In a gym somewhere in Indiana, there is a behemoth running up and down a hardwood floor under the watchful eye of a physiotherapist paid for out of the small fortune earned from having promise at the game of basketball.
His 24-year-old body has seen more surgical intrusion than most of us will see in our life time. But his craggy face, which looks like a mountainous characterture, can still break into a smile when he discusses basketball and his future.
Greg Oden knows full well he’s been a bust to this point, and unlike so many of his peers, is realistic and humble about his standing in the league which once offered him so much. “It’s not like there are teams out there telling me they want me” he says to all the speculation of him joining various basketball powerhouses on the path to a title run.
There have been suggestions that the Portland teams philosophy to rehabilitation and medical staffing have had a disastrous influence on Greg Oden’s recovery.
Where teams like the Suns are lauded for having professionals closely monitor rehabilitation processes to ensure that exercises are correctly executed or the program is adjusted if there is an unexpected change, the Trailblazers are notorious for a more ‘set and forget’ plan, leaving the execution and day-to-day monitoring of the rehabilitation to the athlete.
During Oden’s first recovery, Nate McMillian, the coach of the Trailblazers, noted that he was trying to stop Greg from spending so much time in the gym as he was getting too big in the upper body during the rehab.
I was perplexed at the time as I would have thought the team’s medical staff would have already provided this type of oversight to the future of their franchise to ensure all his efforts were directed into exercises that would help rebuild his body not place additional strain.
As it stands Oden’s career, if it ends now, eerily spans the equivalent of single season with 82 games in the ledger. While his classmate Kevin Durant spent his first few offseasons refining his game by adding the fake and rip move, that turned him from a quality offensive player into arguably the best scorer in the league, and working on defensive reads and footwork to become a two way player, Oden has been in and out of doctors surgeries and physio treatment rooms.
It’s important to remember this when looking at Oden, and how effective he could be should he make a come back. In basketball terms Oden is almost like a D-league discovery, he probably has some basketball growth in him, but it will be marginal as his formative years as a talent have been wasted on the operating table.
But you look at those 82 games and the first thing I think is…Wow. Yes everyone would have taken Durant over Oden if you listen to the chatter, well of course everyone other than every scout or GM surveyed at any point over the 18 months prior to the draft, but consider this for a second.
Over Oden’s first 82 games had a percentage of 19.5 (much higher than Durant’s), he blocked shots at a higher rate than Dwight Howard’s career numbers, his rebounding rate was just a smidgen (a technical term there) behind Kevin Love.
His true shooting percentage was over 61% despite only having one basic post move that he got off using raw power to create separation.
Then you add to those numbers, the more difficult to quantify defensive presence of a wide-bodied seven footer and that right there is a top five centre in the game, not a developing big man, not a project but a guy who, if he can stay on the floor, should be one of the best players in the league at his position.
Which is why he was eagerly awaited for 18 months and saw teams tank for the opportunity to draft him number one.
Of course it is that “if” which has taken him from saviour to bust.
Looking at this both saddens me, for the lost potential as a fan and the what if’s had a team with a better history of treating injured players drafted him, but is also an encouraging sign.
If Greg Oden can spend a year away from the game ensuring he is in the best shape possible and correctly rehabbing his knees, then there is every chance that he won’t just contribute to a team but be able to make a substantial difference to their fortunes.
He may not work out, but you could say that of many lottery pick big men, and if he stays healthy enough to play 70 odd games at high 20 minutes, you’ve bought yourself three years of a bruising five that protects the rim at a cut price rate.
And if it doesn’t work out then I say good luck to Greg, a seemingly well mannered and good natured guy, and enjoy your millions and future career as a school gym teacher.