Oden Clear-Cut No. 1 Pick
by Robert Ferringo - 06/12/2007
Let's just say that the last five minutes of the Sopranos season finale were infinitely more suspenseful than the National Basketball Association is these days. The Prize of the Present, the NBA Championship, is all but a formality as San Antonio toys with Cleveland. And the Prize of the Future, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft this month in New York City, is just as much of a blowout.
That's right boys and girls: Greg Oden, the freshman center from Ohio State, is going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft on June 28. That's not the surprise. The real shocker is that it's not even close. In fact, if anyone in your crew suggests that Kevin Durant, the freshman forward from Texas, should be taken ahead of Oden, you should put your fingers in the pose of the "Hook 'Em Horns" signal and gouge their eyes out.
As it stands right now there are no odds on which player will be chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers with the No. 1 selection available at any online books. That alone tells me that it's a virtual certainty that Oden is going No. 1. And if any odds are posted between now and the big night in the Big Apple you can be certain that I'll be betting my mortgage payment on it.
Before I explain to you why Oden is the clear-cut, no doubt, hands-down choice over Durant I want to get one thing clear: I'm not a Durant hater. The kid is impressive, and the numbers he put up in one collegiate season were absolutely incredible. But when you get down to it I think he's a 6-feet-9, 6-feet-10 swingman that can shoot and score. All in all, that's not exactly a novel concept in The League. I have no doubts that both will put together solid pro careers. But which do you think has the best chance to be the difference maker on a title team? I'll go ahead and take the big man that can dominate the paint, own the boards, and generally control the tempo of an entire series over the guy that can shoot and score and manage the occasional highlight-reel breakaway jam. But that's just me.
That's where the argument should start and finish: which player are you most likely to be able to build a championship team around? But there's even more to it than that.
Durant devastated the Big 12 last year. But who exactly was he devastating? Beyond the rosters of the Longhorns and the Kansas Jayhawks, the Big 12 wasn't exactly bursting with NBA talent. In fact, apart from Acie Law and Julian Wright I'd be willing to bet that no other Big 12 player will even be selected on June 28. Is that Durant's fault? Or course not. But it definitely should be taken into consideration when espousing his "greatness". He isn't going to get three cracks at Baylor in the NBA, though he will get a couple games against the Celtics.
I'll even take it one step further: while Durant was consistently the best player on the floor amongst a bunch of lightweights, when he did run up to someone on his level he was rarely, if ever, the best player on the floor in crunch time. In that classic triple overtime game against Oklahoma State, Durant missed a shot to win the game at the end of the second OT and watched as Cowboy Mario Boggan (who outscored Durant in the extra time) drilled the game winner. In the double OT win over Texas A&M it was actually Law that stole the show with two miraculous shots to force both extra sessions. And finally, Durant was powerless as Kansas rallied from a 22-point deficit in the Big 12 Championship to win in overtime.
In all three of those contests, Durant came up small in extra periods. He was outscored 11-9 by Boggan, 11-6 by Law and was shutout in OT against the Jayhawks. Clutch can't be taught, boys and girls. And before you drop a few dimes down on the Sonics in a big game a few short years from now, I hope those games pop into the back of your mind.
The Big 10 wasn't leaps and bounds better than the Big 12, but by marching to the Final Four Oden found himself matched up against two of the best frontcourts in the country (Georgetown, Florida) and a handful of Lottery Picks. Judging by his performance in those clashes (38 points, 21 rebounds, five blocks) I'm going to say that while he's not ready to rumble with The Big Aristotle right now he's more than capable of banging with Emeka Okafor and Marc Jackson for 35-40 minutes a night.
The next issue I had with Durant this year was that no player in the nation - and I mean nobody - got more preferential treatment from the officials than the lithe forward. Believe me, it wasn't because he was going strong to the rack. It was easy to fall into a trance because of Durant's array of offensive abilities, but the officials in the Big 12 never made him earn his reputation and never made him grind out points in an opponent's home gym. Don't think for a second that Durant is going to step onto the same court as guys like Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Dwayne Wade and that he's going to get gift and bail-out calls. I don't think so.
Further, there's the small fact that Durant can't lift more than a 16-year-old Slovenian girl. It was reported that the 20-year-old Durant couldn't bench press 185 pounds a single time at a pre-draft camp in Orlando. Not once. As a result, he was ranked as the 78th-best athlete at the camp. Again, the kid is 6-feet-10 but just over 210 pounds. He's a toothpick, and I think he's going to get knocked around by men for at least his first few seasons in The League.
The fact that he was so unprepared for such an event could be considered a red flag. Again, it's not like Durant is going to slip to No. 7. He's going second. But does anyone really know what they will getting? And are you that certain that he'll fill out as he gets older?
Conversely, Oden dominated the collegiate level with one hand. He basically held the Big 10 in the palm of his off hand, fighting weaklings like Purdue and Penn State with one hand behind his back. No one is going to question his toughness. And besides the two extra inches and 35+ extra pounds that Oden carries on his frame, you can't underestimate the overwhelming difference in beard potential that the big man has over Durant. To me, that makes all the difference.
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