This is the slow time in the NBA off-season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start looking ahead to the 2010-11 season and which players might surprise us. The Slept-on Files will feature some of the players you might have overlooked or written off — and give you reasons why you shouldn’t.
Greg Oden’s File — Career numbers: 2 seasons, 82 games, 22.1 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 3.9 FPG; 2009-10 numbers: 21 games, 23.9 MPG, 11.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 4.0 FPG
Why he’s being slept on: Many NBA fans are prepared to write off Greg Oden’s career because of his bad luck with injuries, and it’s hard to blame them. He had surgery on his wrist in 2006, he had microfracture surgery on his right knee in 2007, he injured his foot in 2008, and he fractured his left patella in 2009. He missed the entire 2007-08 season because of the microfracture surgery and he only played in 82 out of a possible 164 games since then.
When Oden did get to play, he showed a tendency to get in foul trouble and therefore had to split minutes with (equally injury-prone) Joel Przybilla. It’s likely that many non-Blazer fans have barely had a chance to watch Oden play so they really have no reason to dispute the widely-held view that the first overall pick in the 2007 draft is a complete and utter bust — the fact that Kevin Durant was picked second in that draft does not help this perception.
Why he shouldn’t be slept-on: It’s impossible to predict if he’ll ever be able to string together enough healthy games to have a major impact on an up-and-coming Portland team, but diehard Blazers fans know what the big fella is capable of when he’s on the floor. He’s deceivingly mobile and coordinated for his size, he has soft hands and a good scoring touch, he’s strong as hell, he’s a true intimidator in the lane and he can be a force of nature on the boards. In his final full game before the knee injury that ended his season, Oden had 13 points, 20 rebounds and 4 blocks in 30 minutes against the Heat. Four other players had at least 20 rebounds and four blocks in a game last season: Dwight Howard (nine times!), Andrew Bogut, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah.
Speaking of keeping good company, here’s another list that should make you think twice about calling Oden a bust. Last season, eight players had a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 23.0 or better in at least 500 minutes of playing time. (Oden played in 502 minutes before his season-ending injury, hence the cut-off point.) Here is that list:
1. LeBron James: 31.1
2. Dwyane Wade: 28.0
3. Kevin Durant: 26.2
4. Chris Bosh: 25.0
5. Tim Duncan: 24.7
6. Dwight Howard: 24.0
7. Chris Paul: 23.7
8. Greg Oden: 23.1
Of course, it’s crazy-talk to suggest that Oden actually deserves to be compared to those players because they all played significantly more minutes — and even if Oden is able to miraculously stay healthy for most of next season, he still has to figure out how to reduce his foul rate (6.0 personal fouls per 36 minutes last season) so he can stay on the court. But the talent is there, and he’s still just 22 years old. When the 2011 All-Star Game happens on Feb. 20, I will be equally unsurprised if Oden is watching from a wheelchair or sitting on the Western Conference team bench.