Resetting Greg Oden

February 10th, 2013 by Tom Pestak

Courtesy of Jason Lloyd, the buzz around C-Town is that the Cavs are going to offer Greg Oden a multi-year deal as soon as the trade deadline passes. Everything sorta makes sense: Oden played at OSU and is currently living in Columbus. The Cavaliers have a strong partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and Oden comes with a history of debilitating injuries. There is hope that Cleveland is exactly the sort of environment someone like Oden needs to restart his career. Consider this tidbit from the Plain Dealer in October: Zydrunas Ilgauskas was one of Parker’s patients in 2002 when the now-retired 7-foot 3-inch center was plagued by foot injuries. An innovative surgical procedure kept him in the game, and “Z” will join Ironman world champion David Scott on Monday to talk about the practical impact of the latest technology in sports. ‘Parker’ is Dr. Richard Parker, the chair of Orthopedic Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Also still in town, is BIG Z. Think a 7-footer whose career almost ended before it started because of chronic foot problems could help Greg Oden? I do.

How about emotional support? Greg Oden’s not a Nintendo cartridge after all – can’t just pop out his knees, blow on them, stick em back in, and enjoy endless hours of fun. He’s had some documented hardships during his short NBA career. I’d recommend this interview to anyone interested in getting to know Greg Oden a little more. It seems to me that Greg Oden is going to need an emotionally-nurturing environment. (On and off the court)  I’m probably not an expert on the lifestyles and accompanying temptations that young professional athletes deal with, so I’ll just defer to Greg on this one: “For starters, Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money,” Greg explained with an embarrassed grin. “But that’s especially true if you don’t have anybody to guide you. Since I was hurt the entire season, I was on my own a bunch and didn’t have veteran teammates around to help me adapt to the NBA lifestyle.”
Having lived in Cleveland and spent some time in Portland – I think Cleveland is a better place for a young professional looking to get his career off on the right foot (pun not really intended until it seemed too obviously intended).  After all, [Portland]  and Greg Oden is not interested in retiring. In addition, the Cavaliers have a pretty good history (at least in the last decade) of acquiring high character guys and keeping them out of trouble. It’s a mandate for the current front office and it’s evident in the selection and growth of guys like Tristan Thompson. Might just be a coincidence, but news of a Big Z – Canadian Dynamite mentoring first surfaced in early December. And as is well documented here at CtB, Tristan has been in straight Beast (sometimes Video Game) Mode since mid-December. Anderson Varejao has spoken on many occasions how Zydrunas mentored him and helped him adapt to the game and the lifestyle. I see no reason why the same support wouldn’t be available for and embraced by Greg Oden.

Thanks for everything, Z. Modern Day Mr. Cleveland

How about on the court? The situation is a little bit different in Cleveland today than it was 3 years ago when the Cavs drafted J.J. Hickson. There is no ‘win-now’ mandate, and Byron Scott is certainly comfortable giving a ton of minutes to a ton of young guys (except Omri Casspi – arggghhh). Also, as should be ridiculously self-evident, the Cavaliers do not have a true starting center. Varejao has filled-in admirably at C since 2010 and Thompson works hard even when he’s giving up inches and lbs, but both guys are better suited to defend the PF position. And while the Cavaliers have played much better since shoring up the bench, their interior defense is still getting abused on a nightly basis. It’s the one negative common thread between almost all of the recaps.

Advanced Stat Proof that Big Guys Own the Cavs

This brings me to the crux of the argument against the Greg Oden experiment – that he won’t play much and won’t be effective in a diminished form.  I think the current NBA landscape is a bit of a mirage, especially in the Eastern Conference. There was a time, not even 4 years ago, that Dan Gilbert opened up his wallet and shelled out TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS for, literally, [I’m dead serious here] THE ABILITY TO COVER DWIGHT HOWARD WITHOUT DOUBLE TEAMING. Try to wrap your mind around that. A 66-win team that started the PLAYOFFS 8-0 with 8 double digit wins, was exposed by one guy, that just happened to be bigger, stronger, and higher than everyone else. No one was under the illusion that Shaq was brought in to be a mentor or some kind of defensive ace or to help the Cavs score more points. No. Shaq was playing distant 2nd banana in 2006. In 2010? Forget it. [Read the first paragraph]

Yeah but I was drawing all those double teams while Wade drew all those phantom whistles.

Twenty Million Dollars so that Dwight Howard, a really big, really strong center, wouldn’t be able to bully his way in the paint. And today fans across NE Ohio are saying to themselves “Greg Oden’s never going to play much, and even if he does, he won’t be effective.” My question for the doubters is: won’t be effective at WHAT? At being 7 feet tall? At weighing upwards of 300 lbs? In his injury-riddled, foul-plagued, incredibly short NBA career, he STILL averaged 2.3 blocks in under 24 minutes a game in his second season. [This is an average of 1 block every 10.48 minutes.  For perspective, Dikembe Mutombo averaged 1 block every 11.19 minutes] He was a monster around the glass and he held opposing Cs to a sub 14 PER (while he posted a 24 PER). The Blazers were better on defense AND offense with Oden on the court. Check out his numbers from his last season.

Greg Oden: larger than Dwight Howard

It doesn’t take much in the way of scouting or analysis to recognize that the Cavs, the NBA’s worst team at both blocking shots and getting their shot blocked, could use a guy that blocks a shot every 5 minutes. And who knows, maybe someday, if the East ever becomes decent again (you’re lucky as $#!^, Miami) and having a legit big is necessary to make a deep playoff run, the Cavs will have a guy that they only paid a few million dollars to so that they wouldn’t have to double-team a Dwight Howard or an Andrew Bynum, or an Anthony Davis, or even someone closer to home, like Andre Drummond or (geez, even) Nikola Vucevic. The last 3 years, Greg Oden has been defined by what he failed to do. I still remember a guy that was as dominant defensively as David Robinson coming out of college. Yes, today the NBA is no longer a “big man’s league” in the sense that centers aren’t asked to average 20 shots a night from the low block. But this game, has always been, and will always be, about buckets. And in the playoffs, it’s about getting easy buckets. And having an elite shotblocker, upwards of 7 feet tall and 300 lbs, gives your team a unique advantage – for the other guys, a lot of those buckets don’t come so easy anymore.