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The Oden/Durant Debate Revisited

I say the following knowing full well that the internet is run by Portland Trail Blazer fans:

How the hell is Kevin Durant vs. Greg Oden even a debate still?

Seriously, this is a question in some people’s minds? There is a debate to be had here? Excuse me while I groan, as it appears the only thing more difficult than selecting a wing over a big man is admitting it was the wrong decision.
I promise, I won’t even use statistics to settle this argument. It wouldn’t be fair. Durant’s are phenomenal, and Oden doesn’t have them.

The crux of my argument, though, was written on April 22, 2007. In one of my very first articles ever, I debated Alex Pennycook on the issue of Durant vs. Oden, two months before the draft took place. At the time, the site was too small for anyone to notice or comment, but I’m sure I would have been assumed stupid. Most of my friends disagreed with me and, according to something I read around All Star weekend but couldn’t find to link to today, 30 General Managers disagreed with me, too. Most importantly, the otherwise savvy Kevin Pritchard disagreed. So Greg Oden was selected first overall by Portland, and Seattle ‘settled’ for Kevin Durant.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote the following (at the risk of being taboo and quoting myself):

The Oden/Durant debate is a contrast of styles. Oden supporters are the conservative, defensive-minded, play-not-to-lose type, while Durant represents a play-to-win, play-for-keeps mentality. Oden is going to be a great center in the NBA, and he will no doubt be the #1 pick in the 2007 NBA Entry Draft. There is almost no question about this. He’s the safe pick (which is huge for a bad GM looking to stabilize his reputation) and most of the worst teams in the league lack a center or have a young swingman to build around. It shouldn’t matter though. Kevin Durant is going to be the better NBA player, an enormous game changer, and a guy with a lot of finger bling by the end of his career. Stick him with just one complementary player or a decent coach and his ceiling stretches higher and higher. He’s a moneymaker, a prime time player, and the penultimate player to build a franchise around. There is nothing he doesn’t do well, nothing he can’t do for your team, and he holds limitless potential. Oden’s a great guy and a great center, but when we look back on the 2007 draft when looking at the best drafts of all time, someone like me sitting at their desk pumping out a blog is going to have a money piece to write on how some team took Oden over Durant. In 2007, the real draft lottery winner is probably picking second.

I can say a few things looking back on this paragraph. Foremost, I used the word penultimate wrong. Second, I hadn’t realized Kevin Pritchard had been named the new Blazers GM a few weeks earlier. And finally, I’ve improved as a writer, thankfully.

In all seriousness though, the only things wrong with this paragraph appear to be as follows:

1. I underestimated the defensive transition Durant would have to undertake. I probably assumed he would get bigger faster, or didn’t appreciate the jump in skill and effort necessary on the defensive end in the NBA. Regardless, Durant is by no means a strong defender right now. He has the tools (and, it appears, the desire) to become one eventually, but for right now he is not.

2. I ignored Greg Oden’s potential injury problems. Of course, this swings the debate further in Durant’s favour, but it’s worth pointing out. Oden was already suffering injury woes as a college freshman, and these have followed to the NBA in a most serious way. Oden’s inability to stay on the court obviously hurts his value right now, but it also hurts his potential. All the time missed slows his development, one game and one practice at a time, and lowers his ceiling by virtue of further injury concerns. I thought at the time Oden would struggle to stay in the league 10 years, and now it seems I may have assumed a few years too many.

This debate is far from over, I know. Durant is 20, Oden 21, and both are in their second years as professionals (although Oden is technically a rookie). There are at least a few more years that need to pass before anyone on the Oden side will be willing to even consider conceding this loss, but to me it is as clear as it was on April 22, 2007.

Kevin Durant was the right pick. I’d restate my reasons, but you’ve heard them already, from me or from someone else. The numbers speak for themselves, especially the ones under the column ‘GP.’ A pro-Oden argument can rely on only two things at this point: the fact that good big men are more valuable than other players, and the fact that the Blazers are very good. Oden is not responsible for the latter, and hasn’t proven to be one of the former, yet.

Oden has been outplayed by his own teammate, The Vanilla Gorilla. Indications (read: me reading between the lines of Nate McMillan’s quotes) are that the coaching staff is beginning to question his ability to stay on the floor. His attitude and demeanor don’t appear to be that of an NBA superstar.

On the other hand, Durant has lead his team to a respectable 2009. His numbers have improved month by month, and he has developed one of the most complete offensive games a 20-year old has ever possessed. He is leading a very exciting team to the title of Bandwagon Favorite Young Team (yes, he’s taking that from the Blazers, too). And we still have no idea how high his ceiling might be.

So go ahead, Oden supporters and Blazer fans (who, again, I realize run the internet), argue if you’d like. But it’s futile – you can’t convince me otherwise, and every day you grow closer to being forced to admit you’re wrong.

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12 Responses to “The Oden/Durant Debate Revisited”

  1. Stu Says:

    Durant = T-Mac?

  2. Blake Murphy Says:

    No, shut up. Dummy.
    By the way, how sick a picture is that? haha

  3. Thursday Bolts - Three Freaking Straight Edition | Daily - Where Thunder Happens Says:

    [...] The On Deck Cirle revisits Oden v. Durant: “On the other hand, Durant has lead his team to a respectable 2009. His numbers have improved month by month, and he has developed one of the most complete offensive games a 20-year old has ever possessed. He is leading a very exciting team to the title of Bandwagon Favorite Young Team (yes, he’s taking that from the Blazers, too). And we still have no idea how high his ceiling might be. So go ahead, Oden supporters and Blazer fans (who, again, I realize run the internet), argue if you’d like. But it’s futile – you can’t convince me otherwise, and every day you grow closer to being forced to admit you’re wrong.” [...]

  4. Samuel Cassady Says:

    Stu, I was gonna make that EXACT same comment, damn you!

    Blake: While I agree that Durant is the more individually talented player, who cares?

    Contrast of styles? Hmm. How about contrast of winning and losing? And not just games or scoring championships, I’m talking about real championships. 5 of the last 6 teams that won the NBA title - Spers, Pistons, Celtics - embodied that, “conservative, defensive-minded, play-not-to-lose type” of mentality that apparently also is Oden’s Achilles heal. Miami won, too, but only after they nabbed some big dude named Shaq, who also was the main reason the Lakers won 3 consecutive titles prior to the emergence of another “conservative, defensive-minded, play-not-to-lose type” named Tim Duncan. I’m seeing a trend here.

    Teams that play defense win. Teams that play solid defense have a solid, true big man in the middle.

    Greg Oden is that, or he has a damn good shot at becoming it.

    Durant? He’s a forward. He’s good and maybe even great. But if we are indeed talking about “a guy with a lot of finger bling by the end of his career,” then we’re taking Oden…and so are 30 other GMs.

    Durant. Who cares.

  5. Samuel Cassady Says:

    And dude, you’re so cute when you’re upset! Love Sam.

  6. Samuel Cassady Says:

    Dammit I need to start editing/proof reading….

  7. Blake Murphy Says:

    Sam, that’s a great argument you make for a big over a wing…unfortunately, it just doesn’t appear to be true in this case. We’ve seen nothing at all from Oden to suggest he’s a great big man, but we’ve seen that KD’s low end is…T-Mac. Not phenomenal, but that’s a pretty impressive worst case scenario for a 20-year old, especially when his apparent counterpart has played in 46 of his team’s 143 games since he’s been in the league and he’s essentially been outplayed by The Vanilla Gorilla Przybilla.

    I agree, given equal stature a big is more valuable in terms of championships than a wing. Definitely. But Oden doesn’t appear to be close to the player Durant is.

    Also, don’t pick on my crappy wording/overzealousness from the first article, it was like my 6th article ever haha.

  8. Blake Murphy Says:

    Annnd to back me up, Bill Simmons in his mailbag today, basically paraphrasing this article:

    “By the way, Oden-Durant remains one of those rare stories that isn’t getting enough attention — not just the offensive leap that Durant made this season, but just how lousy Oden’s “rookie” season has been compared to what our expectations were in 2007. Forget about his durability issues, his knee injury that cost him last season, even all his nagging little injuries this season. Just in the games that he has played — and again, we’re talking about 49 of a possible 125 — he has been absolutely underwhelming compared to our original expectations. Here’s what Chad Ford wrote in his 2007 Draft Tracker scouting report on Oden, and remember, this was the consensus opinion at the time.

    “The consensus No. 1 pick in the draft despite Kevin Durant’s amazing season. Draws comparisons to Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. He may not be spectacular, but most NBA GMs believe he’ll immediately be one of the top two centers in the league. His strong performance in the NCAA title game gave us a glimmer of what he’s capable of, going for 25 points, 12 boards and four blocks.”

    I didn’t agree with that assessment (especially the “immediately one of the top two centers part) and thought Durant was the only sure thing in that draft. Regardless, a good chunk of people DID agree with Chad’s take, and since that’s the case, how can anyone argue Oden’s NBA career has been anything other than a disaster so far? You don’t think it’s a red flag that he averaged a 15-9 with three blocks in his only college season, and his typical NBA stat line was “nine points, seven rebounds, one blocks and a 50 percent chance of foul trouble in 20-23 minutes?” What have we seen from him that tells us, “Greg Oden can consistently dominate a basketball game?” I’m still waiting. Hell, even Sam Bowie did better in his rookie season: 10.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.8 APG and 2.8 BPG in 76 games. I’m not saying Oden can’t turn it around and become a valuable starting center, but his ceiling has lowered to the degree that only an insane person would argue Portland did the right thing two summers ago.”

    There you have it Sam. Bill Simmons thinks you’re an insane person. I just think you’re drunk.

  9. Samuel Says:

    The Exorcism of Blake Murphy, Part 2. :)

    First of all, Bill Simmons can kiss my black ass. That’s right, kiss it — yeah, yeah — kiss it. Damn naggers.

    Second, I’m sorry I “pick(ed) on (your) crappy wording/overzealousness.” That’s cheap, and I promise I’ll never do it again. :)

    Third, the Debate. We both agree that dominant big men are absolutely essential to winning a championship - history has shown it. The only argument now remaining is if Oden can be that type of player, and I argue that it’s still too early to tell, and Oden is still worth the gamble. Although yes, the clock has started to click.

    Bill Simmons thinks I’m insane, and Blake thinks I’m drunk, so clearly my creditability has run its course; my logic can’t be trusted. So lets recall wise, and sober, Jay Triano of a couple weeks ago. Jay said something to the effect of, Bosh “is more than just 20-10…his defense means more to this team.” Jay Triano just identified why Greg Oden is still the #1 pick on the retrospective, and completely sane, draft board.

    Greg Oden’s value cannot be judged merely by statistics.

    Durant’s stats are far better, of course. Yet not only is Durant learning an easier position, he’s also learning a position - and on a team - where can simply run the floor and collect easy buckets.

    Oden’s was not drafted to score 30/night. He was drafted to dish out a 20/10 and more importantly, provide a sense of grit and toughness which has a value far beyond the petty measure of blocks per game.

    Is Oden doing that? Not really. But he’s been injured. No excuse? Well then he’s still developing and learning a tough position/tough style, and that will take time. He only received one year’s coaching at Ohio, and maybe the ‘Blazers want to be gentle with his development and ensure he doesn’t learn any bad habits.

    But is he developing too slowly, even after factoring in his position/style of play? Lets see. He only averages 9/7/1 on 23 minutes per night, but how about Dwight Howard? He turned out alright and in his rookie season went 12/10/1.7, while needing 32 minutes per game to reach that plateau. It’s sane to say that Dwight Howard turned out okay, right? And hey, maybe Portland just likes to take their sweet, gentle time with their bigs, Lamarcus Alderidge averaging 9/5/1 on his rookie campaign. He turned out okay, too.

    Again, we need a sane person here: yahoo expert Chris Liss recently stated, “I think Portland if it can get Greg Oden at anything close to healthy, will be a tough out, and of course, Utah, San Antonio…” (;_ylt=AocIXkHS4QeT4QMoZxfy6XhKRwU6?slug=givego_030409&prov=rotowire&type=lgns) Chris was talking about the playoffs, and apparently believes Oden would be a significant difference maker for the ‘Blazers in the playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs. (Durant in the playoffs?…nope) Why would Chris say this about a guy who averages 9/7/1? Is Chris insane, too? Maybe. Or maybe he also recognizes the necessity of a dominant big man in winning championships and see’s Oden as being capable of filling that quintessential role. Already.

    (Did open do anything to help Portland make it to the playoffs? With and without Oden Portland posted a similar winning percentage, but his 23/night on a good team still cannot be completely thrown out)

    So while we’re memorized by Durant’s vast skill set and giggle like intoxicated monkeys over his nightly stat lines and jersey sale numbers, it’s a cold comfort, and one that will never produce a championship until Kobe gets his Shaq…or Oden.

    Yeah, kiss it, yeah, yeah.

  10. Samuel Says:

    Wow I need to edit.

  11. Blake Murphy Says:

    Yes, Durant has me memorized haha.

    Anyways, again Sam, we agree on the general theory that bigs are more valuable than wings with equal skill. The big problem is the 45/145 games played thing, and Oden’s demeanor issues.

    We agree Durant will be fantastic and will need pieces around him. The difference now is that you see Oden as far more than he’s shown he can be…yet.

  12. Samuel Says:

    Right - he (Oden) has only played 45 games, so it’s not fair to judge him yet; the Oden-Durant debate is not yet case-closed!

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