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The "Other" Rookie

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Since we talked about Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez last week it only seems fair to begin this week with that “other” rookie, Greg Oden.  Obviously we’ve discussed him several times before but since we’re around five dozen days from his official Second Coming it seems right to go over it again and start thinking in serious terms about his contributions this season.

The first thing you notice about Oden is that he’s huge.  He’s not exactly Arvydas Sabonis or Yao Ming huge, but he’s a legit seven feet...one big wall of muscle.  That he’s also strong goes without saying.  But the thing that sets him apart is he’s cat-quick.  Watching him come from the weak side, get up in the air, and block a shot is a breathtaking experience.  It’s like, “What the…WHOA!!!”  Watching him throw down a dunk with speed and power will scare you.

Greg has got a reasonably good sense of the defensive game for a young guy.  His footwork is nice and he sees the court well.  Picking up defense at an NBA level should be natural to him.

Oden has the bulk and speed to be a good offensive player as well but this part of his game will probably take longer to develop.  He had the rudiments of a couple good offensive moves the last time we saw him but he didn’t look sure where and when to put them in play.  Dunks he can handle no problem.  That little left baseline area that Joel Przybilla hangs out in while the guards do their thing should be a happy and productive home for Oden.  But going one-on-one against a guy his size could take a while to master.  To his advantage Oden already seems to be conversant with the idea of passing, foreign to many star big men when they enter the league.  He could prove a productive offensive cog even if he doesn’t score in bundles.

Greg has all of the tools to rebound well.  He needs to remember not to bring the ball down after he grabs it.  He also needs to get a little nastier before and during his rebounding forays.  As with offense, we see there’s a difference between having the body and using it.

There shouldn’t be doubt in anyone’s mind that if he stays healthy Greg Oden will be a dominant force in this league.  In fact dominant may not do it.  However we’ll probably see something less than dominance from him this season.

Oden should be able to do several things right away.  For one he will eat space in the lane as much as any center in the league.  Even if he’s not strictly the biggest his quickness will make up for that.  He can cover a ton of territory.  He’s also intimidating with that shot-blocking ability.  If he gets off to any start at all teams will fear the Blazers’ key by January.  Second he should help clear up at least part of our rebounding problem.  Third, provided he’s worked on a low post move during the past year, he should give us our best post option since Mike Dunleavy was forcing Rasheed to play down there.

However I do not expect Oden to be playing complete starter’s minutes coming off of the knee surgery…at least not right away.  Nor do I expect him to be at full speed running or cutting, nor displaying the phenomenal leaping ability.  I saw Amare Stoudemire in Summer League when he was coming back from his knee surgery and he looked bad…as in “I wonder if this guy will ever be effective again” bad.  Obviously he is effective again, as will Oden be.  But it may take some time.  Most of a season would not surprise me.  This year is going to be a trial run for Greg.  I anticipate at the end of the season he will say he is somewhat disappointed in his rookie campaign even as the rest of us are saying it wasn’t too bad for a guy just entering the league off of microfracture.  I assume we’ll see flashes of brilliance, but sustained production may have to wait.  In other words, 75-80% of Greg Oden is still going to transform this team, but I don’t see him getting close to Rookie of the Year status or anything like that.

If you pinned me down (and several people have) I’d say that 9-10 rebounds and around 1.5 blocks per game was possible and would be a great start for Greg.  That’s assuming 28-30 minutes ballpark per night.  You’ll probably see less at the beginning of the year and more in the spring.  Offensively he could be anywhere on the map.  8 points wouldn’t shock me and neither would 16, but I would guess those were about the limits.  Again we might see the lower number prevailing early, increasing as the year progresses.

Unlike the other rookies there are absolutely no playing time or rotation issues standing in Greg’s way.  That’s not a knock on Joel Przybilla, but the reality is that every minute this kid can play he is going to.  His knee, his fouls, and his conditioning are the only limitations.

In a nutshell: you can absolutely expect the moon with Greg Oden, just don’t expect to see it all this year.  If he lights it up from the get-go, more power to him.  If not, it probably doesn’t mean much other than he’s still recovering.  Don’t let any herald of doom convince you otherwise.  This isn't the season to judge Greg's full potential.  Give him some time.

One thing’s for sure:  the moment he gets announced in that first home game is going to be something magical.  I almost hope, just for the sake of that moment, that the Blazers’ first game this year is in Portland.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)