Commentary

For last two top picks Oden and Rose, mixed results in NBA debuts

Greg Oden and Derrick Rose each made their NBA debuts, with mixed results, David Thorpe writes.

Originally Published: October 29, 2008
By David Thorpe | ESPN.com

As the NBA season opened on Tuesday, we got the rare chance to see the last two No. 1 overall draft picks play on the first night. The last time we saw them play a "real" game, they were the best players on their respective teams in NCAA title-game losses.

[+] EnlargeGreg Oden
AP Photo/Paul BeatyGreg Oden's hopes to rise up were grounded by a foot injury.

Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden, playing the physically toughest position in the NBA, is working to bounce back after undergoing microfracture surgery and missing last season. Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, who started Game 1 in the mentally toughest position on the court, is trying to help resurrect the once-mighty Bulls.

Both fan bases are highly energized, but only one set of fans is still smiling this morning. Still, both guys have the talent to live up to their reputations, but the ride this season is sure to be a bit wild. I watched both Oden and Rose play and made notes on some of the things they did on the court and what they may be doing as they adjust to the NBA game.

Oden, who played 13 scoreless minutes and pulled in five rebounds before leaving with a foot injury in a 96-76 loss to the Lakers, appears very advanced as a defender in the low post. He's excellent at keeping his man in front of him and cutting off angles to the rim. And his feel for what's happening down there is very good.

• He seemed hesitant to show a counter to his right-hand hook early in the game. When he did, he immediately drew a foul.

• He reminds me of Shaq in one major area on offense -- his interest in spending as much as time as possible right in front of the rim. He is going to be very dangerous if and when he gets some agility back.

• Oden got destroyed by Pau Gasol in transition. But it will be a great reference point for him. His immediate reaction to a missed shot by a teammate must be to race back. Now, it's to catch his breath.

• I don't like seeing his upper body so much bigger than his lower body. It makes me wonder if it doesn't put too much weight on his lower extremities.

• The speed of the game, as it relates to hand-eye coordination and overall reactions to the ball, was too fast for him. As should be expected. Working on reaction and catching drills each day will help him catch up and let him start being a more effective garbage man inside.


Rose, who had 11 points and nine assists in 32 minutes of a 108-95 win over the Bucks, looked much more adept as a distributor as the game evolved. Most of his passes were easy ones (which means he wasn't forcing them) but he did have a couple of beautiful dimes.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
AP Photo/Kevork DjansezianDerrick Rose showed some impressive moves in a winning debut.

• Rose looked for his shot far more than he looked to pass, early on. He did make some nice passes in transition. Looking to score first is smart -- it forces the defense to make a commitment because Rose is an excellent finisher inside.

• He was more aggressive off the ball and in passing lanes on defense than on the ball. He has the ability to be a real pest as a ball hawk.

• His off-the-ball habits, however, are poor. Too often he locked in on the ball instead of "seeing both" -- having an awareness of the ball and opponents. That leaves him very vulnerable to any type of cut.

• Over-penetration will be a problem for him, partially because he can get by anyone. But NBA bigs know how to put little guys in jail if they don't release the ball early enough.

• Rose has that extra gear, like Monta Ellis and Leandro Barbosa. But he's shiftier on the move, throwing shoulder fakes like a tailback hitting open spaces. He reminds me of Dwyane Wade when he does that.

• He made a terrific above-the-rim rebound, then raced it up the floor and got an easy bucket for a teammate. Exactly what Bulls GM John Paxson and the coaching staff envisioned.

• He can finish with his left hand, off a bump.

• Rose mostly passed up catch-and-shoot attempts. He's much more comfortable driving. But the few he took looked OK. He just needs confidence.

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. To e-mail him, click here.

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