...it’s not entirely clear that Oden surely has more upside than Durant. For one, Oden has almost completely maximized himself physically—something that is very obvious when watching how he scores his points—while Durant is getting his production almost despite the fact that he’s as thin as a rail. In terms of future improvement, it’s much easier for a player like Durant to develop his body than it is for a player like Oden to become less tentative and a more fluid and skilled post player. Many of the highlight reel plays we’ve seen Durant execute as of late have come from the mid to low post rather than from behind the 3-point line, which makes us wonder just how good he’ll be down there once he’s able to properly battle inside with some added strength. What’s really scary is that Durant still isn’t really a great ball-handler at this point in his career—something he’ll freely tell you himself—so just imagine how much more lethal his offensive game will be when he’s more comfortable putting the ball on the floor in traffic and creating shots in the half-court?
Our good friend (also an ESPN Insider columnist) David Thorpe told us in late November already that he believes Durant should get serious consideration for #1 overall because of the way he fits into the perimeter oriented style of play that the NBA has gradually been moving towards over the past few years with the rule changes regarding impeding movement and hand-checking. While a player like Oden would have been an absolute terror on any given possession defensively in the 90’s, his effectiveness can now be minimized to a certain extent with a smaller center that plays facing the basket and forces his matchup to come out and defend him on the perimeter. Playing for Ohio State, it’s very obvious under close scrutiny that Oden struggles when forced to make quick, sharp rotations that demand a high level of mobility—for example hedging a screen on the perimeter or attacking a slasher from the weak-side on a foray into the paint. Playing heavy minutes in a zone defense where he isn’t asked to leave the post for even a moment as the anchor of his team’s defense helps mask this weakness to a certain extent, but it still shows on occasion and will be even more of an issue in the NBA where teams play man-to-man almost exclusively.
In terms of upside, it’s impossible to say whose is higher. From what we can surmise, Oden at his peak level of production will be an NBA defensive player of the year candidate, a league leading rebounder, and an effective, although unspectacular inside scorer—a David Robinson type if you will. Durant on the other hand is much more of an unknown, since he’s really breaking new ground day in and day out in terms of the way he’s producing and his incredibly unique style of play. He really does
have a chance to change the way we think of the forward position, much in the way Dirk Nowitzki has over the past few years, but in his own special way. Traditional wisdom tells us that “big men win championships,” but is that an outdated way of thinking?