A Daily Babble Production
The NBA's most anticipated draft pick since LeBron James in 2003 - and the game's most anxiously awaited big man in quite some time - had to wait an extra year, but reports out of Portland indicate that Greg Oden is on pace to make his regular season professional debut as expected come late October. That makes this as ripe a time as ever to start wondering about what to look for from the big man from Ohio State in the season to come.
This is a player who has been a national celebrity since the midst of his high school days at the absolute latest. He has been heralded as a once-in-a-lifetime sort of big man who has the potential to be a centerpiece on championship teams for years to come.
On the other hand, he's also had his share of injury problems over the last few seasons, was good but not spectacular in just one year of college ball and hasn't played in NBA competition beyond a couple of summer league games more than a years ago. On top of that, he still has the look of a guy who can't be too far away from receiving AARP discounts.
There has been so much hype surrounding this guy's arrival that I'm honestly not even sure where to start with expectations for him. It would have been hard to know what to look for even if he had played last season, and it's even harder to figure it out now that we don't know how much the effects of his knee injury will linger.
The first issue is minutes. Sure, he's expected to come in and take the starting center's job right away, but there are plenty of factors that could limit his time on the floor. The fact that he is returning from a significant injury could make the team careful about putting too much strain on the big man for fear of aggravating any of the problems from the last year. As a 7-footer packing possibly as many as 280 pounds on his frame, playing in full speed NBA games for the first time could cause him some fatigue issues. It's also worth remembering that Oden experienced a lot of concern with fouls in his short summer league stint in 2007, and he could be limited by foul trouble this season.
As for his time on the floor, the guess here is that Oden will be far more comfortable defensively early on. He is a natural shot-blocker and interior defensive presence with great timing and strength down low. As long as he adapts to the NBA's defensive three second rule that will prevent him from simply sitting in the lane, he should be able to become a presence on that end right away. He'll likely be a bit tentative at times because of foul trouble, and he'll have to adjust to the fact that the NBA's frontcourt players are both quicker and stronger than those he played against at the collegiate level. But he should be able to make a difference for the Blazers inside and to make his presence known on the glass as well.
Offensively, it could take some time for Oden to really become acclimated to the pro game. Though he occasionally busted out some nicer, more finesse-oriented moves in college, he needs to improve his touch around the rim and on his baby jumpers. He'll also face the challenge of no longer being simply larger than everyone else inside, which means that he won't have as many opportunities to finish easy dunks around the rim. Oden isn't a selfish player, and his passing skills should transfer well from previous levels while his scoring remains an uncertainty.
So the questions abound. How quickly will Greg Oden adapt to the NBA game? As far as staying on the court is concerned? Foul trouble? Becoming a presence at each end of the floor?
What sort of production is fair to expect from both Oden and his team? Is a double-double realistic? Would it be sufficient? What about 15 and 11? Or 17 and 12? And most significantly, how much better will he make this Portland team?
We've got a few guesses above, but by and large, label me as uncertain as the rest of the field on this one. How about you?