Oden overwhelmed but more effective in Game 2

Originally Published: July 8, 2007
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- You can add one more link to the stretchy chain that will forever bond Greg Oden with Kevin Durant.

Oden, like Durant, now knows how it feels to start a summer league game by getting his shot rejected by DeSagana Diop.

It happened to Durant on opening day of the NBA Summer League and it happened to Oden on Sunday, when the No. 1 overall pick played as a pro for just the second time, hoping to rebound from his deflating debut with the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I told him [later] at the free-throw line he's stronger than a lot of guys in the league right now," Diop said, declining to crow too much about putting Oden on the same Swatted Team with Durant.

"He's going to be all right."

That remains the unanimous view shared by the dozens of coaches and personnel experts who have descended upon the desert, even though Oden hasn't wowed anyone yet.

The stat sheet was more flattering this time despite the early rejection: 13 points, five rebounds, four blocks and a mere nine fouls, compared to just six points and 10 fouls in the Blazers' opener (in the summer league, players foul out on the 10th foul of a game). Yet Oden couldn't deny that a good deal of his success in this 72-68 loss to Dallas' summer squad came against slow-footed fellow rookie Nick Fazekas, with Diop's length and veteran know-how bothering him as much as Oden's lingering sinus infection.

It certainly hasn't taken Oden long to identify the biggest difference between what he's used to and his new level.

"You just come across bigger guys who can play," Oden said.

Facing Diop was an undeniable test for Oden's embryonic offensive game. The six-year veteran, whose considerable presence at the rim helped Dallas follow up a trip to the 2006 NBA Finals with a 67-win season in '06-07, was here starting for the Mavs only because he's trying to work on his own offensive limitations.

Diop went on to foil Oden in crunch time as well, with the Blazers needing only a bucket to tie, swatting away the 19-year-old's hurried fallaway jumper in the paint after Dallas' 62-52 lead had been sliced to 62-60.

But it's going to take a lot more than two games worth of July struggles to cause any real concern in Portland. A story recited countless times over the weekend at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus dredged up something almost no one remembers: Tim Duncan was overmatched by Greg Ostertag many Julys ago at Duncan's first summer league.

Said one Western Conference executive who watched Oden vs. Diop: "Was [Patrick] Ewing better at the same stage? Entering his sophomore year? I don't think so."

It's easy to forget how young Oden is and what little experience he possesses compared to every franchise center drafted before him. The Blazers themselves are quick to counter any overreaction to these first two performances by pointing out that Bill Walton, as a polished champion from UCLA, needed three seasons in the NBA to reach his first postseason.

At this fledging stage? Portland is happy to celebrate the small victories, such as Oden avoiding a foul for the final 3:23 when he was just one whistle away from qualification. Blazers coach Nate McMillan likewise didn't mind seeing Oden, after the second rejection, bully his way inside past Diop for a tough layup in traffic.

"He's doing OK," McMillan said. "He's just trying to get a feel for the NBA game. We just want him to relax and have some fun.

"When you've got all this attention and all this media following you around, it's hard. He's basically been on tour for the last month. He really hasn't had time to relax."

And?

"He's only played one year against really good competition," McMillan continued. "He's been playing centers that are 6-7, 6-8. This is the first time in his life that the people he's playing against are just as strong as he is. You can tell when he shoots a jump shot. The ball is right in front of his face because he's always played against smaller guys."

It's questionable how much fun he'll find here. Oden is admittedly weary from all the draft hoopla and concedes that Vegas ranks as a tough town for him not only because of his growing celebrity.

"I can't really do anything," he said. "I'm not old enough."

Yet if there's a real worry about Oden, two games into his new life, it's what would be described -- in scouting parlance -- as his "motor" lagging well behind that impressive, beyond-his-years physique. One example: He has yet to show sufficient quickness and/or hunger to be a factor on the offensive boards.

Oden doesn't deny it, either. When asked what Portland coaches are telling him he needs to improve immediately, he volunteered his No. 1 trouble spot without hesitation.

"Just get a sense of urgency," Oden said.

Given McMillan's reputation for generating effort from his players -- and the team's belief that Oden will feel a lot better after a second Vegas stint with Team USA later this month and then having his tonsils removed -- the safe bet remains that it won't be a long-term problem.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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