Greg Oden: No. 1 with a bullet
Apr. 3, 2007 | feedback
I'll remember Monday night's Florida-OSU game for five reasons: Florida cementing its status as one of the best non-UCLA college teams of the modern era; Billy Packer and Jim Nantz overlooking this very fact for most of the night; Greg Oden finally earning the No. 1 spot in the 2007 draft; Corey Brewer catapulting himself into the top seven (and possibly higher); and Nantz's hysterical reaction after Joakim Noah's "we're gonna do it right!" postgame interview, which could best be described as, "I can't wait to get to Augusta."
Let's tackle the first two points because they go hand in hand ...
Clearly, the night's major theme was Florida's winning consecutive titles without being seriously threatened in either tournament. Not counting the obligatory Round 1 blowouts, the Gators won their other 10 playoff games by 11.2 points per game (with only the '06 Hoyas coming within seven points of them) and their four Final Four games by scores of 73-58, 73-57, 76-66 and 84-75. That's ridiculous. Looking at the bigger picture, three Florida players are top-10 picks (Noah, Brewer and Al Horford) and two more are projected as second-rounders (Taurean Green and Chris Richard), the most impressive collection of NBA-ready talent in years. But their selflessness stood out over everything else: They loved playing with one another and genuinely didn't care who received the most attention. One of Monday night's enduring images was Noah (suffering through a notably mediocre night) cheering like a 12th man on the bench as his teammates finished off the Buckeyes down the stretch. Did it matter to Noah that his draft stock was taking a sizable dent? Absolutely not. He just wanted to win the game.
Be sure to check out the Bachelor Blog where the Sports Gal gives her weekly review on Lt. Andy Baldwin's quest for love.
Did Nantz and Packer expand on any point from the previous paragraph? Nope. Not really.
Their commentary revolved around the following things: how Oden needed to avoid foul trouble; how Florida had three big guys to rotate on Oden; how Oden and Noah looked tired; how Oden was avoiding foul trouble; how Oden and Noah looked tired; which guys were in foul trouble; how Oden looked tired; and how Oden looked tired. They completely underplayed the Florida/greatness angle; hell, if there was ever a subject in which Packer's opinion would have carried some weight (since he's announced every Final Four game since 1975), it was that one. They ignored any discussion of the 2007 draft because of CBS's policy of "let's only concentrate on the college game," ignoring the elephant in the room. They underplayed the fact that OSU killed itself by missing so many 3-pointers until the last few minutes, when the stats made this fact impossible to ignore. And when it became obvious that Florida would win, we got to hear Nantz's extended thoughts about the greatness of Mrs. Billy Donovan and Mrs. Thad Matta, followed by Nantz gently reminding Packer (legitimately in a pro-Oden frenzy by the game's end) that Oden couldn't win the "Most Outstanding Player" of the Final Four because Florida won the tournament.
Needless to say, the Packer-Nantz broadcast left, um, a little to be desired. I'd delve into this topic further, but we're bound to hear more about Packer in the next few days after he used a slur about gays on "Charlie Rose" last Friday. (Note: Jimmy Kimmel aired the complete clip on his show on Monday night.) Fairly or unfairly, CBS's lead college basketball announcer joking on TV that Rose would "fag out" of a wager has the potential to become the major sports story of the week.
As for Oden, some OSU fans apparently misconstrued the point of Monday's "Oden hasn't earned the No. 1 pick yet" mini-column, considering my mailbox was crammed with "Oden shoved it in your face!" and "how does that crow taste now?" e-mails this morning. I don't blame them for missing the point; after all, Ohio State is a state school. Just kidding. But allow me to give a little lesson in reading comprehension. When somebody writes the following lines ...
• I've watched OSU 15-16 times this season and there wasn't a single game that left me saying, "Wow ... that guy's gonna be unnnnnnnn-beeeeee-leeeeeeeeevable."
• What's the case against Oden then? You could sum it up in one sentence: He hasn't earned that No. 1 spot yet.
• Barring a monster effort against Florida, we could make it through the entire college hoops season without a definitive "Oden Game."
... that doesn't make him an Oden Hater.
Look, I'm a basketball fan. I want to watch as many great basketball players as possible; the more the merrier. Everything I ever write about basketball is based on a simple premise: I want the product to be better, I want the players to be better, I want the games to be better. So when I'm questioning why everyone is handing the No. 1 spot to Oden when he hadn't played a single dominant college game, or pointing out that I was disappointed because this year's most ballyhooed high school recruit (O.J. Mayo) bombed at the McDonald's All-American Game by repeatedly jacking up terrible shots in traffic, then screwing up an easy three-on-one with the game on the line so he could brick an gawd-awful 3 ... I mean, these things weren't written because I was sitting around thinking, "Which player can I ream today?" As I wrote yesterday, I'm in the pro-Oden camp. I just wanted to see one monster college game from him. Just one.
Monday night? We got it.
Greg Oden was awesome. He was the best player on the court. He kept OSU in the game by himself. And I turned off the TV thinking two things.
1. Greg Oden is the No. 1 pick in the draft. The debate is over. He pulled a Private Ryan and earned that spot.
2. After watching Thad Matta butcher that game (not resting Oden, not using his timeouts, not pounding the ball inside enough, not doing anything to control the pace of that game) to the point that Oden nearly keeled over in the final three minutes, we might need to re-evaluate whether Matta and his teammates were holding Oden back to some degree. (Note: Matta did a nice job in the Georgetown game but was BRUTAL on Monday night. You can't expect a guy who's been battling foul trouble all season to suddenly give you 38 end-to-end minutes against a rotating group of future NBA big men.) How would Oden look playing in an offense that was built around him? We'll have to wait until next season to find out.
I'm just happy we have a definitive Oden college game to remember, highlighted by the surreal two-handed stuff of Brewer in the first half that CBS refused to replay for whatever reason. He was a beast. He was a man among boys. Florida won, but so did Greg Oden.
The other winner: Corey Brewer, who emerged this month as the most intriguing draft prospect other than Kevin Durant. My buddy House and I spent a few minutes on the phone Monday night trying to find the right comparison for a 6-foot-8, 190-pound guard who's unlike anyone in the NBA right now -- ultimately, we settled on a 6-foot-8 Ricky Davis, only if you surgically implanted Manu Ginobili's brain in Ricky's head. Why Manu? Because of his open-court play and penchant for sneaking away from his man to cause turnovers. Because of the way he rises to the occasion in bigger games. Because of the deadly 3-point shooting. And especially, because of the unconventional angles that Brewer takes when he's driving to the basket.
If you want to get technical about it, he's the player we always wanted Todd Day to be. And since he's a better athlete and defender than Manu, and since he's a winner and all, the question remains ... why isn't Corey Brewer being considered for a top-five spot in this draft? Is there a chance he could make a Ben Gordon-type leap as we get closer and closer to end of June, and the lottery teams realize, "Wait, why are we killing ourselves trying to figure out who's better between Noah, Horford and Hibbert ... why don't we just take Corey Brewer?"
I'm starting to believe it will play out this way, especially when individual workouts start and Brewer aces every test along the way. (Other than Durant or Oden, can you think of anyone who'd come off better in a workout than Corey Brewer? We might need to hose down Chad Ford now just to be safe.) For instance, let's say the standings hold on May 22 (aka, D-Day) and Milwaukee gets the third pick. The Bucks already have four spots locked up in their starting five: Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Mo Williams (assuming they re-sign him) and Michael Redd. They have a glaring need for a shooting guard who can make 3s and play defense. Why wouldn't they jump on Brewer? Can you come up with one reason?
And then there's this ...
Let's say you ranked the lottery picks in the draft based on the premise "If you had to bet your life on it, which guys are the safest bets to become good pros?" (Ironically, every draft should be approached this way, but as we've endlessly documented in this space, teams always end up getting seduced by workouts and upside, so many of them end up throwing all logic out the window, and we end up with situations like Atlanta taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul.) Here's how the top 13 would look solely based on the aforementioned premise.
1. Oden: Earned the spot Monday night.
2. Durant: Stuck at No. 2 barring a miraculous string of workouts that include his making 24-of-25 halfcourt shots and dunking from the 3-point line. By the way, I'm not ruling this out.
3. Brewer: A mortal lock to become a quality 3-guard.
4. Brandan Wright, Al Horford, Roy Hibbert (tie): Depends on the team picking in this spot. If they want an inside scorer who's more of a finished product, they'd grab Horford. If they had time to wait on Wright's UPPPPPPPPPPPPP-side, they'd go with him. If they already had a competitive team and needed a center, they'd reach for Hibbert. Right now, these are the next three picks in some order. Somebody in the 4-6 range will need a center and talk themselves into Hibbert. Guaranteed.
7. Mike Conley Jr.: The best point guard if he comes out. By a mile. I'd be shocked if one of the first seven lottery teams didn't need a potential All-Star point guard.
8. Noah: Dropping him here for one reason: I found out from a reader Monday that Noah turned 22 last February. Twenty-two!?!?!?!?!? How did I miss this???? For instance, Wright is only 19, Horford and Hibbert are both 20 ... is it safe to say that Wright, Horford and Hibbert will be better two years from now than they are now? Absolutely. Since Noah hasn't outplayed any of those guys, he HAS to be ranked behind them. With that said, I continue to believe that he'll be a good pro and an asset to any team ... even if his best move last night was hogging 30 inexplicable seconds of postgame camera time from CBS's director so he could find his mother.
9. Yi Jianlian: He's the 7-footer from China billed by Chad Ford as "the best Chinese prospect since Yao." Wait, so he's better than Sun Ming Ming? Are we sure? Anyway, I haven't seen this guy play and won't pretend to know anything about him ... but he'd have to blow away teams in the workouts to crack that top eight.
10. Julian Wright: Took a major hit with consecutive no-shows in Kansas' last two games. Does he have a little too much Tim Thomas in him? Possibly. If he's smart, he'll go back to school.
11. Ty Lawson: Based on the premise that two teams in the top 13 will need a point guard, even one who's not quite ready for the pros. You could call this the Ray Felton Corollary. If he's smart, he'll go back to school.
(Notice a recurring theme here?)
12. Jeff Green: We covered this Monday: When somebody's major draft-day gimmick is, "I come through when it matters," and then he disappears in a Final Four game ... well, that's not good. I'm trying to look at this objectively because he was one of my favorite college players, so here's the overriding question: The best comparison for Green is Danny Granger -- they have similar games and do similar things. Well, check out Granger's stats for an underachieving Pacers team this season. Would you spend a top-10 pick on him in a loaded draft? Probably not.
13. Al Thornton, Acie Law IV (tie): I'd bet on these two guys making it over everyone else in the draft, with the possible exception of Chase Budinger (another guy who needs one more year in college) and Brandon Rush (the sleeper of Round 1).
So there you go. Yes, that's a list in progress.
Four more notes and then I'm done:
1. The shame of Monday night's game was that had OSU made a few more 3s, we could have been looking one of the all-timers for NCAA title games. For all we know, there could have been six first-rounders, five lottery picks and 10 potential NBA players out there. It's going to be awhile before we see a college team execute as well offensively as Florida did Monday night. OSU just couldn't hang with them.
2. Packer beat it to death, but it's worth mentioning again: Lee Humphrey drained 15-of-28 3s in the final three 2007 tournament games and 10-of-20 3s in last year's two Final Four games. That may have been my favorite quality of this Florida team -- if you were building the ideal college team from scratch, you'd want a solid point guard who could shoot (Green), a deadly 3-point shooter (Humphrey), an athletic swingman who could make 3s (Brewer), and three athletic frontcourt players who could rebound, defend, run the floor and create their own shots near the basket (Horford, Noah and Richard). Florida came about as close as anyone will realistically come to nailing all of those things, right?
3. In Monday's column, I mentioned the Ewing Theory potential of Oden (and how OSU seemed to play better when he wasn't on the floor). According to a March 30 post on the kenpom blog, the numbers don't back that assertion up and they suffered greatly when Oden wasn't on the court. The lesson, as always ... well, you knew already.
4. One final FYI: Two more days of the Basketball Blog and we're done. I swear. We're moving into baseball/NBA/mailbag mode on Friday.