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Rehashing Why Greg Oden is the Key

I’m sure I have talked about this once before, but it’s been a while and with all of the talk about the impact of new players and talent depth it’s been on my mind. 


Depth, talent, and versatility are important.  Those things are valuable in getting through an 82-game grind and positioning yourself for the playoffs.  The more arrows you have in your quiver the better chance that some of them will strike home over the long run.  However once you get to the playoffs it becomes a different game…not so much about the number of arrows (as the chances to fire are more limited over seven games than eighty-two) but about how accurately you take your best shot and how much damage you do with it.


Fast forward eight months down the road.  The Blazers are entering the playoffs for the first time since back in Ought-Three.  For fun let’s say it’s against the L*kers.  (If you don’t like that, figure instead at some point we’ll have to face them to make it to the promised land.)  I guarantee you somewhere--could be a fanpost here, could be another site entirely, might even be in a print publication--somebody is going to offer some version of the following analysis.  (I’m using last year’s L.A. roster and foregoing the explanations which would be included.)


Derek Fisher vs. Steve Blake:  Push

Kobe Bryant vs. Brandon Roy:  Edge L*kers

Lamar Odom vs. Martell Webster:  Edge L*kers

Pau Gasol vs. Lamarcus Aldridge:  Edge Blazers

Andrew Bynum vs. Greg Oden:  Edge Blazers

Bench:  Edge Blazers

Blazers have three edges, L*kers have two, Blazers should win.


Sounds logical on paper.  Reality doesn’t follow that logic, however.  The fly in the ointment is that the NBA playoffs don’t depend on edging out your opponent in more positions as much as they depend on who has the best overall player on the floor.  Even in this new, team-game-friendly league the gap that matters most is the superstar gap.  You can edge a team out in three or four of six positions (including bench).  They’ve got Kobe or Kevin Garnett?  They win a lot of seven-game series.  That one mismatch weighs more than the others.


The key to playoff success is simple:  You have to have a guy on the floor who has the potential to be the best, most dominant player out there on a given night, who fulfills that potential more often than not, and who warps the whole game for both sides when he does fulfill that potential.


Consider Portland’s own history.  Back in the late 70’s Maurice Lucas was an all-world player.  There weren’t many other power forwards who could stack up to him.  Lionel Hollins was a star as well for those couple years.  The Blazers also had a renown supporting cast considered one of the most cohesive in team history.  But the player who owned the court every night was Bill Walton.  In 1976-77 he was healthy and Portland won it all.  In 1977-78 he goes down near the end of the season with a foot injury and the Blazers--with that same cast of other stars and supporters--go down in the first round.  A decade or so later Terry Porter was a fantastic point guard, Kevin Duckworth an All-Star center, and Buck Williams and Jerome Kersey were feared forwards.  That group made your knees shake.  But the guy who made the difference was Clyde Drexler.  With him that team is a Finals contender.  Without him the team is decent, but decent doesn’t win over the long haul in the playoffs.


Fast forward once again to today.  Brandon Roy is an incredible leader, a clutch player, an amazing scorer…in many ways he’s the Terry Porter of his time.  (Keep in mind that while we think of Terry as a point guard he really shaded towards a hybrid who marked scoring and team leadership among his strongest gifts.)  Lamarcus Aldridge is going to become dominant, perhaps as much as Mo Lucas ever was offensively.  The young talent surrounding those two has everybody salivating.  But Brandon is not going to be Kobe or LeBron.  He does have this weird knack of bending the space around him to his will and he will win plenty of games for the Blazers.  I’d even go so far as to say he’ll be the game-bending player on many nights. But on a night-to-night basis even if he’s capable of scoring in Kobe-like droves that’s not the strength of his game.  Nor is he able to shape the game defensively as strongly as Kobe does.  Brandon is a smart, consummate team player.  It’s just not his style to thrash the entire court and strangle it in that “I’m League MVP So Whatcha Gonna Do, Brother?” way.  Lamarcus is going to be a multi-time All-Star himself but he’s probably not going to be Bill Walton or Tim Duncan 50-Greatest-Ever dominant.  Who is the guy with the potential to just destroy everything that moves around him…not the sleek fighter jet or the tricked-out tank, but the freakin’ nuclear bomb?  For the Blazers that’s Oden.  Both Brandon and Lamarcus make the opponent go, “Oh no, we better have our stuff together.”  Greg Oden is the type of guy who could make the opponent go, “We quit!”  That last part is what wins playoff basketball.


Greg Oden will have the potential to trump any opponent mismatch in the same way Kobe Bryant does…not just an edge, but THE edge that makes the opponent edges not matter anymore.  Whatever happens or doesn’t happen in the regular season, when it’s go-time in April, May, and eventually June, that’s going to make the difference.  You can win a series here and there without him, but if you want to dream about Finals appearances, Oden is your guy.


--Dave (