To be a Greg Oden fan and pin your lifetime of hopes for a Blazer championship to his injury-prone knees is not an emotionally easy road.
First there was the micro-surgery that took his whole first season away. Then there was his shaky 13-minute debut at the Staples Center this year, in which Oden looked like a deer before a Buick's headlights before succumbing to another injury. When he first began playing regularly, it seemed like the Blazers' star center in waiting could either dunk the basketball or get called for traveling. With the ball in his hands, Oden has sometimes resembled one of those mini-AT-AT walkers from the Endor scenes of Return of the Jedi after the Ewoks place a bunch of legs underneath it so the walker wobbles and falls down: a huge piece of expert machinery rendered a joke.
As the regular season has inched along, Oden has taken a huge amount of criticism and mockery. On the Blazer blogs I visit, commenters routinely compare him to Sam Bowie and call him a bust. They predict he'll always be injured, or if he isn't, Oden will reveal himself--as #1 overall picks go--far closer to Kwame Brown, Joe Smith and Andrew Bogut than Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwan or Tim Duncan. Even Blazer fans wanting to give Oden the benefit of the doubt believe that Joel Pryzbilla is a better center.
All along, I have been Oden's apologist and cheerleader. From the moment Portland drafted him, I've been both giddy with excitement and worried over his chances of failure. Oden has the body and gifts of a potentially great, Hall of Fame NBA center. But those kinds of players arrive once or twice in a generation. Merely hoping a big 7-foot center will be a legend, even with the pedigree of being a #1 pick, won't make it a reality. Couple Oden's still relatively uncertain future with that of Kevin Durant, the high scoring forward Portland passed up to pick Big Greg, and you have the added pressure of the Blazers again making a big mistake with their selection, as happened in 1984 with taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Durant, in his second season, now trails only LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade for this year's scoring lead.
It's come to the point where even a Blazer victory doesn't feel quite as satisfying if Oden doesn't perform. Sometimes it's because of foul trouble. Often, actually. Other times it's because of limited minutes due to coach Nate McMillan's decision making or Oden's additional aches and pains. This season, even after the joy of seeing him finally play after a year's delay, he has often been stifled.
Yet having said all this, I believe and will unapologetically argue that Oden is doing not just okay, but very well.
If you look at Oden's statistics this year, they don't initially seem very spectacular. For most of the season he has hovered around 8 or 9 points per game and 7 to 9 rebounds. As of today (March 29), he's officially at 8.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. But that is based on his playing an average of 22.1 minutes per game, less than half the possible 48 minutes of regulation time.
And when you switch from per-game statistics, which can be misleading because of varying minutes played, to the other principal statistical standard for the NBA, per-48-minutes, Oden emerges as already one of pro basketball's premiere centers in his first season.
Per 48 minutes of play, Greg Oden is averaging 19.1 points per game and 15.4 rebounds. Let's compare that to some of his Blazer teammates and fellow NBA centers.
In Portland, obviously Brandon Roy has a significantly higher points average at 29.2 points per game and 6.5 assists. But after that, Oden compares favorably to anyone on the team.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the team's second-leading scorer, averages 23.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per 48 minutes. His 18.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game are much higher than Oden's, but Aldridge averages 37.1 minutes per game to Oden's 22.1. Erase that minutes-played discrepancy, and Oden scores only 4 points less per 48 minutes but nearly 6 more rebounds. And Aldridge is viewed as a budding star on the cusp of making the All-Star team. How come our supposed "flop" of a center is more efficient?
Oden's fellow Blazer center, Joel Pryzbilla, averages more rebounds per 48 minutes than Oden (17.1 versus 15.4), but only 11.1 points compared to Oden's 19.1.
Now let us see how Oden compares per 48 minutes of play to some of the NBA's great big men. Shaquille O'Neal is having a comeback season with the Suns even if they may miss the playoffs. He's averaging 18.1 points per game and 8.6 rebounds. That translates into 28.7 points per game and 13.7 rebounds.
Greg Oden is rebounding better than Shaquille O'Neal. This year.
Then there's Yao Ming. He's averaging 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds in 33.4 minutes per game. Switch that to per 48 minutes of play, however, and Yao's numbers translate to 28.1 points and 13.9 rebounds.
Greg Oden is rebounding better than Yao Ming. This year.
How about Tim Duncan? He's really a power forward as much as a center, but a premiere big man of his time either way. Duncan this year is averaging 27.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per 48 minutes this year.
Greg Oden is rebounding better than Tim Duncan. This year.
And then there's Andrew Bynum. Arrogant Laker fans and members of the Los Angeles media have thoroughly enjoyed forwarding the idea that their young center is the true heir to the great all-time centers, not Oden. Nevermind that Bynum, despite also being injury prone and given to long stretches on the bench in street clothes. This year the Laker center is averaging 23.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per 48 minutes of play.
Greg Oden is rebounding better than Andrew Bynum. This year.
In fact, the only premiere big man I found who is out-rebounding Greg Oden this year per 48 minutes of play is Dwight Howard, who averages 28.2 points and 18.7 rebounds. Howard is in his 4th season. As new-generation centers go, he is the gold standard. But I'd argue Oden, if he can keep his injuries under control, is already showing that he can be in the same league with Howard, and that he already is in the same league, when you even out the amount of minutes played, as the other great centers in the game: O'Neal, Yao, Duncan and Bynum.
To be fair, looking at these per-48-minute statistics, Oden scores fewer points than all the big-time players I mentioned. In the future as he solidifies his presence at center for the Blazers, I see Oden's career being distinguished by defense and rebounding more than scoring. Imagining a prime for him in a few years, I see Greg Oden still averaging closer to 15 points per game than 20. But he could very well lead the NBA in rebounding. Then there's what a mammoth presence, both physically and psychologically, that he already is as a defensive presence. Let Oden get comfortable and relatively pain/injury free, and he could be a strong candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award--multiple times.
I'm not saying that Greg Oden is the second coming of Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Wilt Chamberlain. But I also vehemently reject the idea that he is anything close to a bust.
Right now Portland has one of the two or three best guards in the NBA with Brandon Roy, a budding All-Star power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge, a young alley-oop and three-point specialist in Rudy Fernandez who showed in the gold medal Olympic game last summer that he can play against the best, and a talented deep and still-young supporting cast including lottery and first round picks like Travis Outlaw, Jerryd Bayless and Martell Webster. Greg Oden fits very, very well into that championship puzzle, especially with Pryzbilla there to relieve the pressure and provide a strong on-court role model setting screens and diving for loose balls.
One of the things I and many Blazer fans love about Oden is his gregariousness, his willingness to show his real self to reporters and fans with smiles and bouts of sadness alike. It's clear Oden was emboldened by the excitement of the draft, and resilient in returning from microfracture surgery, but has also been depressed and frustrated by criticisms. He understands people out there think he's a bust, and it gets to him - admittedly, perhaps more than it should.
But that's all the more reason I want to shout from the rooftops, "You're doing great, Greg!" Because you are. And you will.
Since late January I've been making a slough of entries on Twitter. The site allows 140 characters per entry, which is challenging, but in return I've wound up chronicling my goings on from moment to moment much more than with blogging.
This is going to be long, but here are my Twitter posts from February. I've eliminated the entries that were solely links to other stuff.
Memo to arrogant GMC pickup driver who made me brake and skid atop the Fremont Bridge: hang up, use your blinker and drive. Or take a bus. 2:31PM.
@djacobs Durant is a vastly more talented scorer and'll be 10x All Star. Oden is more likely to help Portland win games and championships. 1:13PM.
General Motors should dump Buick, not Saturn. Who under the age of 80 drives a Buick? And sell Saab back to Sweden so it won't be tainted. 12:43PM
Seeing a Star Wars trading card on my bulletin board made me wonder: Did Chewbacca ever comb his face? 12:32PM
Bryce Brown of Wichita, are you on Twitter? If so, come play RB for the Ducks! To twist the "Wayne's World" phrase, we ARE worthy! 12:28PM
Disappointing Oden is out not only tonight but Sunday's game. Much worse: so-called Blazer fans doubting his future. 12:26PM.
@zibapdx Paco Underhill is a brilliant analyst of shopping trends. Wish more architects studied their designs post-occupancy like this. 12:23PM.
Do The Doors constitute a guilty pleasure? Dusted off "Touch Me", "Unknown Soldier" and "LA Woman". Feel like I'm in high school. 12:22PM.
@propagandery I agree that "We Built This City" is horrible, but I stand up for the artistic value of "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight". 11:33AM
People are so bad at remembering to re-record voice mail greetings after the temporary "I'll be on vacation" one no longer applies. 4:55PM
Can't help but chuckle at "Hip Hop Hooray" coming on the stereo via iPod shuffle. What ever happened to Naughty By Nature? "Hey, ho, hey!" 4:24PM
Had a delicious lunch at Malay Satay Hut of bok choy with garlic sauce and Malaysian pork chops and roti canai flatbread. Cheers, Matt. 4:21PM
Blazers still can't get a win on their Texas Triangle road trip, but it's valuable lessons for our young Fellowship of the 2012 Ring. 10:34PM
Diners, Drive-ins & Drives is one of my favorite shows, but Guy's Big Bite with an audience and buffoonery leaves me as cold as Emeril does. 10:32PM
I can't stand those e-Trade commercials with the talking baby brokers, but I confess the FreeCreditReport.com jingles are a guilty pleasure. 10:29PM
"All Cats Are Grey" by The Cure playing on iPod shuffle as I fry sausage for a homemade pizza. Not huge Cure fan, but adore this song. 4:43PM.
Economy may be down, but Stumptown beans are now a dollar cheaper at New Seasons. Watched rolling clouds through a skylight while grinding. 3:57PM
Obama did great tonight, but the theater of presidents addressing congress is funny--so many standing ovations always cheapens their impact. 11:08PM
Doesn't Ruthie know I JUST cleaned her litter box? Can't I bask in a job well done for a few minutes? 1:59PM
Why do double-negatives and the non-existent word "ain't" have to be the accepted norm in all rock and pop songs? 1:56PM
Say what? Editors want additional work done after I turn in a draft? 12:17PM
I was entranced by Sonny Rollins' "Saxophone Colossus" & missed the first 30 minutes of Inter Milan vs. Manchester United. But still 0-0. 12:16PM
I jinxed yesterday's springlike rain-sun mix by mentioning it. Now it's just raining. Still better than ice and snow, though. 11:43AM
Making my signature spaghetti sauce and listening to Modern Jazz Quartet's "Concorde". Really I prefer "Django", but they're all sublime. 6:23PM
@nwfilmcenter I agree: Stanich's has some of Portland's most exquisite burgers. Also love The Red Coach and Skyline. 6:20PM
Spring in Portland is officially arriving: 5 cycles of alternating rain and sunshine this morning alone. 12:37PM
My new temporary favorite jazz tune: a cover of Brubeck's "Take Five" by Bahamanian saxophonist Ozzie Hall. Way more soulful than original. 11:15AM
Blazers quietly won 3rd in a row last night, and I loved reading Sports Illustrated's Brandon Roy profile: "New Star, Old Soul." 11:09AM
The Oscar telecast overall wasn't the major re-think they promised. Stroke of genius to have past winners honor all the nominees, though. 11:07AM
Steady diet of espresso and 70s Bahamas R&B to kick-start this Monday morning after some late-night writing to meet deadline. 11:06AM
Hooray! I was rooting for Danny Boyle even aside from "Slumdog". When I interviewed him a couple years ago he was super nice and genuine. 8:24 PM
I can just see the "Slumdog" score musicians' next project: a Paul Simon album. 8:00 PM
It's fitting Jerry Lewis is being honored at the Oscars. His telethons are the only broadcast that's longer. Of course I'm still watching. 7:46 PM
"Great, everybody's crying now and I have to go on," --Bill Maher after Ledger's win. Very happy he won, deservedly. Love RDjr & JB though. 7:20 PM
It's been 90 minutes and one major award (supporting actress) has been given out. So I have less patience for H. Jack's 2nd musical number. 6:54 PM
Still many a tad too many montages though. It's like a higher-class TV Guide channel. 6:28 PM
I can't believe what a great start the Oscars are off to. Jackman's musical number was fun, but the lead up to Cruz's win was fantastic. 5:51 PM
Seems like Slumdog is poised to win tonight, along with Ledger, maybe Cruz, Winslet. For me it's all about song medleys & accountant intros. 2:46 PM
"You know I gots to looked dipped in my fresh gear....who the hell you think I am, Mr. Belvedere?" --Phife Dawg 2:42 PM
A late start on the 3 stories I have due tomorrow after sleeping in until 11:30. Enjoyed friend Ned's b-day party Sat at Thatch Tiki Bar. 2:39 PM
@shawnlevy I'd give Professor Wegner as long as he wants - he's tenured. Any team whose down-year is 5th in Premiership is OK with me. 11:48 AM
Caught the first 20 minutes of "The Conversation" on TCM. Wow what a spectacularly great movie. That and "Apocolypse Now" are my FFC faves. 7:43PM
Busy w/work all weekend, but tonight it's slippers & track suit for NBA and Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. "This apple butter is on point!" 7:42PM
Word has come from New Seasons that my Friday night pulled-pork sandwich with slaw is being assembled momentarily. Baking a box cake later. 6:46PM
"Don't Worry Baby" just played on my iPod. How angelic that B Wilson. Perfect accompaniment to starting a batch of frozen fries in the oven. 6:46PM
I love how Bond movies are showing almost 24/7 on cable now. Valarie's right that Roger Moore acts with his eyebrows. Connery's nastier. 2:44PM
Off to meet some Chicago Architectural Foundation people scouting Portland for a members' visit. Steered them to Ace Stumptown, naturally. 2:43PM
Paul is every bit the genius John was, by the way. Ringo, not a genius but love his simple root drumming. George very very good. 2:42PM
First "Magical Mystery Tour" and now "Rubber Soul" as I edit photos from this morning's visit to the restored Calumet Building. 2:34PM
Saw an ad in the paper for Regis Philbin coming to Spirit Mountain Casino. Even HE can't be enthusiastic about that gig. Final answer, Reg? 10:01AM
Suddenly out of nowhere, an insatiable urge to hear "Kings of the Wild Frontier" by Adam & The Ants. Actually, it's satiable--listening now. 4:22PM
I'm fine with the Trail Blazers standing pat as the trade deadline passed. Was worried about chemistry or losing Travis Outlaw anyway. 4:09PM
While a new door handle was being installed on my car, I took MAX downtown for delightful food-cart Bratwurst and a perfect Spella espresso. 4:07PM
One silver lining to the current economic cloud: Chrysler is reportedly discontinuing the PT Cruiser, the world's ugliest car. 5:28PM
After Art Blakey's "A Night In Tunisia" as work music yesterday, today it's St. Etienne's "Foxbase Alpha". 1:00PM
@propagandery You are SO right! Thank-you waves are mandatory if someone's let you into their lane. 10:26AM
Interviewed a developer and architect in Pearl/downtown earlier, now home roasting a chicken with rosemary & listening to Throwing Muses. 5:13PM
Couldn't help but stay up and watch Antonioni's awesome "Blow-Up" on TCM. I want to be the young David Hemmings character, only not a jerk. 11:38PM
Q-Tip, where have you been? Your first album in six years is terrific. All we need is Phife Dawg and Tribe Called Quest would be back. 9:42PM
Oh good, I've finished my story due tomorrow morning in time for Iron Chef and some highlights of Brandon Roy's 14 all-star-game points. 9:41PM
Why am I still not fully awake almost three hours after rising? Wasn't 10 hours enough, or was it too much? Hello 4th espresso. 1:08PM
Yum, cooked up fettucini with gorgonzola cream sauce (old fave), then brownies with fresh whipped cream for dessert. Avoiding tight pants. 12:02AM
Does a CD of Bahamanian funk from the early 70s classify as an impulse purchase? 12:00AM
Overheard at Powell's: someone confessing reticence over library books because of too many germs. Okay, Howard Hughes. 2:30PM
So Durant had 46 in the rookie challenge last night, Oden a DNP with a bruised knee. Still believe in Big Fella, but insecurity creeping in. 12:33PM
It's worth my current food coma to have eggs, sausage, and shredded hash browns (that's particularly key) at Johnny B's Family Restaurant. 12:32PM
Receiving a lift from listening to a demo of "I'm Down" on i-Pod shuffle. It's got to be one of the best early Beatles tunes. 2:12PM
I thought Lavazza espresso would do in a pinch at QFC, but after this it's strictly Stumptown, Portland Roasting or another local roaster. 1:21PM
1:30 meeting cancelled, so I'm free to stay in sweats listening to Thelonious Monk and the Pet Shop Boys (separately). 1:14PM
Listening to Tom Waits' "Rain Dogs" as I work. "They all started out with bad directions....All the donuts have names like prostitutes." 2:55PM
Durant drives the lane to the basket, slams into Oden and...offensive foul!!! 17 and 12 for the big fella, plus much more non-stat impact. 11:19AM
Blazers-Thunder rematch tonight. As the Clash sing, "Waitin' for the clamp-down!" Come on big fella, reject Durant and wag a Mutombo finger! 2:10PM
David Lynch: "We are like the spider. We weave our life & move along it. We are like the dreamer who dreams & then lives in the dream." 2:06PM
T-minus 48 hours until I have three different articles due. And for one, an architect profile I haven't even interviewed anyone yet! 11:34AM
I am so damn fed up with hostile anonymous commenters on my Portland Architecture blog. "Cronyism? Cocktail party banter?" FY, you MF CS! 3:31PM
iPod shuffle just played the "Happy Days" theme. Thumbs up and an "Eeyyy!" to that. Just wish I looked a little less like Ron Howard. 2:50PM
I can't believe it's fucking snowing again. This better not stick. (But actually I'm in a good mood otherwise - just made an espresso.) 1:36PM
The Ducks could win a coolest-football-player's-name award for a wide receiver recruit announced yesterday: Lavasier Tuinei. (Allez, TD!) 12:36PM
After perusing the NY Times website with another Obama headline (about the stimulus bill) tonight, I'm still pinching myself he's president. 10:33PM
@shawnlevy Scolari's firing says more about Chelsea's psycho owner than Blues' quality on the pitch. They never should have let Jose go. 12:39PM
If all the peanut butter is tainted, we should follow France's lead: the chocolate sandwich (no jelly required). 12:36PM
Grammy awards last night - the most irrelevant of all the irrelevant awards shows. Has the best album EVER won best album? 12:35PM
A little scared about Blazer trade rumors. Not ready to part with Travis Outlaw, and not sure how Amare or Richard Jefferson would fit in.11:08AM
Saw a work of true genius last night: "Ali Babba Bunny". "Open...Sasparilla? Duh, open...Saskatchewan?...Hassan chop!" 12:29PM
@shawnlevy Arsene and the Gooners will be back. But Jose Mourinho won't, I'm afraid! 12:22PM
The icing on the cake for tonight? Well, probably the fact that I'm literally about to ice the yellow cake I just made. 8:47PM
Durant wins this round (by an admittedly sizable margin), but Oden was still the right pick for Portland - absolutely no doubt whatsoever! 8:43PM
I feel vastly more let down by Christian Bale than Sam Adams (and not by Michael Phelps at all). 9:45AM
Recipe for lunchtime success: take 3 pork tacos from nearby taco truck, eat with plenty of lime juice and hot sauce. Kitty is jealous. 2:36PM
Not at all bothered by Obama appointee problems. Par for the course with a new prez. B-rock still walks on water in my book. Easily. 9:58AM
Blazers vs. Mavs tonight, and I desperately want to see Oden posterize Nowitski. Meanwhile, Clyde listed on ESPN as #5 dunker all-time! 9:57AM
Signing day arrives and Oregon nabbed 4-star receiver Diante Jackson, but overall class is disappointingly down. May not matter, a la OSU. 9:54AM
@tonyfaulkner Give Obama some time, Tony. WAY WAY WAY too early to be disappointed. I think he's doing superb. 12:25PM
Christian Bale: biggest jerk in the universe? First loved, now hate him. 12:18PM
Already watched way too much TV with game, but now my favorite show is on: Iron Chef. And a Batali episode, no less. Allez cuisine. 9:53PM
Wooo-hooooo!!!! My lifelong favorite NFL team just won the Super Bowl. What a roll - Ducks in Civil War, Obama, Holiday Bowl, now this! 9:52PM
The Steel Curtain riseth to claim gridiron glory. Go Pittsburgh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I'm getting pumped for game time.) 2:52PM
Fellowship of the Blazer Ring continues ascendancy: easy win over Jazz last night. Oden in foul trouble, but Vanilla Godzilla stellar. 11:38AM
Damn it all, Oregon lost to OSU in b-ball. And I hate how the Beavers' coach is so flippin' likable! Where's that bastard Ralph Miller? 11:36AM
Wow, Nadal beat Federer in the Aussie final. Not a total surprise, but Fed seemed on a roll. Gotta love a guy (Fed) who sobs afterward. 11:34AM
Ah, 10 hours of sleep. It's not 11, but it'll surely do. And no recurring late for the airport dreams! 11:32AM