Read This Blog, Greg Oden

A few things to note from last night’s frenzied, shirtless eruption at the Rose Garden.

One, Brandon Roy is really good. The Enthusiast will probably take some time to construct this argument in a more convincing, statistically-grounded way in the near future, but I think for right not we can all agree that his swagger is prima facie beyond phenomenal, and also that he should probably be currently higher than 9th in All Star voting for Western Conference guards.

Second, what’s up with Steve Nash’s foul line routine? This is from a different game, but like all really, really good free throw shooters, Nash repeats the routine every time he steps to the line. Observe:

After the first attempt, he steps back from the line and hands-out the high-fives*. Then he steps back to the line. All the other players are in place and ready for the next shot. The ref, who appears to be this guy, stands under the basket holding the ball. Next, Nash pantomimes two free throws. Only then does the ref signal the players to get set, give Nash the ball, and step out of the way.

Here’s the thing. Check out the NBA rulebook’s entry on foul shooting:

“A free throw is the privilege given a player to score one point by an unhindered attempt for the goal from a position directly behind the free throw line.This attempt must be made within 10 seconds.”

According to the time-code on that video, Nash–and everyone else–seems to be in the ready-set position for the foul shot at the :06 mark. He takes the shot at the :16. Or, by my count, approximately 10 seconds. It seems like the ref decides to just chill out for a hot second and blithely watch Nash practice his follow through a couple times before, you know, doing what the rules instruct him to do. Shouldn’t those 8 seconds be counted against Nash? It seems like the point of having the 10-second limit is to force the shooter to hurry up and shoot. So why does the ref wait until Nash is ready before starting the countdown?

Third and last, Greg Oden. As predicted by the TNT studio dudes, Shaq seemed to make an extra special point of bullying him in the post and, other than a few sweet dunks in the beginning and a couple of offensive rebounds at the end, Oden mostly watched this one from the bench.

Eventually, the announcing crew got around to debating Oden’s rookie season thus far vs. the expectations surrounding him when he was drafted first overall in 2007. In their estimation Oden sometimes gives off the impression of being too sensitive, psychically fragile even. An anecdote about Oden getting over-the-phone hugz from his old AAU coach didn’t help. Reggie Miller hinted that Oden lacked the killer instinct that he (Reggie) possessed, and that he (back to Greg, now) should stop reading blogs analyzing his performance.

To which I would say, “Have we learned nothing from the trailers for ‘Yes Man’ starring Jim Carrey? You can’t hide from life–you have to attack it head on and go scootering with Zooey Deschanel!” Also, I would say that some blogs analyzing his performance <ahem> might actually offer him some good news and encouragement. Like, thusly.

The case so far: Twenty-one games into what is essentially his rookie season, Oden is posting a line of roughly 8 points and 8 rebounds a game along with 1.4 blocks. He’s shooting .522 from the floor, .640 from the line in just over 22 minutes a game. Solid, but not spectacular. To give this a little context, I compared Greg’s statline with the rookie years of some other heralded centers. To simplify the process, I defined heralded as one of the top 3 draft picks and excluded centers drafted before 1992, the year Shaq and Zo were taken 1, 2, because I was only 11 and not really paying attention before then. For further ease of comparison, I focused only on what I consider true centers–so no Tim Duncan, Kenyon Martin, etc.

By my count, that produces 11 rough comps for Oden: Andrew Bogut in 05, Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor in 04, Yao in 02, Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler in 01, Olowokandi in 98, Camby in 96, Bradley in 93, and Shaw and Zo in 92. Here are there splits in their rookie years, along with their age during that season.

Bogut (21): 9.4  7.0  0.8  .533  .629  28.6

Howard (19): 12.0  10.0  1.7  .520  .671  32.6

Okafor (22): 15.1  10.9  1.7  .447  .609  35.6

Yao (22): 13.5  8.2  1.8  .498  .811  29.1

Brown (19): 4.5  3.5  .5  .387  .707  14.4

Chandler (19): 6.1  4.8  1.3  .497  .604  19.6

Olowokandi (23): 8.9  7.9  1.2 .431  .483    28.4

Camby (22):  14.8  6.3  2.1  .482  .693   30.1

Bradley (21):  10.3  6.2  3.0  .409  .607  28.3

Shaq (20):  23.4  13.9  .562  .592  3.5  37.9 

Zo (22):  21.0  10.3  .511  .781  3.5  33.9  

A couple of things to notice before bringing Oden into the mix. Shaq and Zo are pretty clearly heads and shoulders above this group, and Shaq is even significantly ahead of Zo. They are super-duper franchise mecha-centers, each once-in-a-generation Monstars who somehow came out in the same draft. Brown, Bradley, and Olowokandi are on the other end of the spectrum. Bradley’s shotblocking made him more of a serviceable backup than an outright bust, but one thing these stiffs all had in common right from the start was inexcusably low FG% for an NBA big man.

Of the remaining six, Yao and Howard developed into dominant forces on both ends of the floor, and though Oden could reach that level, it’s hard to predict that kind of leap. The others settled into valuable defense and rebounding post presences. Of this group, Camby has been the most succesful, with Bogut slightly above average for the position. 

How does Oden compare? One area he is lagging behind in is playing time. Other than Chandler, Oden is on the court for significantly less time than comparable players were their rookie seasons. Considering that he is coming off knee-surgery and that his back-up is one of the best in the league, this isn’t all that surprising. But, let’s say he was logging something more like 30 mpg. His line would look something like 11, 11, and 2. This would put him squarely in the middle of the Camby-Bogut range, and closer to the Camby end due to his shot blocking. 

Now obviously this is a highly unscientific approach to evaluating Greg Oden’s career to date. My calculations are not actually, you know, precise. Also, Oden might be most comparable to big men I excluded from the list because they were unheralded in the way I defined it, like Andrew Bynum or Chris Kaman. Additionally, though Oden and Camby could end up having statistically similar careers, they would accumulate the stats in totally different ways: Oden is a back-to-the-basket post player, Camby is a weak-side vulture and face-up shooter.

Still, Reggie Miller’s courtside psychoanalysis notwithstanding, in the first twenty one games of his career, Greg Oden production suggests that a career of something like 15/12/2 is easily within reach. Or, essentially, a more defensive-minded, equally rickety-looking Moses Malone. And that ain’t bad.

*I love this.