Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? Greg Oden #1, Kevin Durant #1, NBA Draft, #1 pick

Greg Oden or Kevin Durant?

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May 22nd was a very good day for the Pacific Northwest. That was the night of the NBA Lottery, and Portland and Seattle learned that they had won the #1 and #2 picks in the draft. The Blazers knew that they had their choice of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, the two biggest prizes in this year’s draft. For their part, the Sonics knew they would get the other guy, which isn’t a bad consolation prize.

So whom should the Blazers pick? On one hand, Greg Oden is being called the best center prospect since Shaq came out in 1992, but I’m not so sure. Even though the Spurs like to call Tim Duncan a power forward, he’s really a center, so Oden is the best center prospect since 1997, when Timmy came out. Wait, Yao Ming was drafted in 2002, and he’s pretty damn good. What about Dwight Howard? Is he a center?

My head hurts.

Suffice to say, Oden is a great prospect. His biggest strength is his ability to defend the hoop. He’s a terrific shot blocker and rebounder and will immediately help whatever team drafts him in both of those areas. His offensive game is better than advertised. He can use either hand to shoot a baby hook in the post and his turnaround jumper is coming along. But if he has an opportunity to dunk, he’s not passing it up.

Kevin Durant is also a terrific prospect. The smooth-shooting Texas forward was the AP Player of the Year and is considered the best wing prospect since LeBron James. Athletically, Durant can’t hold a candle to LeBron, but King James isn’t as polished of a basketball player as his younger counterpart. Durant already has NBA three-point range and is equally effective spotting up and shooting off the dribble. Moreover, he was also named first team All-Defense in the Big 12.

Let’s take a look at each player’s collegiate stats:

Oden 28.9 15.7 9.6 0.7 3.3 0.6 0.616 0.628 0.000
Durant 35.9 25.8 11.1 1.3 1.9 1.9 0.473 0.816 0.404

There are a couple of interesting numbers in Oden’s line. First, he was only able to play about 29 minutes a game. This was a combination of two things. First, Oden was recovering from a broken wrist at the beginning of the season, so he wasn’t in the best basketball shape early on. Oden also struggled with foul trouble for much of the year. Of the 32 games he appeared in, he had four or more fouls in 10 games, including the last five of the Buckeyes’ NCAA tourney run. It’s important to note that he only fouled out once all season (vs. Xavier in the second round), so the guy knows how to play when he’s in foul trouble. From an endurance standpoint, he is capable of playing big minutes at a high level. He logged 38 minutes against Florida in the title game, going 10-15 from the field en route to a 25-point, 12-rebound, 4-block effort against the best front line in the nation.

The other alarming statistic is Oden’s performance at the free throw line. While 63% isn’t horrible, it certainly isn’t very good. For much of the season, since his right wrist was injured, Oden shot free throws left-handed. With some work, Oden should become a 70% free throw shooter, which is good for a guy his size.

As a whole, Durant’s collegiate numbers were pretty amazing and it’s easy to see why he won the AP POY award. Not since Carmelo Anthony has a freshman had this kind of impact in the NCAA. The only alarming stat in Durant’s line is his lack of assists. Given how much he handles the ball, he should average at least three or four assists a game. I realize that his role was to score at Texas, but even if he could pass a little, he would have at least two assists per game.

Considering how Durant learned to play the game, the stat makes more sense. He didn’t grow up playing 5-on-5 at the playground or at school. He was in the gym with a coach, running drills over and over. The upside to this kind of training is obvious. He doesn’t have any bad habits and his offensive skills are completely honed. But had he played more 5-on-5 ball, he might have developed better court vision and passing skills. This came back to haunt him in his final collegiate game against USC. The Trojans double-teamed him as much as they could, and although he posted 30 points and nine boards, he only had one assist. The Longhorns lost by 19.

Here are the results from the NBA combine in Orlando:

Player Height (in shoes) Weight (pounds) Wingspan Vertical Jump Bench Press (reps) Lane Agility (sec.) 3/4 Court Sprint (sec.) Rank (of 80)
Oden 7' 0" 257 7' 4.25" 34" - 11.67 3.27 62
Durant 6' 10.25" 215 7' 4.75" 33.5" 0 12.33 3.45 78

Oden didn’t participate in the bench press because he didn’t want to re-injure his wrist. Meanwhile, Durant shocked more than a few scouts when he was unable to bench press 185 lbs a single time. The lack of strength in this exercise isn’t very important – basketball is more about core strength than anything – but the fact that he wasn’t able to lift it once showed that he didn’t bother to train for the test and that is what’s alarming. With a little bit of work, he probably could have pressed the weight a few times. This raised questions about Durant’s work ethic, which is a little silly considering how good of a player he has become. You don’t get that lethal of an offensive game sitting on the couch eating Doritos. Still, given his performance at the combine, what has he been doing the last few months?

Oden’s lane agility time of 11.67 seconds was just a bit short of his teammate Mike Conley’s time of 11.63 seconds. Considering that Oden is a foot taller and has 80 lbs on Conley, that’s a pretty impressive score. His 3/4-court sprint time of 3.27 seconds proves that the big fella can really get up and down the court.

So where does this leave us?

The last nine NBA titles were won by teams with a dominant big man. The only possible exception is the 2004 Detroit Pistons, but Ben Wallace was dominant defensively, and Oden certainly has that kind of potential. In fact, going all the way back to 1991, only Michael Jordan’s Bulls were able to win a title without a great center, and as good as Kevin Durant is, I don’t think he’s going to be in MJ’s league. He’ll probably be a lot like Carmelo Anthony – a terrific scorer who just doesn’t get his teammates involved. In fact, he’ll probably be better than ‘Melo – a perennial All-Star – but that doesn’t mean he’s going to lead his team to a title.

Greg Oden has all the tools – the defense, the rebounding, the post game and the drive – to be a terrific center in this league. I don’t think he’ll average 20 points right away (15-17 is more like it), but it won’t be long before he’s scoring well in the post. Moreover, he’s a sure thing defensively and on the glass.

Is the choice easy? Not really, but it’s pretty clear.

Oden should go #1.

More on the Oden vs. Durant debate:

The Big Chair
Sonics play-by-play broadcaster David Locke and’s Kevin Pelton debate about which player will have a better NBA career.

Oden, Durant: 1 for the money, 2 for show
The Oregonian’s Jason Quick describes the scene in Orlando when Durant and Oden surprised many by deciding to participate in a series of drills.

Oden, Durant constantly connected
The Seattle Times’ Percy Allen discusses the growing link between the two players and how they will impact basketball in the Pacific Northwest.

Oden over Durant is a no-brainer’s Tommy Beer says the Blazers’ decision is an easy one.

Greg Oden’s Blog
Supposedly, this is the real deal. No ghostwriters, just the big man himself as he describes meeting a few of his heroes and eating BBQ at Josh McRoberts’ house.

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