Sports

This Should Be Expected of Oden

That wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Greg Oden received a pass, made a quick dribble into the lane, and put up a soft little jump hook that rolled into the hoop. A while later, he got the ball on the left block, took a dribble or two, and made a quick spin back to his right for an easy layup. . . .

That was Friday, during a solid Blazers victory over San Antonio. And it was part of a strong 14-point, eight-rebound, four-block performance by Oden. He went 6 of 9 from the field and, more important, presented a bit of a threat on the offensive end.

But that’s not really the point of this post. No, the point is that those things should be expected of Oden all the time. Unlike the expectations of the center’s many apologists. For example, after Oden missed two crucial free throws in a loss to Denver, one commentator wrote:

He’ll also be remembered for (and is probably remembering himself as we speak) missing two foul shots late that could have put the Blazers ahead. But everybody can forget those, including him. That’s not what he’s in there for. He played solidly otherwise. . . .

“That’s not what he’s in there for?!?” He’s not expected to make free throws late in a game? Then why is he in there at all? I’ve read many, many comments saying “That’s not what Oden’s in there for,” be it making free throws or providing some offense, and they are absurd.

Trust me, it’s not too much to ask a starting center in the NBA to have at least one reliable post move. Let alone a No. 1 overall draft pick. Oden, to this point in his professional career, has demonstrated no grasp of some things he should have learned in middle school. Namely, having a reliable offensive move or two.

We aren’t talking about scoring 20 points a game. We’re talking about being enough of a threat where the defense has to occasionally double-team you in the low post. That’s what Oden accomplished against San Antonio. He was composed when he got the ball, and he made some effective moves. That’s not too much to ask for an athletic 7-footer.

(By the way, Oden this year is averaging 7.5 fouls per 36 minutes played. That’s even worse than the 6.5 he averaged last season. Fouls are a good thing, but not when they’re such a problem that you can’t stay on the court.)

The question when it comes to Oden, as with anybody else, is one of expectations. His critics expect him to play like a No. 1 pick, provided we aren’t talking about a No. 1 pick like Kwame Brown or Michael Olowokandi.

His defenders view his shortcomings and insist, “That’s not what he’s in there for.” Which, to paraphrase what we wrote after the season opener, is the basketball equivalent of “She’s got a great personality.”

Oden does some nice things. But so far this year he has the league’s third-highest turnover rate, with 18 in 140 minutes, despite infrequently having the ball in his hands. And he can’t avoid foul trouble enough to play big minutes. Those shortcomings will be perfectly acceptable if Oden develops into a little bit of an offensive threat. Because, contrary to what some people think, that’s exactly what he’s in there for.