Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Oden vs. Durant

The local Boston Celtics are in the midst of a record-breaking losing streak that could not come at a worse time for the region's fans -- it's been two weeks since the Patriots were eliminated from the Super Bowl tournament and still almost ten more days until pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers. As C's fans have been turning their eyes to next summers' draft, the two main objects of attraction are both freshmen: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

Oden has been known for several years, as he attracted attention while still in high school. At 7'0" and 280 pounds, Oden is a throwback - a traditional back-to-the-basket center in the mode of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Adbul-Jabber. Although he has been hampered so far by an injured wrist (he missed the first part of the season with the injury, and since returning has been shooting free throws with his left hand, at a 60.1 % clip.)

Durant has become the flavor-of-the-month since exploding with a 37 point, 12 rebound performance in 3 OTs against Oklahoma State three weeks ago. Last night again in a losing effort, he had 28 points and 15 rebounds, and received the unrelenting praise of color commentator Dick Vitale. At one point, Vitale indicated, he would find it hard to imagine a NBA GM not picking Durant no matter who else was on the board available.

Durant will be a hot commodity when he becomes available for the NBA. He fits into the new prototype forward mode: he's "long" (6'9") and "athletic", like Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James. And at age 18, he has range to the college three point line.Bill Simmons writes:
These guys [Oden and Durant] are mortal locks to be franchise players, on the order of LeBron or Yao. We knew Oden would become the best college center since Patrick Ewing, but nobody was prepared for the 6'9" Durant, an unfathomable cross between T-Mac and Plastic Man who can score facing the basket and from 25 feet away. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm in love with him. Platonically, of course.

But like James, who's developing a reputation for coasting through entire road trips (which is a sharp criticism in a league with, how does one say, "intensity" issues for the first 40 minutes of most regular season games), Durant's flaws are apparent. Texas Coach Rick Barnes mentioned Durant's "need to work on his defense", which is putting it delicately. Texas hides Durant in the back of its zone (in the middle on the 2-3, and he seemed to be avoiding A&Ms major low post threat (Antanas Kavaliauskas) when Texas played 1-2-2. With long arms, he did create steals and loose balls when off the ball, but backed away (perhaps to avoid foul trouble) when playing the ball.

But the biggest concern about Durant has to be his physical makeup. Generously listed at 225 pounds, he seems slight even among Big-12 players - and disappeared at times last night. His game reminds one most of Tayshaun Prince, a fine role player on a NBA championship team, but not a #1 or #2 pick overall. (Prince is listed at 6'9", 215 lbs.; he was picked #23 overall in the 2002 draft.)

Finally, while the NBA has long been moving to the KG/T-Mac/Melo model of big men who move to the perimeter, championships are still won by teams with old-school centers. Since 1998, the last year of the Jordan era, teams anchored by Shaq and Tim Duncan have won 7 of 8 titles (the exception being the 2004 Pistons, who won with banger Ben Wallace in the post.)

There's no question that Durant will sell sneakers and tickets when he gets to the NBA. But if you have the #1 pick next summer, the smart money says pick the horse who you can build around: Oden.

Assuming both men declare.

No comments: