I wanted to wait until all was said and done before commenting on Oden. My evaluation of Oden at the conclusion of his rookie year would include this, I think Oden has the potential to become one of the top centers in the league, an All-Star. He has size, speed and strength that you simply cannot teach. I saw him do some amazing things this season, things only centers with the names Howard, Shaq and Yao can do. Unfortunately I also saw Oden do things guys with 10 day contracts who are struggling to just make it in the league do. It’s not that he draws fouls, it’s the way he continues to draw fouls that is a problem. He’s a monster 7ft’er that wants to guard guys in the paint like he’s Tony Parker. He tries to reach and finesse when all he has to do is "be". I think what is positive but also frustrating about Oden is his problems seem relatively easy to fix. I think this is a critical off-season for Oden. Of course he deserves some rest, maybe a lot of rest, and some fun....but I want to see what he chooses to do. He needs work and it will be telling to see if Oden commits to improvement OR simply shows up with the rest of the guys.
The reason I say my carefully crafted commentary on Oden is that I feel sorry for the guy. He’s had so much exposure. He’s struggled with it. It’s been suprising. The College Oden, The Pre-Draft Oden seemed like such an easy going, level headed young man . I looked forward to a career of "Shaq" like post game interviews. Instead what we discovered was an Oden "dark side". A seeming disconnect from the team, the loss of his sense of humor, the absence of his quick smile. He was trying to improve as the season went along, feeling the weight of being the #1 draft pick of a franchise with a rabid and microscopic fanbase. Locally, and nationally the media went from Oden being the golden boy, to whispers and outright statements of "bust". All which could be expected but I can’t imagine how hard it would be to deal with from the POV of a young man like Oden.
Here’s the unfortunate reality with Oden. He came out of College with limited playing experience and the most hype attached to him since Duncan or Shaq. I remember pre-2007 draft all the experts and pundits, most who have turned on Oden now, saying the 2007 draft was one of the deepest ever, chuck full of talent. But the consensus opinion was that there were two players that could come out of the draft and make an immediate impact, and that had surefire All-Star careers ahead of them, we all know these two players were Oden and Durant. Skip ahead because we all know the story. Oden misses his rookie season. This making the local fanbase and the media all the more hungry to see Oden on the court. Now this is where "Reality" and "Hype" collide. In my opinion what we discovered with Oden, is that he was not fundamentally as ready for the NBA as everyone thought. Oden needs work. A lot of work. I don’t think most people were expecting that, we expected rookie, but we expected a quicker learning curve. Better positioning, better spacing, better decision making....and when Oden struggled it was magnified 1000 fold.. The truth is, the experts and pundits almost everyone was wrong. You can factor in a percentage as "setback" due to his micro-fracture, but Oden shows fundamental flaws that would of existed had he never had micro.
The good news, is while a lot of the national media has now turned away from Oden, or discounted him horribly, I do believe what I said, Oden can become one of the best centers in the league. But he’s going to have to work at it, harder than I think a lot of people thought. I’m rooting for Oden not just because he’s a Blazer and his development ties directly into the pace of our team success but because I want the Oden to show what can be a cold and heartless media the problems with attaching instant stardom and the flaw of applying the rapid tear down. I’m hoping Oden gets a very good big man coach. I hope he works this summer. I hope next season he starts ahead of the curve not behind it. I think Odens at a fork in the road. He either turns down the more difficult path of striving to climb up to the expectations that were probably unfairly attached to him or he defaults to a mediocre or worse career inwhich he gets a paycheck for being 7ft tall, quick and strong . At the start of his career it was everyone else telling Oden what he was, at this stage it’s now up to Oden to become what he wants to be. Now it’s all up to Oden.