But can Greg Oden play?
Last year, we were supposed to see just what the Next Great Big Man™ would bring to the court. Scouts noted he could bring the noise at both ends of the floor, that he has an Einstein-sized basketball IQ. To top it off, he's is big, athletic and agile -- three things you can't teach.
Yet, thanks (or no thanks) to microfracture surgery on his right knee just before the start of last season, the Next Great Big Man™ era needed rehab before it even began.
So how does a 7-foot, 250-pound center spend what is essentially a redshirt season in the NBA? One, by doing what we described in the opening paragraph and, two, by working out. A lot, and he's looked good doing so.
Where does adding a bigger, stronger, healthy Oden put the Blazers, who shocked the NBA by reeling off a 13-game winning streak in December and played tough until they faded to a 41-41 record? Dare I say a top five team in the West? I did. And John Schuhmann took that dare in NBA.com's The Court Reporters and said, "No, not top five. Top seven."
Considering the Utah Jazz won the Northwest Division with a 54-28 record, the Blazers may be able to sneak away with the Northwest with 55 wins. That's 14 more wins than last season. Can Oden, with additions such as rookies Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless, when added to a solid core of All-Star Brandon Roy and emerging frontcourt star LaMarcus Aldridge, help this team to 14 more wins? And in the rugged West, no less?
Whether it's adding a KG, a Tim Duncan, a David Robinson or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (ne Lew Alcindor), when breaking down the greatest turnarounds in NBA history, four of the top six single-season turnarounds in NBA history included adding a center who could command a double-team on offense and block and alter shots on defense.
Then again, KG came to the Celtics after 11 seasons with the Timberwolves, Duncan and Robinson to the Spurs each after four years of college and the same goes for Kareem who won three consecutive national titles at UCLA before turning the Bucks franchise around in 1970. They entered their respective situations like basketball Athenas -- fully formed.
Oden is far from polished. He spent one year at Ohio State before being selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. He hasn't played at full speed against NBA-level competition since the 2007 Vegas Summer League. He's bigger and stronger, but will he physically be able to survive the grind that is an 82-game season? And, how will he hold up mentally, especially if he hits the rookie wall?
Those questions may only be answered one way: by playing. For a year, Oden has been interviewed about his desire to get back on the court. For a year, Blazers fans have been waiting to see if progress has been made. Oden and Blazers fans have been patient. They've had no other choice.
But soon the talk will stop, the action will start and we'll be able to see if Oden was worth the wait.
-- Rob Peterson