There is no doubt that former Portland Trail Blazers first overall pick Greg Oden will forever be one of the biggest what-if’s of this sport. The 7-foot big man is one of the many potential stars whose career ended way too early due to injury, but what makes Oden stand out is the fact that many considered him to be the next big thing in the league.
Unfortunately for the former Ohio State standout, he will go down in history as one of the biggest busts in the NBA. While this is definitely the type of label no one player would ever want to have his name associated with, this actually speaks volumes of just how much hype surrounded Oden when he entered the league. As we all know, it all came crashing down for him even before he could get started, but it’s hard not to imagine just how much he would have affected the entire landscape of the NBA if he never got injured.
Oden was the highest-ranked recruit coming out of high school, and he definitely showed the basketball world what he can do in his one-and-done year in college. In 32 games for the Buckeyes, he averaged 15.7 points (on 61.6 percent shooting), 9.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 3.3 blocks as a freshman. This catapulted him to becoming the consensus first overall pick for the 2007 NBA Draft, ranked ahead of the likes of Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Mike Conley, to name a few.
In hindsight, the Blazers have been criticized for taking Oden over Durant, but the reality is, at that point in time, Oden had shown more potential than Durant. KD had a lot of promise and had the potential to become a superstar, but Oden was already NBA ready and could help Portland win immediately.
This was exactly what the Blazers had in mind when they took Oden first overall in 2007. The team definitely felt that they had hit the jackpot, as the 19-year-old big man looked to be the final piece of their puzzle. At that point, Portland had Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who they both drafted one year ahead of Oden.
The trio of Roy (the reigning Rookie of the Year), Aldridge (the second overall pick of the previous draft who showed tremendous potential in his rookie campaign), and Oden was definitely one of, if not the most promising young core in the entire league at that point in time.
Then, disaster struck.
Oden would be forced to sit out his first year (the 2007-08 season) due to knee surgery, and this turned out to be the beginning of the end for the prized big man. As for Roy and Aldridge, both men carried on with their rapid development that year. Roy got his first All-Star nod, while Aldridge pretty much doubled his scoring output compared to his rookie campaign.
The following year, Oden finally made his debut. However, his lingering knee problem held him back, as he would only be able to suit up for a grand total of 82 games in his entire five-year career with the Blazers. When healthy, he did show some flashes of what made him such a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, but in truth, these performances were far and few in between.
This very promising Big 3 played in a grand total of just 62 games together, but what’s amazing is the fact that they logged an astounding 50-12 record during this span.
A healthy Oden would have been the perfect fit alongside Roy and Aldridge. As a matter of fact, one could even argue that perhaps, even Roy himself could have potentially avoided (or at least delayed?) career-ending injuries had the workload been more evenly distributed with Oden in the mix.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell what this trio could have done had they been given a chance. It’s hard to tell, but surely this group would have — at the very least — established themselves as a serious contender in that era.
At this point, it’s all speculation. However, there is no doubt that we all missed out on a potentially great big man in Oden. Moreover, we could have also been robbed of witnessing a tremendous trio that could have dominated the league for many years.
Sadly, such is the game basketball. For the Blazers, this was indeed a terrible break for them, but on the bright side, this is also what led them to picking up Damian Lillard with the sixth overall pick in 2012. Dame is now considered as one of the greatest players to have ever dawned the Portland uniform, so in this respect, it’s not all bad.