Wednesday , Apr , 11 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Oden & Durant: Line ‘Em Up

Greg Oden is as good as Kevin Durant, at least.

Over the next fifteen years or so I suppose we’ll debate which of these two phenomenal young players is better. But I’ll those debates for the next fifteen years or so. Right now, with Kevin Durant having just declared for the NBA draft and Greg Oden still undecided, I think it’s safe to say they’re at least equal. So don’t get ahead of yourself.

Oden & Durant: Line 'Em Up

I’ve been following the career of Greg Oden since he was so young even calling it a career seemed silly. The first time I caught wind of Greg Oden, the first time my eyes went across his name, I had to take into account that him even being mentioned in the well respected publication I was reading was almost a joke, experimental at best. As a rule, fourteen-year-olds don’t usually get pub on a national level. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see a guy start high school before I start hearing about his NBA prospects. That, however, was not the case with Greg Oden. I got fed my first serving of Oden when he was in eighth grade, and for however much skepticism I may have had, I knew there had to be something to it.

This wasn’t the plan though. I didn’t want to do this. I had firmly resolved in my own mind not to write about Greg Oden until he put on an NBA uniform, or planned to. As of yet, that hasn’t officially happened. I figured there’s enough people who speculate on high school and college prospects, and Oden had been getting ink since way before most of his peers. But now, with the announcement from Kevin Durant that he will go pro after one year at Texas, well, now I’ve got something to say.

Which brings me back to my original statement. Greg Oden is just as good as Kevin Durant. Whether or not he’s straight up better, we don’t know, and can’t know for now. But he’s as much deserving of your attention as the Naismith winner any day. Again, I didn’t want to have to bring this. Call me cynical, but I’m not feeling it when cats get to much attention before draft night, so I was more than content to wait until Oden and Durant were both gracing NBA hardwood before I started charting this thing and making any statements having to do with these two. Then Durant dropped the news.

Guys announcing that they’re going to declare for the NBA draft isn’t really news, or at least it shouldn’t be. When guys had the option to skip the NCAA all together, it had some weight to it, there was something dramatic about it. Kevin Durant had to come out. After taking every single one of the major national player of the year awards, there isn’t much left to accomplish as an individual player in the college ranks. We all knew Durant was going to walk to a table with press present and make the announcement that the league was going to have another young star in its midsts, but it’s still ‘BREAKING NEWS’ when it goes down. Why? Because this kid is ill. Mad good, crazy skills, once in a decade talented ill. We haven’t seen anything like Kevin Durant in a long time, and that we’re about to witness this kid on the Association level is reason enough to be talking about him.

Still, it couldn’t sit well with me this morning as I’m watching ESPN. It’s not to say Durant doesn’t deserve the attention, he absolutely does. He dominated the college level with an apparent ease, swept up awards like he had a goddamn broom, and put together a highlight reel long enough for four seasons, even if he only played one. I got no problem with KD getting love from the media, but what bothers me is the way this has shifted the view on Greg Oden.

No more than a few weeks ago the Oden/Durant debate was hot. You could find any sports bar, living room, or office and find somebody talking about March Madness and eventually Oden and Durant. Fast forward to Tuesday when Durant drops the word he’ll be shaking David Stern’s hand in June and all of a sudden Oden is relegated to an obligatory mention. All of a sudden, Durant is “the best offensive player to come to the league in the last twenty years” (Tim Legler, ESPN). And Oden? Well all we can do is wonder if he’s even going to declare for the draft. You can see how the view has shifted.

Now again, don’t get it twisted, I’m not harping on what’s coming Durant’s way, it’s what it should be. I understand this happens when one guy declares for the draft and another guy doesn’t. I got it. That being said, just because the slant is unavoidable or expected, doesn’t mean I’m going to let it slide without a little counter work.

I know full well no one is going to ‘forget’ that Greg Oden is a great player and that he took his team to the Final Four, not at all. But what I do know is that anyone, my self included, is susceptible to something that gets fed to them constantly. It happens, whether you or I care to admit or not. Since yesterday, through no introduction of new facts or unique analyst or insight, I found my view, my expectations, of Kevin Durant somehow elevated. That would make sense if I had an unfairly lowered view of him, but I’ve been high on Durant since he was in high school. When you already think a guy is great, it’s not really right to start thinking of him as “greaterer” for no valid reason.

Oden and Durant are still about as 1 and 1a as you can get, but if you follow the news long enough, you’d think that gap was closed, or even widen in favor of Durant. In reality nothing has changed. Both Durant and Oden were great in college, and they will both be great in the pros. Who announces what first shouldn’t change anyone’s view, but it does.

As of now, Oden has yet to make a decision on whether he will jump to the league and most likely be taken number one overall, or stick around for another year at Ohio St. and likely contend for a national championship. Whatever he does, I’m still confident that when he can be as good a player as we’ve seen in a long time. I haven’t been this sure of a player’s success and ability since I laid eyes on LeBron James. Oden could stay in school and I’d still put him on the same level as Durant. I can’t emphasize it enough but that’s not a knock on Durant. No matter where Durant lands in the draft, he’ll be a historical level player. I just can’t sit back and not hype up the best big man prospect I’ve ever seen.

Greg Oden, in case you’ve began to overlook this, is a seven footer with ridiculous athleticism, speed, and strength. And those aren’t obligatory physical attributes I’m throwing out just because they look good on paper, the man moves incredibly well on the court, running with ease and showing great athletic ability. He’s got tremendous foot work, good upper body strength, and uses both hands effectively around the basket, giving him all the tools to be an unstoppable low post player. Then you talk about Oden’s wingspan, defensive instincts, and shot blocking ability and you start to get the full picture of just how good this kid is. Not how good he’s going to be, how good he is right now.

And yes, I understand Durant is other worldly talented as well. But I don’t see a 6-9 (not 6-10, trust me) 210 pound player having the impact that a seven footer does. They play different styles, entirely different positions, so it’s hard to make a direct comparison, but I sum up my argument by saying the league’s got players like Durant. When we makes our comparisons of these players, we compare Durant to the likes of Tracy McGrady or Dirk Nowitzki. To contrast, we compare Greg Oden to David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and dare I say the great Bill Russell. With all due respect to McGrady and Nowitzki, I think you can see the difference I’m talking about here. Both will be great players, but Durant will be great in a way we see often, especially in today’s NBA. Oden has a chance to be that great big man that we see once an NBA generation.

The truth is it’s too early to accurately forecast either of these players careers beyond that fact that they will both be great in their own right. Kevin Durant could very well be a scoring phenom like we’ve never seen before, and an all around game of rebounding and defense to go with it. Greg Oden could be that next great big man to change the game. I’m not out to set one above the other. I’m just out to remind you that if you are keeping track, the race it still tied.