. . . But Teams Survive With Big Men Such as Oden

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By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, June 28, 2007

NEW YORK

The bet here is that Kevin Durant will be a wonderful professional basketball player, probably a perennial all-star, perhaps even the cornerstone of a team that lives in the playoffs.

But if I had the first pick in tonight's draft, I'm taking Greg Oden.

Wing players with beautiful jump shots inspire the imagination, are easier to market and usually sell more tickets. But teams with a great Big Man win championships. Teams featuring Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan have won eight of the last nine NBA championships. They play the position of Big Man.

Oden, at 7 feet and 250 pounds, also plays the position of Big Man. I'm taking Greg Oden 100 times out of 100. You don't want to mess with history on this. And please, don't tell me about Sam Bowie vs. Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft. Bowie was a very skilled and very tall man, but not a Big Man.

Hakeem Olajuwon was a Big Man; he won two NBA championships. Patrick Ewing was a Big Man; he led his team to the NBA Finals twice. David Robinson was a Big Man; he led the Spurs to a championship when Duncan was a pup.

Kareem was a Big Man, Bill Walton was a Big Man. Willis Reed was a Big Man, Wes Unseld was a Big Man, Moses Malone was a Big Man. Wilt was a Real Big Man. Bill Russell was the Ultimate Big Man. George Mikan was the Original Big Man. They all won. In fact, those men played on a total of 42 NBA championship teams. Hello! All of them played in multiple NBA Finals. In this context, Big is better.

If you add Robert Parish and Dave Cowens to the conversation, and they qualify as Big Men to some degree, then it's 47 NBA championships. In fact, go ahead and name the teams that won without a Big Man. Oden, from everything we know going into this draft, appears to be made of some of the same stuff the aforementioned Big Men are made of.

He's big, smart, strong, athletic and not just willing but excited to humiliate you with withering defense. So what's Oden's downside?

Brad Daugherty? Alonzo Mourning? Dikembe Mutombo? What, you wouldn't take any of those guys for the next dozen years? Kent Benson? Christian Laettner? He's certainly not Kwame Brown, who is a big man but for certain not a Big Man.

Please don't forget that Oden, in the NCAA championship game, threw around Florida's Al Horford and Joakim Noah, a pair of lottery-pick big men, like they were tomato cans to the tune of 25 points and 12 rebounds. Oden led his Ohio State team to the NCAA championship game despite an injury to the wrist of his dominant hand. We haven't even come close to seeing the best of Greg Oden.

As important as the physical attributes, Oden is accountable, a feature many of the NBA's wannabe stars are lacking, which is why they'll never be all they should be. When Oden nervously fumbled his way through a workout in Portland last week with his presumed new team, he turned more than once to his future coaches and club executives and apologized for playing so poorly.


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