Thoughts on Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and the Draft LotteryWhen Mike Lupica thinks that a prominent coach or general manager is not living up to expectations he often says that it is time for the guru to start "guruing." I have never considered myself a draft guru and I generally prefer to wait to analyze a player's game in depth until I get a chance to see him play against the best competition--NBA players. This year's draft certainly appears to be very deep and the two headliners may very well turn out to be franchise players, so I will offer a few thoughts on Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and the results of the recent NBA Draft Lottery, which caused much consternation in Boston and Memphis and much joy in Portland and Seattle.
Most people who discuss whether Oden or Durant should be the number one pick seem to focus on the best case scenarios regarding each player. Those scenarios are pretty easy to envision: for Oden, that would mean following a development curve like Patrick Ewing--a defensive specialist in college whose offensive game blossomed in the NBA. Ewing became a stalwart presence for the Knicks for many years, though his prime chances to win a championship were frustrated by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls; for Durant, that would mean following a development curve like Tracy McGrady--a lanky scoring machine whose body and all around game matured once he reached the NBA. I think that in addition to looking at the best case scenario for each player that we should also consider the worst case scenario. Assuming that neither player's career is derailed by injury a la Sam Bowie, what is the worst case scenario for their development curves? If Oden never develops an offensive game past his current repertoire of hook shots and dunks he still can become the 21st Century version of Dikembe Mutombo, a rebounding and defensive force who can help a team win playoff series if he has enough offensive support. Mutombo played a big role in one of the three instances of an eighth seed beating a number one seed (Denver over Seattle, 1994) and was the center on Philadelphia's 2001 Eastern Conference Championship team. If Durant does not reach McGrady's level as a scorer he is still likely to average 20+ ppg for many years to come.
Looking at these two worst case scenarios, I think that the conventional wisdom that Greg Oden should be the first pick makes sense. If he becomes a Patrick Ewing-type center then he could very well lead a team to a title as the main guy--but even if he "only" becomes a Dikembe Mutombo-type center who annually challenges for the Defensive Player of the Year Award then he would still be worth the number one overall pick. On the other hand, even if Durant becomes a 30 ppg scorer there is no guarantee that he will be able to carry a team very far in the playoffs--look at Carmelo Anthony or Gilbert Arenas or McGrady for proof of that. If Durant "merely" becomes a 20-25 ppg scorer then he will certainly have value but he will not be providing something as valuable--or rare--as a seven footer who can control the paint. Durant was a good rebounder as a freshman but with his slender physique I wonder what kind of rebounder he will be in the NBA. Also, he is not much of a defensive player right now, so there is a chance that at the NBA level his game will be somewhat one dimensional. Does Durant have an inner motor like a Michael Jordan or a Kobe Bryant? Will he build up his body and his game to the point that he has no weaknesses? Maybe general managers can find the answer to that question by seeing him in private workouts and talking to him one on one. Based on what I've seen--and the best and worst case scenarios for both players--I definitely would take Oden with the first overall pick.
Some people have said that Portland and Seattle obtaining the first two picks--and, presumably, the services of Oden and Durant--is bad for the NBA because their games will be televised late at night on the East Coast. Supposedly, it would be better for the players and the league if Oden and Durant landed in the Eastern Conference. If that is really the case, then why don't we simply disband the Western Conference teams other than the most successful and popular ones? If the NBA is not going to do that then no one should begrudge any of those teams the opportunity to try to build a contending squad. I think that the idea that these players will not be seen in the East is a crock. If the NBA can find great players all over the world and bring them to this country then the television networks can certainly figure out how to show their games at times that most people can watch. This wasn't a problem for the Showtime Lakers or the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, so why should it be a problem now? I don't know if Boston and/or Memphis "tanked" to try to get the top picks but if they did then the result was certainly poetic justice.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:26 AM