Greg Oden and Kevin Durant Discover that the NBA is No Joke, Even in Summer LeagueThe next time somebody tells you that the best college basketball team in a given year could beat the worst team in the NBA do me a favor--slap him. If that is too violent for your taste, then force him to watch the footage of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant's summer league debuts (this year, all of the summer league games can be found either on NBA TV or on webcasts at NBA.com; click here for details).
The last time we saw Greg Oden on the court he was blocking dunks and dominating the paint as Ohio State tried in vain to match Florida's depth and experience in the NCAA Championship game; in his summer league debut, a 74-66 Portland loss to Boston, Oden tallied six points, two rebounds, two blocked shots, 10 (!) fouls and four turnovers in a little over 20 minutes of action. Players are permitted 10 fouls (instead of the usual six) in summer league play because the idea is to let players gain experience, not to have them foul out; you know you've had a bad day when the only category you reach double figures in is fouls. Moreover, Oden was not playing against guys who even figure to play significant regular season minutes, let alone the slew of All-Stars that he will face during the regular season, particularly in the Western Conference; Boston's summer league roster does feature a "B. Wallace," but that is Brandon Wallace, not Ben Wallace.
The last time we saw Kevin Durant he was an unguardable collegiate scoring machine who also regularly grabbed 10-plus rpg despite having a frame so slender that he cannot even bench press 185 pounds one time; in his summer league debut in a 77-66 Seattle loss to Dallas, Durant scored a game-high 18 points but shot just 5-17 from the field. In nearly 30 minutes of play he had exactly one rebound. Durant showed some flashes of his scoring ability, including a nifty up and under move on the right block early in the second quarter and a nice turnaround jumper from the left wing a few moments later, but his shooting percentage and (lack of) rebounding indicate just how much growth, both literal and figurative, he needs to become the superstar that everyone expects him to be. Like Oden, he did not face top level NBA talent. As a measuring stick for the summer league, keep in mind that Sebastian Telfair is a perennial summer league All-Star and regular season journeyman (his penchant for having unlicensed firearms has left Telfair without a summer league roster spot so far).
I do not mean to suggest that the sky is falling in Portland and Seattle or that Oden and Durant will not live up to (reasonable) expectations, but the struggles of these two highly touted players in their summer league debuts show just how tough even "satellite" NBA competition is. Right now, neither Oden nor Durant is ready to lead an NBA team anywhere; both of them are still getting their bearings as individuals. Portland has enough overall talent to maybe push for the eighth playoff spot this year but Seattle is not going to make the playoffs with Durant and fellow rookie Jeff Green (seven points, eight fouls, three turnovers, one rebound) as the two main guys. Patience must be the word of the day (and season) in the Pacific Northwest; look at the bright side: at least Oden and Durant will not take the kind of physical pounding that young, would-be franchise quarterbacks like Tim Couch or David Carr took in the NFL.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:25 AM