Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Week Six: Rose City Curse

For Week Six, it would be sequential to focus on Iverson's return since Weeks Four and Five were solely focused on the briefly entertained thought of him coming to Madison Square Garden. But there's a much sadder story going on in the Great Northwest that I'd like to spend time and keystrokes on. More after the random picture...

Greg Oden has suffered another knee injury, his third such devastating ailment in his three pro seasons. It occurs just as Oden was making strides in his development. He was lighter and quicker off his feet; and beginning to get more comfortable with his hook shot in the post. Then another setback. It's not just a setback, it's another near-full year he's going to miss. As to be expected, echoes of the "B" word are swirling around his career with more legitimacy. and few believe he'll amount to anything close his #1 overall pick suggests.

There are so many factors working against Oden. Kevin Durant is a superstar and growing, and the Blazers are a pretty good team without him. He even has history as an opponent, as his injuries have conjured up memories of Sam Bowie and Bill Walton. Is there a curse floating around in the Rose City that only attacks big men? And why is Oden looked at with so much expectation?

Even though I maintain that point guard is more important than center in today's NBA, there's no doubt that size equals wonder. It's why we marvel at Dwight Howard. Yet Oden was never labeled as a freak athlete along the lines of D12 and early Amar'e. Hoops fans were intrigued with just how naturally gifted he is at blocking/altering shots--his timing is impeccable. But that question does remain about Oden. No #1 overall has been an All-Star since Howard, and every big man drafted first since Tim Duncan has had his career hindered by whatever reason--whether it's injuries (Yao, Brand and now Griffin) or slower development than expected (Bogut, Bargnani).

Once a big man has received the label of "franchise," expectations of him grow exponentially with less patience. That's the difference between Oden and Blazers' teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge can develop more at his own pace since he isn't really seen as the franchise. Some of you may consider Roy to have that franchise tag; and yes, he is by far their best player. But Oden is to be that anchor, that monumental pillar of strength in the paint that would literally solidify them as a championship contender for the next decade. He's to be the Willis Reed to B-Roy's Walt Frazier, Shaq and Kobe-like in the Rose City.

There's also the actual injury itself: broken kneecap. If Stoudemire, Webber, Kidd and Penny weren't the same after microfracture surgery, what will become of Oden when that bone is more than cracked? This is the latest mental hurdle the deceptively charismatic Oden must overcome. There will be countless doubters and naysayers that will say his career is over before it has truly started. As Portland is currently constructed, they don't need him to be an offensive priority. His defensive prowess will be there. He's not DJ Mbenga.

Honestly, labeling Oden a bust is premature and slightly cruel. He's steadily increasing in productivity, and has displayed the willingness to do whatever it takes for him to be dominant. Since he doesn't rely on freakish athleticism, he can still be the force on defense and work on his ever-improving touch. At 23, he's younger than Dwight Howard and further along offensively. Despite his facial features and hair, he has youth on his side. Remember, Kwame Brown and Olowokandi played whole seasons and are terrible. Give Oden a chance.


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