This edition of What if Wednesday isn’t meant to attack the Portland Trail Blazers franchise. In fact part of it is actually going to defend the Blazers for drafting Greg Oden. Unfortunately for the Blazers organization, they’re going to be associated with two of the biggest what ifs in sports history.
NBA fans know all too well what happened when the Blazers selected Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. They’ve also had terrible luck with their star players. Bill Walton and Brandon Roy also come to mind.
Sam Bowie shouldn’t be a considered a bust because of his injuries. The fact that Sam Bowie averaged 10 points and eight rebounds on two broken legs shows the talent that he possessed. The same can be said for Greg Oden who was very highly rated coming out of college.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said during his broadcasting days that Oden was a “once in a generation player.” Kerr might not have been wrong about that.
Before we get into the what if scenario, we have to look into why the Blazers took Oden in the first place.
There were two logical choices for the number one pick going into the 2007 NBA Draft. The majority of experts were sold on Ohio State center Greg Oden. The other option was Texas forward and current Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant.
Greg Oden was the best player in the draft that year, and it’s easy to say now that the Blazers should have drafted Kevin Durant.
Their GM at the time, Kevin Pritchard has a history with building a team around big men. He was a scout for the San Antonio Spurs who built their first championship teams around the Twin Towers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson. After Pritchard’s time in Portland he would go on to have some success with the Indiana Pacers in 2012 and 2013 with Roy Hibbert and David West as the team’s primary big men.
It seemed like a no-brainer for Pritchard to draft Greg Oden and pair him with LaMarcus Aldridge. Greg Oden was the real deal when you watched him play. He didn’t have any significant knee issues, and his only major injury going into to college was his hand injury. Oden didn’t play at the beginning of the season for the Buckeyes but when he did he was a beast.
His post game wasn’t the most refined but he could still finish around the basket, he was a great shot blocker and he rebounded at a solid rate. Oden had all the tools of becoming a NBA superstar. In the national title game against the Florida Gators, Oden put up 25 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks against future pros Al Horford and Joakim Noah.
After being one and done, Oden had impressed everyone and he seemed like a can’t miss prospect.
The irony of this whole situation is that Kevin Durant was the one whose durability was questioned. Durant was 6′ 9″ 219 pounds during his Freshman season at Texas, his wiry frame concerned a lot of scouts. Durant was almost considered too thin, and could he give it his all on a night to night basis?
Now Kevin Durant is 240 pounds and let’s be honest, KD hasn’t exactly been immune to injuries either. He missed the majority of last season and has already missed some games this season due to a hamstring injury.
The Blazers almost had no choice but to take Oden. Unfortunately, injuries got the best of him.
Let’s say they didn’t take him and went with Kevin Durant instead, how would the Blazers team have looked going forward?
Portland was a team that needed more size but if Kevin Durant was on this team, would they be able to make it work?
The Blazers had Brandon Roy (which is another big what if scenario) before his knees gave out. Roy was coming into his own as the star of this team. The team had also used a lottery pick on forward Martell Webster who became a huge bust. Was there room for Kevin Durant in the starting lineup?
Durant could have easily taken Webster’s spot and played at the small forward spot, but would it have really worked with LaMarcus Aldridge? Aldridge and his back to the basket game doesn’t make him a true center, and he’s another play that loves to take jump shots. It’s safe to say the Blazers would have definitely been an efficient jump shooting team with Durant as well.
Drafting Durant would have completely changed how this team was built over the next couple of years. The Blazers would have developed into one of the best teams in the league and they wouldn’t have the team that made them a playoff team the last couple of years.
They probably wouldn’t have drafted Nicolas Batum in 2008 with Roy, Durant, Webster and even Travis Outlaw at his position. They probably wouldn’t have had a high enough draft pick to take Damien Lillard or C.J. McCollum. That backcourt is tearing up the NBA right now with a combined 45 points per game.
The Blazers have a great group of scouts, otherwise they never would have discovered Wes Matthews who’s marginally filled in for what Brandon Roy was able to do as a star. The Blazers would have been a really good team with Kevin Durant on it.
The other thing to ask is, could they have found a way to add a guard that is dynamic and unique as Russell Westbrook is? The Blazers would have sorely needed a point guard and while Jarrett Jack was a serviceable one, he’s not going to help win a title as the starter.
Imagine if the Seattle Supersonics saw Oden fall into their lap at number two, and they still managed to get Westbrook the year after? If Oden somehow stayed healthy, that would have been a deadly combo for the NBA to contend with.
Greg Oden will always be one of the biggest what ifs in NBA history, but the organization shouldn’t be blamed for drafting him. Blazers fans can only wonder if his knees would have held up.