to deal with the physical and mental pounding he’s going to take with that big bullseye on his back, plus life on the road. Those are going to be as great of a challenge as the foul issue.) I tend to look at all of that and go, “So?” It’s a little like getting the red Lamborghini of your dreams and someone saying, “Well, you’re going to have to drive it in low gear until you get out of the dealership parking lot.” And this is a problem...how? After you make that right turn onto the street the freeway beckons and it’s pretty long. Crank up the bass, put the key in the ignition, and let’s get driving! Hola chicas! Check us out!
It’s going to be one heck of a trip.