If you recall a couple weeks ago, following Greg Oden's foot sprain, I wrote that his goal in the coming weeks would be critical and direct: not letting the injury set him back in his conditioning, especially avoiding extra weight gain while laid up. I was quite encouraged on Wednesday night when Oden stepped on the floor and actually looked like he had lost weight in the intervening weeks. Obviously he took his recovery and the rest of his rookie season quite seriously. He deserves praise for that.
Now that he's back playing it's time to take another step or two. Multiple aspects of Oden's game need work, or at least refinement. Most will concentrate on his offensive production. Indeed, in that same earlier post I suggested he spend his off time working on his shooting form, even if standing stationary or moving at half speed. That's easy enough to practice and should continue. However as far as in-game production, reliable offense takes a long time to develop. My guess is Oden's next goal should be more modest and applicable independently of whether he gets the ball or not. I would like Greg to emphasize defensive rebounding.
We have to give Oden credit already for a couple of things. First of all his body was built to control space, which is half of the battle on the boards. Second he is already boxing out on nearly every shot and doing a fine job of it. He effectively eliminates one opposing rebounder entirely just by standing there and extending his arms. That's a great first step. The next one I'd like to see is Greg being more aggressive going for the ball. Every NBA player is expected to corral balls that carom into his area. Truly special rebounders also grab out-of-area rebounds. With that body and those arms, rebounds that are out-of-area for many players could be right on Greg's front porch. So far we're not seeing that.
Conditioning is important when rebounding, of course. You need to be able to move your body and you need a little lift. Most of all you need to position yourself well and quickly enough that nobody has a legitimate chance for that rebound but you. This takes reaction and determination. I believe Greg has the reaction. The determination is his next mental leap.
I would ignore overall rebounding numbers entirely and simply concentrate on each rebound as it happened. Oden has to begin taking ownership of those misses and the space into which they ricochet. The thought process is simple: That...is...mine. I don't want ten rebounds, I want this rebound. We've all known otherwise less physically gifted players at our various levels of basketball competition who turned out to be monster rebounders simply because they wanted that ball more and moved their body accordingly. We've also known tall and/or big guys who never amounted to much as rebounders because they didn't have that edge. Greg needs to land firmly in the former camp. Combine that with his physical gifts and nobody will stop him.
The beauty of this is the same as that of the conditioning process: it's basic and totally in Greg's control. He doesn't have to depend on anyone else to give him the ball first. He doesn't have to wait to practice. He doesn't have to worry that this might not be the right game situation in which to try out these skills. It's always time to rebound! If Oden were learning to landscape this wouldn't be deciding on trees or how to contour the flower beds...more like mowing the lawn. Just get out there and do it.
But make no mistake, this is a discipline. It doesn't happen without planning and repetition. You don't become a good rebounder by accident. Effort and attitude have to be trained until they're ingrained. Oden already has the physique and the fundamental skills. It's time to put them into practice. If that means he has to come out of the game two minutes earlier because he's still not in peak condition, so be it. That'll be two minutes less but a raft more production, which in the end will lead to more minutes.
Forget scoring, forget those dazzling blocks, forget the hype and expectations. All I want to see for the next few games is Oden stepping in front of people and using those mitts to get us the ball back. That'll go a long way towards making him and the team look dominant.