Friday night, for the first time in their professional careers, No. 1 and No. 2 finally go head-to-head. Well, not really since they play different positions, but you know what I mean. Back in 2006 the two met at the McDonald’s All-American game where KD dropped 25 points and grabbed five boards en route to game MVP. (Oden had 10 points, five rebounds.) Other than that, the most competitive game they played was their pre-draft workout in Portland two years ago.
But during the spring of 2007, the debate was fierce – Oden or Durant? Durant or Oden? Old Face or Baby Face? Plastic Man or Fred Sanford? Sam Bowie or Michael Jordan? (OK, that’s a little too much.)
So let’s have a look back at some of those arguments:
- In 2007, 10 reasons for each guy: “Durant’s averaging more rebounds — playing small forward — than is Oden, who rarely strays more than eight feet from the basket. Even though Durant plays more minutes than Oden and Oden’s playing without his good hand, that’s a telling stat … Oden is poised to be a franchise center, someone you can build a team around. Franchise centers usually win championships. His name’s already being mentioned in the company of Russell, Robinson, Olajuwon, and Shaq. Lot of rings on those fingers. Durant is most often compared to Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett. Some people project him as a combination of the two. That’s pretty darn good – but I don’t see any rings on their fingers.”
- Bill Simmons: “I see Durant’s worst case as a lankier, more benign Glenn Robinson. But I can’t picture his best case or most plausible scenario, because there has never been anyone like him before. A 6’9″ shooting guard with a 7’5” wingspan? And he’s still growing? I see pieces of different players — KG’s body, Bob McAdoo’s scoring, MJ’s competitiveness, T-Mac’s ability to attack the rim with either hand, Hakeem’s fallaway, C-Webb’s passing. But add it up and you get an original. Durant is the first iPod, or the plane the Wright brothers built … No GM has the testicular fortitude to pass up a potential superstar center, not even for someone as potentially game-changing as Durant. If you want to compete from now until 2020, take Oden. Simple. But as soon as the Blazers pass on Durant, he will instantly be more dangerous. Because from that moment on, he’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder. As Karl Malone, Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer and others have taught us, a draft slight is a scary thing: It’s a contract-year push that never ends. Each season, you want to stick it to everyone who didn’t believe in you all over again. (Note: The term for this phenomenon is “anti-Darkoism.”) So the Sonics might one day look as if they were the ones who caught the break on May 22. I just don’t know. “
- The video circuit. An awkward marketing video from the Blazers on who to pick. Doug Gottlieb would have taken Durant. Chicks debating on who to take.
- Another debate on NBA.com. And a poll that Durant actually took 52 percent to 48: “So if the Blazers want to avoid criticism and second-guessing and make the predictable play out of fear of being perceived an unconventional, they’ll choose Oden. But if they are looking for a versatile, game-breaking forward with a 7’5″ wingspan, a deadly outside shooting touch and an entire repertoire of offensive moves, they’ll take Durant. Without attempting to sound Orwellian, it’s a lot like 1984, when two teams passed on the opportunity to grab Michael Jordan because there were two highly-touted big men in the draft. But that shouldn’t be a big deal for the Blazers, it’s not like they passed on Jordan in 1984… Oh, wait…”
- Dan Wetzel of Yahoo!: “So this should come down to a basketball decision. Do you want the dominating big man who can control games defensively or the high-flying perimeter scorer? That’s the debate basketball fans waged all winter as they watched the two shred collegiate competition. But Pritchard is the only person who actually has to make the choice. “You go through your process, you get your feel for both kids, who they are personally, you see them in our own gym, sort of on our own court, and hopefully make a decision that is best,” he said.”
- Remember how KD couldn’t bench 185? Yeah, that turned out to really metter: “If people question his strength, they’re stupid,” Barnes told The Dallas Morning News. “If they are looking for weight lifters to come out of Texas, that’s not what we’re producing. There are a lot of guys who can bench press 300 pounds in the NBA who couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie. Kevin’s the best player in the draft – period, at any position.”
- Ken Davis of NBC Sports saw it as a slam dunk – take Oden: “Durant will be fantastic. There will be nights when no one can guard him. But without a big man lined up next to him, Durant may never get a ring. On the other hand, Oden can walk into Portland, join Aldridge, Roy, Zach Randolph and Jarrett Jack and turn the Trail Blazers into a contender. And that’s why Greg Oden will — and should be — the No. 1 pick in the draft.”
- Like everyone else, John Denton of USA Today saw the inevitable potential comparison: “Well, consider what happened to the franchise in 1984 when it took the supposed safe route and went with the big player. Seven-footer Sam Bowie, the second choice that season, endured a bevy of foot injuries and never materialized as an NBA center. The third pick in that draft? Six championships later, Michael Jordan is considered one of the best players — if not the best player — in basketball history.”
- This guy from Blogcritics was looking at star power: “I will add to that my lack of surprise when Kevin Durant becomes a truly big name long before Greg Oden does. Yes, I realize that basketball fans the world over already know exactly who both of these players are. I’m referring to their becoming mainstream media darlings. How do I know this? Simple, I’ve watched both of them. I’ve watched Greg Oden oh-so-gradually morph into the second, boring coming of Tim Duncan. That would be the guy who is a great player, who may or may not be the championship-caliber cornerstone of his team for years to come, and who nobody outside his region will care about because he is absolutely the most dull interviewee ever. Greg Oden is all about simple, safe answers. He wants to make sure he says the right thing, the simple thing, the answer that people can’t read into and pick apart and plaster on the front page of the sports section. That’s all well and good, but color me uninterested. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, seems ready to embrace the possibilities of super-stardom. If you haven’t seen any of these clips yet, you should do so immediately.”
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a revisit to say, “HA! You screwed up Portland!” but more to just remember all the arguments that were being made for either side. Now we have some field evidence to put with those arguments. Obviously, it’s sort of limited with Oden because he was set back with major knee surgery last year. But hey, that’s part of it. Sam Bowie may have been that great player had he not had the foot issues.
But overall, we really won’t know who was the right pick for a while now, but it’s funny to look back on the arguments being made for each one two years ago. Especially fun now that the two will finally meet on the hardwood instead of the newspaper.
But as of today, February 5th, 2009, I think it’s safe to say Kevin Durant is winning. He’s got 86 more games, 2,464 more points, 370 more rebounds, 298 more assists, one more award, one less major surgery and one more year on Oden. But guess what? These guys both have something like 15 more years ahead of them (unless Oden dies of old age) and many, many more battles like we’re going to see Friday night to come. This debate is finally getting a chance to get started. Heck, we may never really get a “right” answer period. And take note, because this may be the only time I’ll ever say it, but here’s to hoping Doug Gottlieb was right.