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Layups: Oden Out For Season, Again

Posted by Neil Paine on November 18, 2010

This is just extremely depressing news for Portland fans (and fans of gifted big men in general):

"Trail Blazers center Greg Oden, the former No. 1 draft pick whose short career has been marred by injuries, will have microfracture surgery on his left knee and will not play this season.

Oden hasn't played since last December because he needed surgery to repair a fractured left patella. The Blazers say this operation, announced Wednesday night and scheduled for Friday in Vail, Colo., will repair damaged cartilage and is unrelated to the patella injury.

Oden, the first name announced in the 2007 NBA draft, missed his rookie season because of microfracture surgery on his right knee. The procedure stimulates cartilage growth.

Blazers trainer Jay Jensen said the latest problem with Oden's left knee became apparent about two weeks ago when he experienced some pain and fluid in the joint. Soon thereafter, an MRI revealed the damage.

'We sat there and it was like we'd been kicked in the stomach,' Jensen said, choking up. "It felt like hearing someone close to us had died.'"

Criticize the Blazers all you want for picking him over Kevin Durant in that '07 Draft, but the fact remains that Oden is a talent. When he managed to find the floor in between the injuries and foul trouble, he has actually been a pretty productive NBA player -- in fact, Oden's career rate of Win Shares per 48 minutes (0.180) is actually higher than Durant's (0.140).

Even so, the Curse of Sam Bowie (or is it Bill Walton?) lives on in the City of Roses. Here are the fewest NBA games played by a #1 overall pick in the first four seasons after they were drafted (omitting David Robinson, who had to serve in the Navy before debuting):

Rk Player Games
1 Mark Workman 79
2 Greg Oden 82
3 Frank Selvy 126
4 Si Green 129
5 Art Heyman 147
6 Bill McGill 158
7 Chuck Share 198
8 Bill Walton 209
9 Dick Ricketts 212
10 Chris Webber 217
11 Pervis Ellison 225
12 Mychal Thompson 231
13 Bob Boozer 237
14 David Thompson 238
15 Doug Collins 241
16 Austin Carr 247
17 Danny Manning 252
18 Kwame Brown 253
19 Elgin Baylor 261
20 Andrew Bogut 262

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11 Responses to “Layups: Oden Out For Season, Again”

  1. Frank N Says:

    Looks to me like David Thompson , drafted in '75, first year '75-'76 appeared in 321 games in his first 4 seasons. (245 in first 3)

  2. MCT Says:

    Interesting list. A few comments:

    1) About half of the players on the list (including seven of the top nine) were drafted prior to 1965. I think there are three factors at work here:

    --Prior to 1966, the NBA had territorial picks, who were taken off the draft board before the regular phase of the draft began. As a result, many of the pre-1965 guys weren’t really “#1 overall picks” in the sense that we use that term today. Bob Boozer was theoretically the #1 overall pick in 1959, but Wilt Chamberlain was a territorial pick that year. There’s no way Boozer would have gone #1 if Chamberlain had been available for selection.

    --It’s pretty obvious that, as you go back in time, NBA drafting was much less of a science than it is today. Teams would sometimes draft guys fairly high who just couldn’t play at the pro level. A few of the players on the list look like they simply washed out and didn’t last four years in the NBA (Workman, McGill, Heyman). 1951 #1 pick Gene Melchiorre never played in the NBA at all because he got caught up the early ‘50s college basketball point shaving scandals, and the NBA blacklisted him.

    --Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the U.S. military draft was in operation, even during peacetime. Pro athletes would sometimes miss time because they were drafted, or had enlisted in the reserves as an alternative to the draft. Elgin Baylor is on the list because his playing time in 1961-62 was limited due to a commitment to the reserves. Looking at their career records, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two other guys also missed time due to military commitments (e.g., Frank Selvy).

    2) Three players on the list (two pre-1965, one later) are here at least in part because they chose to play basketball somewhere other than the NBA during their first season out of college:

    --Charlie Share (1950) signed with the National Professional Basketball League, a short-lived attempt to revive a pro league along the lines of the old NBL, which had merged with the BAA in 1949 to form the NBA. The NPBL was founded by the four ex-NBL franchises who were essentially kicked out of the NBA after the 1949-50 season. Although the NPBL featured many players who played in the NBA before and after, it is not generally recognized as a major league today, existing in the same netherworld as the early ’60 ABL, or football’s WFL and USFL. The NPBL barely made it through one season (1950-51), with most of its teams folding with the season in progress. Share made his NBA debut the following season.

    --Bob Boozer (1959) elected to play his first season out of college in the National Industrial Basketball League, a “semipro” AAU league which featured teams sponsored by various companies. Before the NBA even existed (and even in the NBA’s early days), when pro basketball typically featured low salaries and short careers, this model was often attractive for players coming out of college. Players would work a day job for the team, establishing a career path for the time when their playing days were over. Many top college players of the ’30, ‘40s and even early ‘50s elected to play AAU rather than professional basketball. By the late ‘50s, the NBA had become established enough that few top players seriously considered the AAU route anymore. Boozer decided to play in the NIBL for a year, however, because he wanted to play on the Olympic team in 1960. AAU players were technically considered amateurs and were therefore eligible for the Olympics and other international competitions, which in those days typically required players to be amateurs (every U.S. Olympic team up through 1972 included at least one AAU player). After the 1960 Olympics, Boozer signed an NBA contract, and made his pro debut in the 1960-61 season.

    --David Thompson (1975) signed with the ABA, then entered the NBA for his second pro season after the two leagues merged. His games played total in the list appears to only include his games played in the NBA in his second, third and fourth pro seasons. It looks like it omits his games played as a pro rookie in the ABA.

    3) Another player with special circumstances is Dick Ricketts (1955). Coming out of college, Ricketts was considered to be a pro prospect in both basketball and baseball. Ricketts followed a pattern typical of a number of other players from this era who were in the same situation. Baseball was the more lucrative of the two sports (higher salaries, longer careers), but the opportunity for immediate advancement to the highest level was usually better in basketball. NBA teams considered top prospects with college experience to be ready to play in the NBA, while major league baseball teams would almost always send players to the minors first, and there was a lot of unpredictability in which minor leaguers would eventually make it the majors.

    The usual procedure was to for the player to play both sports initially, but to quit basketball to concentrate on baseball if they reached a point where they felt their baseball career was panning out. This is what happened with Ricketts. He gave up basketball after his third season in the NBA as he apparently felt that he was on the cusp of making it to the majors in baseball. Unfortunately, his major league baseball career never really panned out; he would only play 12 games at the major league level.

    Other NBA/MLB players from the ‘50s and ‘60s with similar histories include Dick Groat, Steve Hamilton, Ron Reed and Cotton Nash. Gene Conley sort of fits the pattern as well, although there are some differences – most notably, Conley would later return to basketball after having initially given it up, and then played both baseball and basketball simultaneously for several years. Bill Sharman and Dave DeBusschere did the opposite. After proving to be a lot better at basketball than at baseball, they chose to give baseball up and stick with basketball (Note: Sharman never appeared in an MLB game, but he was briefly on a major league active roster).

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Great post, MCT.

    Yeah, I knew there were special circumstances for a lot of the guys on the list, mainly the players from the first few decades of the NBA's existence. Here's the list if you look at fewest games within 3 years of the player's debut (this will filter out Thompson and others who didn't play in the NBA immediately after being drafted):

  4. Luke Says:

    Poor Oden. He should do whatever he can to sign with Phoenix next year so the team's "super doctors" can get him back on the court and revive his career.

  5. Ian Says:

    As a Blazer fan, I've never felt the air go out of the balloon that is the NBA season more quickly. We've already had 4 players go down for the season, and that's not counting Brandon Roy, who looks like a total shell of his former self.

  6. P Middy Says:

    I'm with Luke. Send him to Phoenix.

  7. John Says:

    I remember when Oden absolutely dominated Joakim Noah and Al Horford in the Final Four. Two guys who are now surefire all-stars, and they could barely hang with him. Such a shame. He wasn't just big - he was athletic, skilled, and smart.

  8. MCT Says:

    Notice that, if you take all of the pre-1965 players off of the original list (for the reasons discussed in my earlier post, comparing them to more recent players is often like comparing apples to oranges), Oden stands alone, with no other player remotely close to him. At the end of the fourth season following the draft in which he was selected #1, Oden will have appeared in 82 regular-season NBA games. Every other #1 pick who entered the NBA after 1965 had played in at least twice as many games at that point; David Robinson is the only other #1 pick who hadn't yet reached 200.

  9. dsong Says:

    John,

    I realize Oden had that one good game in the NCAA Championship Game in a losing cause. But you have to look at the entire body of work - every dog has his day and that was obviously Oden's best game.

    He was a good-but-not-great player in college. The athletic, skilled, and smart player was Kevin Durant and even at the time of the draft, I couldn't believe that anyone would pick Oden over Durant. Oden reminded me of guys like Brendan Haywood and Eric Dampier in college, not a guy like Shaq. He would show flashes now or then but was not consistently dominant.

    Obviously Oden made the right decision to come out and he has been paid $22 million to watch NBA basketball games from courtside. Sounds like a great job to me.

  10. Jacob Says:

    Again, Oden's only 22 years old, so there's always optimism for him to come back strong.

    Danny Manning, Mychal Thompson, Frank Selvy, Bill Walton and Chris Webber all had successful careers, so there's still hope for Greg.

  11. Sean Says:

    I watched Oden in college. He was a man among boys. No... he wasn't polished offensively, but when he was in the game, he altered the way the opponent played offensively and when he got the ball near the basket, he finished with a flush nobody wanted to get near.

    If you could have guanranteed his health, I would have picked him over Durant (and I know it's easy to say that my decision wouldn have been a mistake---not because of what Oden may have been if healthy---but because I am a bit suprised at how well Durant has transitioned his game). I love Durant now. He gets in there and rebounds a bit and is a stud on offense.

    Oden was just THAT impactful on an NCAA game.

    With this, though, I must add that in my limited viewings of Oden in the NBA---he has appeared LOST on offense, like he never played the game. He also committed stupid fouls---which you might thing would be harder for him to do in the NBA that usually lets their young attractions to get away with. He doesn't even look like the same player. I hope he can finally get it together health-wise so we can see him and what he COULD be.