Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Debate: Oden or Durant?

I love playoff basketball, and that's why for these next couple of weeks, I'll be in "basketball limbo", what with the culmination of the NCAA tourney 2 days ago, and the NBA playoffs a couple weeks away. Within these passing days, as the NBA's regular season winds down, it'll be impossible for me to avoid so-called experts providing "thought-provoking" speculation and prediction of what's going to happen. So, wait, you're telling me that the teams with the best win-loss records and home-court advantage are the teams that no one wants to play against? Stop lyin'! [Granted, I could just avoid reading sports websites altogether, but then what am I going to do at work? Zing!]

I personally don't get involved in all the hype and the guessing games. All that I look forward to is seeing exciting basketball, and hoping that the Lakers can at least put forth a performance worth watching -- "worth watching" because it's good, not in that "can't look away from a train wreck"-sort of way. I figure that if I'm going to waste time (bound to happen) trying to predict the future, I might as well try to predict something that'll have an impression that lasts longer than, at most, 7 games. So, I prefer to look forward to the upcoming NBA Draft, where shitty teams attempt to utilize the little bit of luck they have left.

This year's draft will most likely showcase as the top 2 picks a couple of players, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, who would probably be in the NBA as we speak if it weren't for Commissioner David Stern's "no more LeBron's" age-limit rule. Fortunately for Oden and Durant, their mandatory one year of college ball did not lead to any serious injuries, which sadly cannot be said for Kansas State standout Bill Walker, who was forced to spend his "March Madness" not unlike the rest of us.

Oden, a center for Ohio State University, combines attributes of some of the game's greatest centers -- the intelligence of David Robinson, the size of Patrick Ewing, the strength of Ben Wallace, and the wrinkles of Bill Russell circa now.

Seriously, though, 19 year-olds aren't supposed to look that grizzled. Young Greg must have seen some shit in his life.

Durant, the star at the University of Texas, is so athletic that he almost looks awkward playing college ball. While his ability to beat defenders off the dribble is not that spectacular, he nails pull-up jumpers like Tracy McGrady, or just uses his long arms to hit stand-still jumpers over defenders like Dirk Nowitzki. Durant is a player who gets classified as a small forward, not so much because it's his natural position, but because he can just as easily play at shooting guard or power forward, so calling him a SF is the most convenient.

Both Oden and Durant have the capabilities to turn around a struggling NBA franchise, but in different ways. As proven in his team's long run through the NCAA tournament before losing in the championship to Florida, Oden is that difference-making big man who, with the help of strong guard play (like Ohio State's Ron Lewis and Mike Conley, Jr., neither of whom played particularly well in the championship game), can put an otherwise-mediocre team over the top. Meanwhile, Durant, as proven by his team's early-exit from the tourney, is that cornerstone all-around guy that you build around -- the type of player whose potential for success in the NBA is seen more in his statistics in college than in his team's tournament success.

The debate probably won't end anytime soon as to who, Oden or Durant, should go #1 overall. Sadly, most analysts fail to factor in that who goes #1 is as much dependent on a team's needs (usually more so) than on the talent of the player himself. Thus, I will take it upon myself [as my introduction to BallHype (no homo) -- Hello, new readers! Make yourself at... ay, get ya fuckin' feet off my mom's table! Shit's made of glass, man!] to play Mr. Fix-It, go through all lottery-bound NBA teams, and jam as many square pegs into round holes as possible.

Memphis Grizzlies (currently 19-57)
Chances of getting the #1 pick (at the moment): 25%
Oden or Durant: Oden

With Pa
u Gasol being the subject of trade rumors all season long, this year's draft may be the Grizzlies' last chance to prove to their star player that they're committed to success -- so long as Pau hasn't already sold his house. Gasol's rumored destination leading up to the trade deadline was Chicago, where he would've had the opportunity to team with Ben Wallace and form the NBA's premier offensive/defensive big-man combo. If the Grizzlies can land Oden, and Gasol can stay patient for a little while longer, then he might not have to leave Memphis to get such an opportunity. Add that to the continuing development of Rudy Gay (whose similarities to Durant make drafting him over Oden fairly redundant), and Memphis could be really dangerous in the near future. One more thing... Rudy Gay. Hehe. [Sorry, I'm a big child... a big, hate-spewing child.]

Boston Celtics (23-50)
Chances of getting the #1 pick: 19.9%
Oden or Durant: Durant

Danny Ainge is a lot of things. Celtics' GM. Brain Type enthusiast. Major League Baseball's tallest second-baseman ever.

But someone who would bend the rules to his benefit? It that were so, wouldn't the Celtics be, I don't know, better? Maybe Ainge tries to cheat and just isn't good at it, which would explain him getting caught with his hand in the "rookie jar" (clever, I know), sitting next to Durant's parents during a recent NCAA game. The league fined the Celtics $30,000 as a result, so, in a way, Boston has already "invested" in Durant. Both Oden and Durant are projects, but I believe that Durant playing next to Paul Pierce would be more beneficial than Oden playing next to current Celtic big man and promising youngster Al Jefferson. Jefferson, a straight-outta-high-school draftee who has used this season to move past "project" status, may have his growth hampered playing alongside Oden. Durant is just as much of a project, but could be groomed by Pierce, who has been justifiably whining about the Celtics' shittyness for some time now, to become the team's best second-option to Pierce since... Antoine Walker? Ricky Davis? Wally Szczerbiak? Shit, no wonder Pierce is so mad all the time.

Milwaukee Bucks (25-48)
Chances of getting #1 pick: 15.6%
Oden or Durant: Oden

If the Bucks luck their way into the #1 pick, they'll have a tough decision to make -- whether or not to give up on the #1 pick of 2005, Andrew Bogut, who recently let the home crowd know who he thought was "number one". The Bucks have struggled with injuries to starting forwards Bobby Simmons (who has missed the entire season) and Charlie Villanueva (who has played only 39 games, and never more than 10 consecutively), which at the moment makes selecting Durant very attractive. However, if Simmons and Villanueva can return to full strength -- and both are young, they should be also to do so -- the Bucks' frontcourt may become too crowded. With a player like Oden possibly waiting in the wings, and Bogut 2 years into his career with very little to show for it, it might be worth the risk to see what kind of market value Bogut has. Granted, it's difficult to give up on a former #1 overall pick so soon, but when they're not panning out, sometimes you've got to cease the moment and make a move. Let what the Clippers went through with a former #1 overall pick teach this lesson to all.

Atlanta Hawks (25-47)
Chances of getting #1 pick: 11.9%
Oden or Durant: Durant

2 years ago, the Hawks drafted forward Marvin Williams, a college freshman who didn't even start for NCAA champ North Carolina, instead of more NBA-ready point guards like Deron Williams and eventual-Rookie of the Year Chris Paul, either of whom would have immediately filled two voids on Atlanta's roster -- players who are NBA-ready, and players who are point guards. Last year, they drafted another forward, Shelden Williams, with the #5 pick, rather than potential point guards Brandon Roy (likely this year's Rookie of the Year) or Randy Foye. Since there are no really impressive point guard prospects in this year's draft for the Hawks to pass up, Oden would be their best fit at #1, as he'd help fill up the Hawks at center, one of their weaker positions. Therefore, they'll probably pick Durant because they can't help but screw up at every NBA Draft. Also, it'll give the Hawks the opportunity to put out a starting line-up of players -- Joe Johnson, Josh Childress, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Durant -- who are all as physically-similar to each other as possible, and thus mess with the opposing defenders' minds. Hey, I'll guard the guy who's about six-foot-nine, and you guard the guy who's about six-foot-ni... wait a second, they're ALL about six-foot-nine! DAMN IT!

Charlotte Bobcats (29-46)

Chances of getting #1 pick: 8.8%
Oden or Durant: Hell if I know! Let His Airness decide.

The Bobcats' plan, since their recent expansion beginnings, of saving up money and building their team around draft picks hasn't been a complete failure thus far, as they've improved bit by bit each season. However, they're still at the bottom of the standings, don't appear to be moving up much any time soon, and none of those draft picks have really established themselves as "the man". Getting the #1 pick this year may be the wake-up call that lets Charlotte know that the time is now to make something happen -- weed out some of those draft picks, establish a core group, and use your millions of spending money to build around that core. If the Bobcats pick Oden, then they might be forced to choose between Emeka Okafor and Sean May, both of whom have dealt with injuries in their young careers. If the Bobcats pick Durant, then likely one of Matt Carroll (an upcoming free agent who has been big for them this year), Adam Morrison (who has struggled in his rookie year, though shown flashes of greatness as well) and Gerald Wallace (perhaps the greatest Bobcat in franchise history) will have to go. Either way, Bobcats VP Michael Jordan might be forced to take a gamble... and not the kind of "gamble" MJ prefers.

Portland Trail Blazers (29-44)
Chances of getting #1 pick: 6.3%
Oden or Durant: Oden

If he winds up in Portland, Oden would have the advantage of playing with a bunch of young guards, any or all of whom cound potentially mesh very nicely with the young center -- the aforementioned Brandon Roy, impressive rookie Sergio Rodriguez, and the underrated Jarrett Jack. Oden would also have the advantage of playing with a bunch of useless centers, none of whom would threaten his playing time -- the injury-prone Joel Przybrittle, er Przybilla, soon-to-be free agent Jamaal Magloire (who likely isn't staying in Portland), and the human oversized-paycheck that is Raef LaFrentz. Zach Randolph, Portland's leading scorer, is doing his part to help, as he'll miss the rest of this season with a hand injury, which should lose Portland a few more games and thus improve their draft position. And if Portland can land Oden, then Randolph "doing his part to help" would basically consist of staying the FUCK away from the kid -- I mean, being questioned for sexual assault is one thing, but leaving a strip club without paying? For shame, Zach. For. Shame.

Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, Seattle Supersonics, Minnesota Timberwolves and whoever else misses the playoffs
Chances of getting #1 pick: Range from 4.3% to 0.5%
Oden or Durant: Doesn't matter. It ain't happening.

If any of these teams land the #1 pick, I'm calling "shenanigans" on David Stern. Everybody grab a broom.