- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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With all of the recent NBA talk centering around the Olympics and the Mo Williams trade, perhaps you missed the news that Greg Oden put on a big-time show in a workout for the Portland area media Tuesday. I caught some video of it at OregonLive.com, and all it took was one look to see that Oden is pretty darned close to 100 percent. Many thought his explosiveness would elude him in his first season back from microfracture surgery, but judging from the bounce in his step in the video, that might not be as much of a problem as we initially suspected.
It wasn't just the results (against a rather suspect defense) that had people buzzing after the workout; it was a combination of Oden's sheer size and athleticism that got the blood pumping. We all know Oden is a huge dude, but he is absolutely monstrous now. Don't ask him -- or the Blazers, for that matter -- about his weight, though. They are mum on the topic, but I'd venture a guess that he's almost 300 pounds these days.
That's both good news and bad news. We'll start with the bad: His conditioning might lag behind the rest of his game, at least early in the season. This might prevent him from logging heavy minutes early in the year, which will in turn drive down his fantasy value. The good news, however, is that the weight gain didn't seem to affect his quickness or athleticism. In fact, once he regains his conditioning, he'll be able to use the added size to help gain position and pull down tough rebounds in traffic.
Leaving all of the injury, rust and conditioning fears behind us for a moment, what should we expect from a healthy Greg Oden this season? It has been awhile since he has played competitive hoops, so let's get a little refresher on how his game breaks down statistically. Take a look at his numbers during his first and only season at Ohio State in 2006-07:
Most rookies take some time to develop, but not Oden. Ultra-talented big men tend to adjust to the NBA much quicker than their smaller counterparts. Take a look back at the rookie seasons of players like Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Elton Brand and Emeka Okafor and you'll see what I mean. All four of those guys came into the league and dominated right away. Oden fits that mold, especially on the defensive end. He's a beast physically, and his defensive game is already leaps and bounds ahead of many NBA veterans. Make no mistake, Oden is going to be a big-time defensive force in the NBA this season, and his rebounds and blocks alone will make him an immediate high-impact player in fantasy leagues. Let's put it this way: It would be a major disappointment if he doesn't average 10-plus rebounds and 2.5-plus blocks per game in 2008-09.
There is no doubt Oden's defensive skills are far more advanced than his offensive game. He still has a ton of work to do as far as his post moves go, but he still should be able to contribute modestly on the offensive end thanks to his ability to clear space and throw down vicious jams. A conservative estimate would put him at around 12 points per game, but optimists will be thinking more along the lines of 15 points per game. When everything is said and done, I think we're looking at a player who should be averaging 13-14 points, 10-11 rebounds and 2.5-3.0 blocks, while shooting 50-plus percent from the floor and 70 percent from the line in his rookie season (remember he shot his free throws with his left hand at Ohio State).
With all that said, Oden is still a risky selection in fantasy drafts. I'm not much of a doctor -- I defer to Stephania Bell for that role -- but we can't deny that there is an injury concern here. There's also a slight risk that the Blazers will try to play it safe with their prized possession. The projections listed above assume that Oden will be seeing 30-plus minutes per game. If the Blazers limit his minutes to something more like 25 per game, we can throw those projections out the window. That, however, is just part of the risk that we'll have to weigh before selecting him on draft day. Personally, I'll start looking for him in the middle of the fifth round in a standard league, but if he continues to impress like he has this summer, I'll think about scooping him up at the end of the fourth or early in the fifth. One thing is for sure: Oden is back on the fantasy radar, and he is a must-follow throughout the rest of the summer to see how his knee and conditioning progress.
• We spoke about Dwyane Wade last week, but it's still worth noting that after four games in Beijing, Wade has put to rest any concern about his health issues coming into this season. Wade is as dominant, or dare I say even more dominant, than he was during his NBA Finals run back in 2006. Every time he steps on the court, Team USA seems to go on a run, and Wade is leading the team in scoring with 18.3 points in just 18.6 minutes per game. That's almost a point a minute, folks! The way he's playing now, it's going to be awfully tough to lay off him on draft day, especially when that fifth overall pick comes up and you're left deciding between Wade, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki.
• So much for getting a good look at Jason Kidd in Beijing. While still technically the starter for Team USA, Kidd has played just 11.6 minutes per game, because Chris Paul (22.3 MPG) and Deron Williams (21.7 MPG) have thoroughly outplayed the veteran. I still think Kidd is due for a decline this season, but it's not entirely fair to judge him based on his play in the Olympic games, when he's barely on the court.
• Yao Ming looks healthy, averaging 18 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in Beijing. I'm still not convinced he'll be able to make it through a full season, but he is the type of risk that could pay enormous dividends if he does manage to play a full season. The good news is that he's healthy now, so he should enter the season without any lingering injuries.
• I'm not going to pull any punches here. Yi Jianlian, Yao's teammate in China, has looked flat-out awful during Olympic play. Jianlian averaged a modest 9.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals and a block in 49 starts for the Bucks last season, but he looked completely lost against Team USA last week and has disappointed throughout the Olympics. Jianlian has a great opportunity to secure 30-plus minutes per game in New Jersey this season, but it is becoming clear that he still has a lot of work to do on the court before we can start getting excited about his fantasy prospects. He's still worth a late-round flier, but it's looking more and more like we'll have to wait another year before putting Yi on our sleeper lists.
• Portland's Rudy Fernandez, who is widely considered the best Euro star yet to step on an NBA court, has done everything in his power to live up to the hype in Beijing. Fernandez has been Spain's second-leading scorer at 13.3 points per game and has displayed uncanny ability to get himself open on the perimeter, where he is a lights-out shooter. That said, the Blazers have a bit of a logjam at the shooting guard position this season, with Brandon Roy the clear-cut starter and Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless and Martell Webster also competing for minutes there. Fernandez is going to have a tough time earning enough playing time to become anything more than a role player in deep fantasy formats. Still, he has the upside and talent to warrant a late-round selection, and his stock could improve immensely if Roy's knee injury lingers into the season.
Brian McKitish is an award-winning fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Brian McKitish admits to being impressed by Greg Oden after watching an offseason workout and also passes along a few notes from Olympics play.