Feb 21, 2012, 6:23 PM EDT
It all seems so simple in hindsight. Greg Oden will soon undergo his 3rd microfracture surgery since being drafted in 2007, while Kevin Durant will continue to be one of the best players in the Western Conference and, more than likely, lead his team into the playoffs. Oden spent much of his college career nursing a wrist injury, while Durant spent most of his one year at Texas demolishing his competition with a silky-smooth inside-out game on his way to being named the consensus national player of the year.
In hindsight, it all seems so silly. How could we not have seen this? Why did we think that Kevin Durant’s inability to lift the weight bar once or sprint down the court during the draft combine would keep him from being a dominant force in the NBA? It’s hard to remember how sure we all were about Oden after we read things like Chad Ford’s awed recap of Oden’s pre-draft workout:
Oden measures 6-foot-11½ in socks and 7-1 in shoes, and he weighs around 260. His wingspan is an impressive 7-5, and his standing reach nearly 9-3. Those measurements provide the biggest reason most scouts think Oden should be the No. 1 pick. In a league devoid of big, traditional centers — Oden’s numbers add up to a perfect 10.
Everything else is supposed to be gravy.
But when St. Vincent director Ralph Reiff warned that I was in for a surprise, he wasn’t kidding.
Oden’s agility, flexibility, balance and explosiveness are remarkable for a player his size. He’s a 2 guard in a center’s body.
Clearly Oden is more than a big stiff who’s learned how to play basketball. He’s an athlete who happens to be 7 feet tall.
In the span of an hour, there wasn’t a drill point guard Mike Conley could do that Oden couldn’t do. In the strength department, we’d expect that and more. But in terms of athleticism and agility, you have to see it to believe it.
Remember that ridiculous dunk he tried against Georgetown — the one when he took off from a little inside the free-throw line? That type of play should be a staple of his NBA game…
…As the workout continues, Oden plants down low alongside Purdue’s Carl Landry and works on a number of post moves around the basket. His hands are soft. His hook shot is smooth. And most everything Oden lobs up finds its way in the basket. While he’s been working on a midrange jumper to increase his arsenal, it’s his work down on the post that is most impressive.
We’d seen so many pure scorers, shooters, and tweener forwards struggle in the NBA, especially ones with less-than stellar athleticism. Oden was supposed to be the sure thing. 3 microfracture surgeries, 1 Thunder Conference Finals appearance, and 2 Kevin Durant scoring titles later, it’s easy to see just how wrong we were.
However, Blazers acting GM Chad Buchanan, who was in the room when Oden was drafted, says he has no regrets about picking Oden over Durant all these years later (hat tip to Ben Golliver of Blazersedge and CBS’ Eye on Basketball):
Buchanan, speaking at the team’s practice facility on Monday afternoon, told CBSSports.com that he remembered the phone call declaring the team’s intention to select Oden was being placed to NBA commissioner David Stern, thinking that the team’s braintrust was in the process of acquiring a title-delivering talent.
“I was very excited,” he said. “A chance to draft a player who could potentially get your franchise to your ultimate goal. Looking back on it, we were all excited. We had visions of Greg being a great player for us for years to come.”
But just like his predecessors and Blazers president Larry Miller before him, Buchanan said that he still stands by the team’s selection of Oden over Durant.
“Looking back on it, I would still draft Greg,” he said. “Hindsight, it’s easy to make an assumption [now]… You can’t predict the injuries that would come. Going back on it, I wouldn’t have changed anything in drafting Greg.”
Asked if the decision was unanimous among those in the room, Buchanan politely declined to reply.
At the time, there wasn’t much of a debate across the city: a vast majority supported selecting Oden. “Even Caveman Knows: Pick Oden,” read the headline of one letter to the editor that was published in the June 17, 2007, edition ofThe Oregonian. “Oden Possesses Championship Aura,” read another.
Well, it’s safe to say that aura has worn off, and it’s now an open question whether the player who was once a lock to be a franchise center will ever play in the NBA again, let alone play another game for the team that took him over Durant. It’s easy for the Blazers front office to say they would have made the same pick again if they had the same amount of information now that they did them, but it has to be hard to watch Durant continue to light up the league as Oden can do nothing but watch.
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