As we meander our way through August and into September we're going to consider our expectations for each member of the 15-man roster. We probably won't do all fifteen in a row but we'll get through them all eventually. We're going to start with the man on whom all eyes will fall nationally, Greg Oden.
I expect Greg Oden to have a good, but not spectacular season. This has less to do with my assessment of him as a player (I think he's going to be spectacular) than with the realities of playing his position as a heralded rookie. Every Tom, Dick, and DeSagana is going to have it out for him. They're going to bump, bruise, and otherwise try to destroy him every time he sets foot on the court. He will not have seen anything like it in his career...not even close. While I expect him to eventually stand up to the challenge the rookie wall for him is going to look more like Mount Everest. I also expect him to go through a fair amount of mental and emotional stress, maybe even anguish. He's not going to be used to this positon. He won't be used to how simultaneously intense and heartless this league can be. He doesn't strike me as a young man who is used to failure and he's going to have to deal with his fair share of it this year with little sympathy or time to analyze what's going on.
Despite all that I don't think Blazer fans will be disappointed with Oden's production even at this early stage. It would surprise me to see him average fewer than 10 points a game. At this point I'm more concerned with field goal percentage than points scored though. I don't expect he can learn to be a volume NBA scorer at the center position in one season. I do hope he begins to learn how and where to get his shots. If he emerged from the season with low double-digits but shooting above 48% I'd be happy.
I'm fervently hoping that Greg will add 10 rebounds to his scoring. Rebounding is the one area where he can just bull through. If he wants it and he battles hard enough nobody is going to keep him from being an excellent glass man. He's just too much of an athlete.
Despite his shot blocking ability I'd be surprised if Oden averages much more than one a game for the year. I bet he'll give us a few glimpses here and there with multi-block games and hopefully by the final few months of the season he'll be averaging two or more regularly. But it's awfully hard to pick up defensive rotations and it's even harder to convince referees that what you just did at the speed of light was a legit block and not a foul.
Somewhere around 11 points, 10 boards, and 1.3 blocks sounds about right for the season, with a wish that he stays healthy and out of major foul trouble. Nationally that stat line going to be viewed as a disappointment. I hope it won't be here. More importantly I hope it's not to Greg himself. He has a long way to go, but he'll get there.
Oden's best friends this year are going to be the other young players. I think their encouragement and teaching will make the difference for him. If I'm Brandon Roy I have one, overriding mission this year: keep the big man's chin up no matter what. Even if the league is cold your teammates can pick you up.
Even though Oden is likely to be overshadowed by other rookies this particular year, keep in mind what Maurice Lucas said about us seeing a different Oden in 2008 and again in 2009. If Oden hits these semi-modest targets this year it would not surprise me at all to see him come out and dominate in years two and three.