Summer Reading: Greg Oden

This is part of an offseason series on various things of certain natures that each Blazer can work on during the summer to prepare for the 2010-2011 title push. This is strictly about on-court performance, so topics like trades and contracts are not discussed at length. Remember to click “Continue Reading” at the jump.

If you want to make a joke about Greg Oden’s health and how he’s only played 82 games in three season, do it now. We’ll only judge you a tiny bit.


Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the Oden that has played, and been pretty darn good in doing so. In fact, without even getting into the numbers and mentioning his PER of 23.1 in 20 games — whoops — or obscene offensive rebounding of 15.6 — would have led the league, by the by — we can say he had a good shot at being an All-Star, at least as one of the many injury replacements. If Chris Kaman could do it, there’s no reason Oden couldn’t.

The greatest reason for that is Oden’s defense. Before Marcus Camby arrived, Oden was easily the team’s most effective help defender, always waiting on the weak side to clean up everyone’s mistakes. While he needs to work on the speed of his closeouts, he was always closing out because forwards never drove on him — and for his part Oden always ran at shooters with an arm raised. In the 608 defensive possessions he was involved in, opponents only scored at least a point on 40 percent of possessions. There’s a reason the Blazers were fourth in defensive efficiency through the first month of the season and dropped to 17th two months later.

The area he needs to improve in most defensively hasn’t changed since last season: fouling. The six personal fouls per 36 minutes needs to drop by about two, and for that Oden should watch film of a mid-decade Kevin Garnett for lessons on how to provide quick help rotations without picking up fouls.

For Oden’s summer reading recommendation we’re going a little broader: offense. Oden’s offensive impact gets discarded too often because his moves are awkward, he gets the ball ripped by bringing it too low and he doesn’t quite know how to avoid offensive fouls when being guarded by smaller folk. But effectively all of his 16.7 points per 36 minutes come in the paint or at the free-throw line, and the Blazers were the worst paint scoring team in the league. With Oden in the mix you’ve got an offense that can consistently get shots anywhere on the court. Think that doesn’t change how Phoenix can guard Portland in the playoffs?

As noted, he’s far from a finished product, but his shooting 52 percent in post-up situations — .03 below Dwight Howard — is cause for encouraging growth in this area. So, here’s what he needs to work on on offense:

  • Counter moves: Oden’s primary isolation offense is to back his defender into the middle of the paint and shoot a right-handed hook shot, though he’s capable with his left. Apart from a few jumpers, his primary attempt at a counter this season was a quick baseline spin that got him into more trouble than it was probably worth. The spin is a good idea, but the finesse spin off the catch can’t be counted on — Oden instead needs to work on a slower, power spin once he gets into the paint, either after up-faking the hook shot or on the second dribble after the catch. The slower spin, which is basically a drop-step, let’s him create contact with the defender and move his weight around, where he’s normally going to have the advantage. Some smaller defenders will try and flop, and against those Oden needs to learn how to back them in quickly and go right over the top.
  • Positioning: Not one of his bigger problems because of his size, Oden showed good instincts for getting deep position by kicking the ball out and re-posting on a number of occasions. Though partially a product of officiating, he does get whistled often for three-in-the-key, and needs to get in and out of the paint quicker when the space is available, and do it with his hands held high.
  • Decision Making: When he wasn’t trying the quick spin, Oden often made it very easy for a double team to develop by dribbling too many times and not being decisive with his movements. Sometimes this seemed to be because he was worried the quick contact would result in an offensive foul, but he needs to make the officials adjust to him just as much as he needs to adjust to the officials.
  • Awareness: Oden does a good job recognizing the double team and finding the outlet when help came from across the key, but that awareness goes out the window once he starts making an offensive move. He needs to know that teams will be waiting for him to put the ball on the floor, which leads us to…
  • Keeping the Ball High: Kendrick Perkins costs the Celtics bushels of easy points because when he catches the ball, more often than not he brings it down to his waist to recoil for another jump at the rim. Oden does the same. It’s fine to bend your knees and drive yourself upward for a dunk, but whether you are power or quick jumping, there’s no reason for the ball to drop below Oden’s sternum. The Lakers’ Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are both excellent at keeping the ball high off the catch, and Oden would do well to emulate them.

So who is Oden’s primary source for summer viewing? Someone who was also offensively raw — a relative term — and powerful when he came into the league, the Orlando Magic version of Shaquille O’Neal:

While you might be thinking it would make more sense to watch someone a bit more polished, someone who didn’t shoot turnaround jump-hooks that announcers called jumpers, it’s not going to help Oden to watch a ton of fluid offensive post players because he’s not anywhere near that, nor does he need to be. His weapon is the combination of power and footwork, and when he’s not dunking on jabronis, Oden doesn’t need to look graceful. Did Shaq?

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Tags: Andrew Bynum Greg Oden Marcus Camby Orlando Magic Pau Gasol Portland Trail Blazers Shaq Shaquille O'neal Summer Reading

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