If you didn't follow basketball at the time, selecting Greg Oden before Kevin Durant seems like one of the biggest mistakes in NBA history. The truth is completely different - it was a legitimate argument to have, and decision to make. Don't believe me? Check out his performance against Horford and Noah in the NCAA title game.
The biggest questionmark about selecting him no.1 was the most common one when drafting such a large human being. Can Oden stay healthy while playing NBA basketball? Even if there are no red flags, that is always a concern. Greg Oden had a major red flag.
When he was in sixth grade, Oden grew 6 inches. The human body is designed for gradual growth, not such an explosion, and there were consequences. Oden's right hip detached from its socket, and he had to get surgery. The situation was so dramatic his mother took him to the hospital the day his x-ray results came in and the surgery was performed the same day. Oden said his leg “was hanging on for dear life”
Two pins were inserted to hold the hip in place, and while the surgery was successful, there was an adverse effect. Oden's right leg didn't grow as much and is 8 millimeters shorter than his left leg. When you are 7 feet tall, and 270 pounds, 8 millimeters is a lot.
“Over time, his body adjusted, but the hip required the occasional heavy tug when it jammed.”
Seth Wickersham, ESPN
The Blazers knew about all this and felt confident they could manage Oden's health. Blazers athletic trainer Jay Jensen experimented with different orthopedic pads to put in Oden's right shoe. In the end, they settled on a 5/8th pad.
“I got those orthotics and then two days later, my knee was so swollen I couldn't even put jeans on.”
Greg Oden, Scals and Pals podcast
As Oden explained, he had played with a slightly shorter leg all his life and gotten used to it. When the orthopedic compensated for the 8 mm, he was still moving as if his leg was shorter - years and years of muscle memory kicked in. It would be farfetched to say it was the orthopedics that caused his knee problems, but it's not insane to assume they were a catalyst.
Years later, the 76ers gave Joel Embiid years to recover from injuries and develop an NBA body. The Pelicans invested most of this year to learn and understand Zion's body and what feels right. Teams now realize there's no single solution to different body types and medical issues. The most important thing is to invest the most luxurious asset we all have - time.
Unfortunately for Oden, he was the mistake teams learned on.