In the post season press conference held before Larry Bird's return to the Pacers, Donnie Walsh noted something that's worth considering this off-season. He reminded the assembled reporters that while the Pacers needed to adjust and improve in relation to their main competitors in the Eastern Conference (i.e. Miami), other teams would also look to adjust to the Pacers. In that spirit I thought I'd take a few moments and try to figure out what having Greg Oden plying his trade in South Beach might mean for the Miami Heat.
Oden was the first pick of the 2007 NBA Draft by Portland. He is best known to Hoosiers for his time at Lawrence North when he and Mike Conley dominated high school basketball for a number of years. He was widely viewed as the most physically advanced center to enter the league for many years with the potential to dominate, particularly on the defensive end. As we all know his career was side-tracked by knee injuries that have kept him out of the league since 2009. He's also been plagued by depression and a self-admitted drinking problem that got worse once his health prevented him from playing basketball.
Of course it's impossible to know what kind of player he'll be once he returns to the court. Knee injuries vary. On the one hand there seems to be a consensus that players who suffer an ACL tear, such as Nerlens Noel and David West, have a good chance at a full recovery. Oden's situation is different. It began in 2007 when he had to have microfracture surgery during his rookie year in Portland. Things went downhill from there and as of today he's had no less than five different procedures, including repairs to his patella, arthroscopic surgery, further microfracture, and Orthokine injections. That range of work on both of his knees suggests that there will be some diminution of his abilities long-term.
So I thought a good starting point would be to go back to the report that DraftExpress did on his rookie campaign in 2007 in order to determine what his strengths and weaknesses are and try to guess-timate exactly what he may be now, particularly matching-up with a very healthy (hopefully) Roy Hibbert.
Offensively Oden dominated players with lesser physical abilities during his first year in the league. His size and strength, combined with his aggressiveness around the rim, allowed him to back smaller players down and score fairly easily. But against better centers he struggled, which isn't surprising. His hook shot and activity were not consistent, and he looked like he "disappears for stretches on offense, more so because he’s on the bench in foul trouble than because he isn’t asserting himself down low." Unless he's made massive strides during his time away from the game, it's not likely he'll be much more advanced in this aspect of his game, and that's good news from a Pacers perspective.
The same holds true for his defense. The knee injuries had clearly taken away a lot of his explosiveness around the rim and just as importantly his lateral quickness. Oden was unable to make adjustments defensively and often caught out of position. This meant he was less effective as a rim protector, and for a 7-footer that's a problem. According to DraftExpress this physical shortcoming made him particularly prone to foul trouble on the defensive end, which further limited his effectiveness.
But before we downplay what a potential Oden signing could mean for the Blue and Gold, I have to be the bearer of some potentially bad news - Oden was a beast on the glass. Recall the gaudy rebounding numbers that David West and Roy Hibbert had against the relatively short and skinny shooting line-ups Miami ran out? With Oden that would likely change. During his rookie year his adjusted rebounding stats were ridiculous. This factor alone probably explains the interest that Miami has in landing the big man.
Now all of this has to be qualified by saying that Oden's minutes would be limited, and as I noted above it's impossible to tell how healthy he'll be. They won't be able to run out their small ball line-ups with him, and their spacing and driving lanes will suffer if he's standing in the paint. But a second unit with Oden and Tattoo Boy would possibly negate some of the rebounding advantages the Pacers had in the ECF this past year. Those advantages were critical to the success that the Pacers had on the offensive end.
It's a game of adjustments, and during the off season the entire League adjusts as well. If Miami signs Oden, and all indications are they will, it helps explain why the Pacers are focusing on adding shooting to their second unit and a healthy Danny Granger as a means of negating Miami's massive advantage in scoring. Everyone is adjusting to their opponents in the off-season - nothing is static in the NBA.