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Rookie Retrospective: Greg Oden

Rookie Retrospective: Greg Oden
Feb 15, 2009, 08:34 pm
In this installment of our “Rookie Retrospectives” series, we’ll be analyzing the play of former number one draft pick Greg Oden. A year and a half removed from hearing his name called ahead of Kevin Durant’s, Oden has settled into his role as the Trailblazers’ starting center, despite the significant setbacks he’s suffered since then. After losing all of last season to microfracture surgery and the first two weeks of this season to a foot injury, Oden has seen enough action to warrant a reevaluation of where he was and a more thorough analysis of where he’s going. Though he won’t find himself in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year Award, the fact that he is back on the floor and getting the reps he needs to improve—when he’s not stricken with foul trouble—is a great sign for a Portland team that is expecting big things from him in the long-run.

Rookie Retrospective, Russell Westbrook
Rookie Retrospective, D.J. Augustin
Rookie Retrospective, O.J. Mayo
Rookie Retrospective, Michael Beasley
Rookie Retrospective, Derrick Rose

Rookie Retrospective: Greg Oden
Center, 7’0 285, 1988, Portland Trailblazers

22.8 Minutes, 9.0 Points, 7.2 Rebounds, 1.2 Blocks, 56.8% FG. 63.4% FT, 1.6 Turnovers, 3.9 Fouls



Part One: Offensive Play (The Good)

Then:
Oden was downright dominant from the tip, gaining incredible post position down on the low blocks that allowed him to simply turn and dunk the ball. His ability to gain such position in the paint is unmatched at the college level, and is comparable to that of maybe only Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming in the NBA. He used his abnormal lower body strength to muscle helpless defenders under the rim, resulting in a plethora of easy finishes.
- NCAA Tournament: NBA Draft Stock Watch (Elite Eight, Saturday games) – 3/24/07

Now
Before delving into his weaknesses, let’s take a look at what Greg Oden has going for him on the offensive end. Since his days at Lawrence North, he’s had an NBA frame, and the weight he’s added has placed him amongst the most well built centers in the game. Unfortunately, his knee injury has limited the quickness and leaping ability that had ranked amongst the elite at his position at any level, but he’s still one of the more mobile players for his size that the League has to offer. At this point, Oden is still a work in progress offensively, and while there are many skills that he needs to develop on the offensive end, he is still capable of having big games based on his imposing athletic gifts alone.

His offense is predicated on his physical tools and his ability to impose his will on lesser opponents –something that has manifested itself on a number of occasions this season. Essentially all of Oden’s top scoring performances have come against teams with inexperienced, non-traditional, or unintimidating defensive centers. He’s tallied a 22 point outing against an Andrew Bogut-less Bucks team, an 18 point effort against Andray Blatche of the Wizards, and yet another 22 point game coming off the bench against a Warriors team that had to shift Andris Biedrins between Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Clearly, the ability Oden showed at Ohio State to dominate less physically gifted players has translated to the NBA, since there are still many centers that don’t match up well with him even though he’s still not at 100% yet. In each of the matchups mentioned above, Oden consistently caught the ball with at least one foot in the paint, and sometimes two –a sign that he isn’t having any trouble establishing position on the block. Once there, he displays the same mentality he did as a Buckeye –either he’s going to get any easy dunk going right into his defender, or he’s going to look to go to his hook shot, which has a lot of potential, but isn’t a major tool for him just yet due to a lack of consistency in his release.

This aggressiveness at the rim has always served him well, and he continues to go to the line at a very high rate due to his knack for initiating contact –he currently ranks 8th in the NBA in free throw attempts per possession. In the same regard, his ability to eat space around the basket allows him to pull down offensive rebounds at an extremely high rate. If Oden finds a way to spend more time on the floor, he could be the type of player that quickly changes the pace of the game by getting his team extra possessions and putting the other team in the penalty. If he wants to become the type of player who warrants more touches on the block on such a stacked team, though, he will have to significantly improve his skill-level and ability to create his own shot.

Part Two: Offensive Play (The Bad)

Then
What’s been most concerning so far is the almost complete lack of fluidity that Oden is displaying on the offensive end. He’s very mechanical in the post, being highly predictable with his moves and not looking flexible enough to react to what defenses are throwing at him and counter with any kind of polish. Looking at the way he is scoring his points, it’s hard to get any kind of feeling that what he’s doing at the college level will fly in the NBA in the least bit, as his entire game is based off overpowering shorter, weaker and less athletic opponents and scoring almost exclusively within 5 feet of the hoop. At age 18, he still has plenty of room to grow as a player, meaning he’ll likely learn how to use his body better in the post, get better at taking the ball up strong to the basket, and improve his footwork-- but there are certain traits in an athlete that are just innate, and we aren’t seeing them at all from him so far.
- Durant Eclipses Oden on DraftExpress Mock Draft – 2/3/07

Offensively, while he showed some great flashes, there are still too many long stretches in which he is almost completely silent, not calling for the ball despite his obvious natural advantages over the weak frontcourts the Big Ten has to offer, and struggling to create offense for himself on a consistent basis when he does get the ball. He had quite a few awkward and mechanical moves with his back to the basket where he just bulldozed his smaller and weaker man over using his brute strength to somehow throw the ball in the rim or get to the free throw line, but it’s hard to see these types of moves translating over effectively to the NBA. He still needs to work on his counters to expand his arsenal of tricks with which he can finish with, but at age 18, he’s not doing poorly for himself at this point.
-NBA Draft Stock Watch: Conference Tournament Week (Part Two) -3/13/07



Now
Despite Oden’s ability to dominate some lesser players with his sheer size and athleticism, his scoring ability is raw at best. While he’s shooting a respectable 57% from the field, there is a huge gap between his ability to score when posting up and his ability to score off opportunities created by teammates, such as cuts and offensive rebounds. On the year, more than half of Oden’s touches are coming off of post ups, but he is only finishing 47% of them according to Synergy. That pales in comparison to the nearly 70% he shoots on all other shots around the rim. Clearly Oden is much better operating off the ball than on it.

Oden’s troubles from the post aren’t entirely uncharacteristic for a rookie, but it is obvious that he has a ton of room for growth. As of now, he’s taking the vast majority of his shots turning over his left shoulder –into his hook shot. Though he’s capable of making hook shots from as far out as seven feet, he doesn’t always get full extension on his release and still shows the awkward and mechanical moves that he did two years ago. When he turns over his left shoulder, which he’s more than capable of doing, he uses a nice drop-step followed by an up-fake to create space for himself to elevate to dunk the ball.

Despite his ability to get position, Oden will often get a little too aggressive with his footwork or put himself a little out of position, leading to misses and turnovers. While 47% from the post isn’t a bad percentage, it is the one area where Oden stands to improve the most over time. He lacks the fluidity, counter-moves and improvisation skills that can make him great, but he’s still able to do some of the things that he did in the NCAA for stretches –albeit only against certain defenders. After spending virtually all of last offseason rehabbing, it will be interesting to see if Oden takes this summer to develop a go-to-move.

In addition to some tough shooting nights from the post, Oden still disappears for stretches on offense, more so because he’s on the bench in foul trouble than because he isn’t asserting himself down low. Oden’s has done a better job regularly establishing position down low, and while he may never be the double-team-warranting center that Portland runs the ball through on every possession, his teammates in Portland are much more adept at finding him in the flow of his offense than the group that he played with at OSU. However, Oden still goes possessions without moving all that much, and he’ll need to be more active setting screens and moving around the post as his mobility returns to where it once was. Part of that will come as he improves his confidence and develops some type of on-type swagger—right now he looks all too comfortable fitting in, while off the court he has reportedly been uncomfortable with the attention that goes along with being the #1 overall pick.

The fact of the matter is that Oden may only be averaging 9 points per game, but his 1.47 points per possession ranks him 9th amongst qualified players in our database. That’s pretty impressive for a player with as many weaknesses as Oden has. On top of that effectiveness, we haven’t even discussed the possibility of Oden developing some type of touch on his jumper, which would allow him to take advantage of the numerous trips to the line that he isn’t taking advantage of now –he’s only shooting 63% from the charity stripe on the year.

Part Three: Rebounding

Then
Oden is extremely quick off his feet and possesses a phenomenal second bounce after his initial vertical explosion. This helped him pull down 16 offensive rebounds in the three game stretch, many of which were converted directly into made baskets through tip-ins or ferocious put-back dunks. Mid-way through the first half in the second game, Oden was stuck on the left side of the rim as an errant shot ricocheted off the right side of the glass. Without hesitating, Oden reached over from damn near the other side of the paint and used his amazing wingspan to tip the ball up and into the basket, almost effortlessly. It’s these kinds of plays that automatically put Oden into an exclusive class of talent as far as his combination of physical attributes and instincts go.
- NBA Draft Stock Watch: Conference Tournament Week (Part Two) - 3/13/07

Defensively, the freshman dominated the game, just has he has every single time he has taken the floor this season. He did an excellent job boxing out and controlling the glass, often allowing teammates to corral his missed rebounds by boxing out two opposing offensive rebounders.
- Weekly NCAA Performers, 1/17/07, Part One – 1/17/07

Now
If there is one skill that Oden has had absolutely no trouble translating to the NBA game, it has been his rebounding. Oden’s rebounding rate per-40 minutes on the offensive end is actually slightly higher than it was in college while his defensive rebounding is slightly lower. Regardless, his adjusted rebounding rate per 40-minutes of 13.5 at Ohio State is only slightly higher than the 13.1 he is posted in the NBA –a staggering number. The jump in competition doesn’t appear to have affected his rebounding in the least.

Though he’s still raw in many aspects of the game, Oden has all the qualities of an elite rebounder. His lower-body strength and added weights allows him to keep virtually any player on his back when boxing out, and his 7-4 wingspan (and 9-4 standing reach) lets him pull down missed shots well outside of his area. Oden can rebound such a large area that it is tough to gauge his ability to anticipate the course of the ball off the rim. Even if he’s not always reading the shot, he doesn’t have many problems cleaning the glass.

On the offensive end, Oden pulls down as many rebounds as almost any player in the NBA. Many of these rebounds result in easy put backs or trips to the line. According to Synergy Sports Technology’s Quantified Player Reports, Oden gets 21.5% of his scoring chances from offensive rebounds; something that will help the Trailblazers immensely as their team and Oden’s offensive abilities begin to mature. Considering the fact that he is putting up these numbers with limited mobility and leaping ability, it is tough to envision Oden not leading the League in rebounding at some point in the near future.

Part Four: Defense

Then
His terrific leaping ability, combined with his timing, also helped him block 12 total shots, although you never got the sense that he was risking his position on defense of for rebounds by rotating over aimlessly. Numerous times throughout the weekend you could see strange things happening around Oden’s territory in the paint that you normally don’t expect from opposing players. Three or four consecutive pump fakes, traveling calls, awkward misses off the top of the glass in transition, and plenty of frustrated 3-point heaves as teams just abandoned the notion of slashing towards the paint altogether. These are things that don’t show up in the box-score, but are a direct result of his presence as a tremendous intimidating force inside.

In terms of weaknesses, Oden could certainly have done a better job in man to man (as opposed to team) defense going up against the 6-7 Carl Landry. The crafty senior post man took him out to the perimeter on a couple of occasions and capitalized on Oden’s reluctance to come out and guard him by draining a number of long mid-range jumpers. He still struggles when pulled out to defend the pick and roll, not sliding his feet well enough to hedge the screen and get back in a timely fashion. Landry also wasn’t shy about establishing deep position inside and scoring on him with his terrific base and excellent touch, finishing with 24 points on 9-16 shooting. Oden relies excessively on his shot-blocking tools in this area, giving up too much space in letting smaller post players get right where they want to, which for a player of Landry’s caliber (let alone a real NBA big man), is just not going to work.
- NBA Draft Stock Watch: Conference Tournament Week -3/13/07



Now
Outside of his ability to rebound, Oden has always been known for his ability to change the game with his defensive presence. He was often compared to Bill Russell based on the way he changed the game defensively during his single college season, and while he’s still quite a shot blocker, his numbers this season have been significantly dampened by three factors: his knee, the increased level of competition from college, and his inability to stay out of foul trouble.

After changing shots on what seemed like every possession when he was manning the middle on the NCAA-level, Oden has struggled to find the same success in the NBA. In college, he was so explosive off the floor that he had no problem rotating late from the weak-side and still coming up with rejections, but with his knee obviously slowing him, he doesn’t enjoy that luxury in the NBA. He’s still a presence, but he’s had to develop better recognition and anticipation, two things that Nate McMillan continues to help him improve. It has been a tough adjustment, as he’s blocking only 1.2 shots per game, and adjusting far less than he has in the past.

Oden has had a hard time recovering his lateral quickness, and it shows when he’s making his rotations. The weight he’s added doesn’t help in this regard, and it will be interesting to see how his defense improves as his knee gets closer to full strength. Now that he’s not able to jump into position at will, Oden has proven to be one of the most foul prone players in the NBA. He suffered from the same troubles at Ohio State at times, but his fouling rate has skyrocketed, landing him at the top of the League in fouls per 40-minutes at 6.6 –a number that is an obvious indicator of how hard it has been for Oden to stay on the floor.

Oden’s fouls are coming from a number of areas, first he’s having a tough time sliding his feet to keep up with some of the more physically imposing centers he’s matched up with, often having to lunge at their shots when they create a path to the rim. He’s a little too physically aggressive and often too eager to attempt to block shots when defending the ball one-on-one. As his lateral quickness improves, it is likely that Oden will foul at a slightly slower rate, but he desperately needs to not let opponents take him out of the game with the ease they do. Oden’s perfectionist nature often hurts him in this regard, since he’s going to make a lot of mistakes and spend a lot of time on the bench, two things that he really hasn’t had to worry about until now.

Outlook

Looking forward, there are lot of things that Oden does well that will help him continue to make an impact, especially his offensive rebounding and finishing ability, but his inability to stay on the floor, the health of his knee, and the development of his offensive game will ultimately dictate what kind of player he becomes down the road. Portland is a franchise that certainly can stand to wait for him to develop, since their roster won’t be peaking this season. Oden’s improvements as a player will be an integral part of the team’s maturation, as he’ll be the anchor of their frontcourt for years.

Oden was unable to participate in Saturday's Rookie All-Star Game due to soreness in his knee, another reminder of what could well be the limiting factor in his seemingly incredibly bright future.

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