May 31, 2007

Oden vs. Durant

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Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? Kevin Durant or Greg Oden? This debate reminds me of a great essay Chuck Klosterman wrote about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, when he joked that whoever you support would explain everything about your personality. Things are not so clear cut with Oden and Durant. Nevertheless, everyone still has an opinion about it, but the only team that matters is the Portland Trail Blazers, who are in the enviable position of having to decide between the two of them. The decision will affect the franchise for years to come. So as the second of my NBA draft blogs, I will analyze both players, play general manager and make a decision. And remember, check every week for this draft blog (probably Wednesdays) until I post my mock draft the day before the draft.

Let’s start with Oden. The man was on the cover of Sports Illustrated back when he was in high school. When I was in high school, I would be excited to make my weekly town paper. The article made an effort of pointing out how much Oden wanted to go to college and possibly stay for a long time. Yeah right. His one year at Ohio State was certainly an eventful one, though. He got injured, came back, played with one hand, underachieved for a while, got things together, played poorly against Georgetown, played really well against Florida and married Paris Hilton. Wait, that last thing didn’t happen. Nevertheless, he looked like the real deal during his only season in college.

Defensively, Oden is nothing short of excellent. Offensively, he is improving, but many players, such as Patrick Ewing, mature offensively in the NBA. During the NCAA final against Florida, coach Thad Matta plugged Oden into his outlet, and Oden responded by playing like he had something to prove. However, the problem is that Oden does need to be plugged in. A lot of times, he seemed bored, and looked like he would prefer to be sitting in his rocks for jocks class at Ohio State, learning about sediments. He often mailed his performance in, and did not look like he cared one bit about if his team won. In the NBA, the majority of players are like this, so Oden should fit right in. However, in order to win an NBA Championship, you need to play with passion. You need to care somewhat. I have obviously never met Oden (but Greg, if you want to meet, call me), but I have heard that he has great character and is a great person. This does not make up for a lack of killer instinct though. His attitude reminds me of former UConn player Rudy Gay, who now plays for Memphis. Gay had a ton of skills, but did not seem to care at all. Although he was a top-10 pick in the NBA, I do not think Gay will ever be a star because of this attitude.

That brings us to Durant. Durant started the season under the radar, but he became a popular player to watch once he became the object of many sportswriters’ affections. Durant single-handedly led a pretty poor Texas team to the Big 12 title game. Without Durant, I do not know if Texas would beat a Cornell intramural team. With Durant though, the Longhorns were lethal, until they got knocked out in the second round of the tournament, to USC (amazingly without Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush).
Undoubtedly, Durant is an amazing scorer. With his impressive size (6-10, 220), Durant is a force to be reckoned with when heading towards the basket. The amazing thing is that Durant has a jump shot to boot, and can easily pull up in traffic. He is a complete scorer, and could win a scoring title someday. He has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki, only much faster and more athletic (and likes David Hasselhoff a lot less).

Durant’s defense could use some work. With his size and position, he has the potential to be a shutdown defender. He is not close to that point yet, though. My other concern with Durant is his size. I remember the first time I saw him on TV, I could not believe what I was seeing. He was as skinny as Lindsay Lohan during her post-Mean Girls, pre-DUI period. Luckily for Texas, Durant got away with his lack of bulk on the college level. In the NBA, he will not be so lucky. Unless he calls Jason Giambi up and asks for some of the “cream” and the “clear,” he will be pushed around in the post and when he tries to finish.

So who should the Blazers pick? I have focused more on the negatives just because they are more fun to write about. In truth, both these players are fabulous, and the team would do well with either of them. However, I think that the best fit for the team is Oden. In the NBA, defense wins championships. Except for last year, the offensive juggernauts Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns have struggled in the playoffs. The best teams over the past five years have been San Antonio and Detroit, both of which would be lucky to score 80 points, especially the Pistons. With Oden, teams would be afraid to go into the paint. I know from watching players like Vince “If You Love Your Jump Shot So Much, Why Don’t You Marry It?” Carter, that if you force a player out of the paint, he usually struggles. Oden would immediately give Portland credibility, and would help it advance in the playoffs. So, if I prefer Oden, what does that say about me? That I prefer the Beatles to the Rolling Stones? That I like John Irving to Tom Wolfe? That I like Casablanca to Citizen Kane? I really don’t know what it says about me, ask Chuck Klosterman.