A couple of days ago we gave you the story on Nicolas Batum, a player who is definitely rising in status, tantalizing the Blazers and perhaps the league (or at least whoever bothers to watch) with his future. If you liked that, you should also like what Greg Oden showed this season. While his numbers didn't improve across the board at the astronomical rate that Batum's offensive numbers did, Oden still fared amazingly well during his limited action.
Oden saw an increase of 2.4 minutes per game played this season, right around 11% to the positive. As we did with Batum, we'll run down some of his significant production increases:
- +25% in points
- +29% in defensive rebounds
- +21% in overall rebounds
- +109% in blocked shots
- +38% in field goals made
- +3% in personal fouls whistled against him
Some raw numbers:
- Oden's 60.4% field goal shooting clip reprensented an increase of 4.1% over last year's 56.4%
- Oden improved his free throw shooting by 12.9 percentage points to 76.6%.
- His True Shooting percentage went up 4.8 percentage points to 64.7%
- His Effective Field Goal percentage went up 4.1 percentage points to 60.5%
- His PER rose 5 points to 23.1
- His Block Percentage was 7.7%, meaning he blocked that percentage of the opponents' shots when he was on the floor.
- His Offensive Rebounding Percentage was 15.6%, meaning when he was on the floor he rebounded that percentage of all available offensive rebounds. By comparison LaMarcus Aldridge's rate was 8.1%.
- His Defensive Rebounding Percentage was 28.3%, which means the same thing except on the defensive end. Consider that there are 10 guys on the court when each shots goes up and Greg vacuumed up over 28% of those rebounds. By comparison LaMarcus Aldridge's rate was 18.6%.
- His Total Rebounding Percentage was 21.9%. (Again, ten guys on the floor!)
- His Offensive Rating, measuring points scored per 100 possessions, was 118, up 2 from last season. Brandon Roy's was 117.
- His Defensive Rating, measuring points allowed per 100 possessions was 100, down 4 from last season (which is a good thing, as lower is better here). Nicolas Batum's was 107.
Let's put some of those numbers in perspective by looking at a couple other decent centers whose names begin with "O". Shaquille O'Neal in his prime topped out at around a 25% defensive rebounding rate and 18.3% total rebounding rate. (He did have one higher season when he was younger.) Hakeem Olajuwon matched Oden's 2009-10 percentage for a couple seasons in his prime. Olajuwon's Offensive Rating also maxed out at around 118. Obviously I'm not comparing Greg to either of those all-universe players on the basis of one-quarter season worth of stats. Early on I helped lead the charge against exactly that kind of comparison and I have not changed my position that Greg will probably never be (nor will the Blazers need him to be) a superstar. But Oden's progress and production this year merit attention and those numbers show it. If they're at all indicative of his direction the Blazers have multiple reasons to be hopeful, bordering on ecstatic.
Several other stats recommend Greg's effect on the game as a whole. His plus-minus was around +3.7 per game. He built a PER advantage of +12.7 over opposing centers head-to-head. The Blazers scored more per 100 possessions and gave up fewer per 100 possessions when Greg played versus when he didn't. Portland's Effective Field Goal percentage rose almost 3% and the opponent's fell almost 3% when Greg played versus when he sat. Portland's rebounding went through the roof too.
Few players leave such a definitive imprint on the game that you can watch a team's course change when they take the floor. Oden developed some of that mojo this year. Once he got acclimated his interior patrolling and rebounding transformed Portland's defense. As November progressed opposing announcers started talking in awed terms about the Blazers' ability to shut down opponents...an observation that was woefully absent in January and February save among those who only measured pace-adjusted stats. Though Greg's offensive adjustment took longer you began to watch opponents devote constant attention, sometimes with extra men, down low and particularly on the offensive boards when he set up shop. Portland's tent had plenty of length and width without Oden. He was the central post that provided the height and made the whole useable, even comfortable. This team wasn't the same without him.
The enormous, blinking-neon-sign caveat is that we saw only 21 games before Greg's thigh muscle turned his kneecap into a jigsaw puzzle. This limits the validity of the statistical comparisons. This limits the sustainability of the praise. Most importantly it limits the Blazers' confidence relying on Greg in the future. Oden is one of Portland's most critical pieces, maybe the most critical piece when all is said and done. Sadly he's still a huge maybe instead of a huge YES. Reality check: unless he can stay healthy none of the other developments matter.
Whether it takes months or years the Blazers need a well-adjusted, dependably-operative Greg Oden to have a legitimate shot at a title. At this point the number of months or years don't matter as long as it happens. Everybody from the most casual fan to Paul Allen is waiting to see if it will. Until then all we can say is that Portland has something special here but nobody knows if it will do them any good.
Season Performance: Incomplete, but Greg is on his last extension. If this happens again we're going to register a grade and it won't be pretty.
Trend: Upward in every way except health.
Biggest Question Marks: Physical soundness, offensive continuity
Future with the Team: He'll be a Blazer long-term. Whether that's as Portland's on-court anchor or Portland's most expensive on-camera tour guide remains to be seen.