When you think of the biggest draft mistakes ever, Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan is at the top. But then, most people go to Oden over Durant – and that’s wrong. Greg Oden‘s talent and upside were worth the health risk he presented, and that’s a fact. When healthy, Oden would’ve been a championship-caliber player in any era, but particularly in the late 2000s, a dominant big man was your ticket to the Finals.
That year the Blazers had the 7th worst record in the NBA, and Brandon Roy was going to the Draft Lottery knowing they have a 0,53% chance of getting the no.1 pick. Not expecting much, Roy wasn’t prepared to talk about who the team would pick if they landed one of the top picks. Once the ping pong balls landed on them, Roy got excited and immediately got a warning from the Blazers PR department.
“Before I went on, the media person was like ‘Don’t tell anybody who we’re picking!‘ so I give the whole public [generic] answer. I get back to Portland and I’m like ‘But who are we going to take??‘”Brandon Roy, Curious Mike
Everyone knew the no.1 pick would go down between Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. The Blazers went with Oden, and Roy was excited to see what the big man really is like to play with. The team had selected LaMarcus Aldrige the year before, so the fit between the two and how Oden would work with Roy was crucial for their success.
“We were doing 100 yard sprints; Greg and LaMarcus were winning, and these dudes were the tallest players on the team! He could run. Then we got into the open gym, and whoever’s team Greg was on was gonna win. We’re all good, but it comes down to couple plays here and there and Greg can defend better than anybody, he can get offensive rebounds, he kept every ball alive.”Brandon Roy, Curious Mike
That’s exactly the kind of guy you want to draft at no.1. Being good is not enough. Hell, being great is not enough. The no.1 pick is supposed to be the guy who can win when, as Roy said it, “a couple of plays here and there” make the difference. Oden had the talent, skill, and size to be that kind of a player – the one that stands out in a group of excellent guys in the crucial moment.
“I remember calling my dad. He was like, ‘How good is he?‘, and I was like ‘We can win the championship.‘ For the first time in my life, plaing with him, I was like ‘We can win the championship.’”Brandon Roy, Curious Mike
Keep in mind, Roy was a star in his own right. Kobe named him as (one of the) toughest guys he ever had to guard. So when that kind of a caliber player spends a few practices with a rookie and feels like he finally has a partner to go all the way, that tells you everything you need to know about Oden’s potential.
Roy was realistic about his prediction, he didn’t think it would happen right away. But a few years down the line, with some experience and the right supporting cast, he felt the Blazers have a legitimate claim to go all the way. Unfortunately, we know it didn’t happen due to numerous injuries.
But if you did so in the past, stop saying that Oden over Durant was a Bowie over Jordan level mistake – no matter how good Kevin Durant turned out to be.