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Thursday, January 25, 2007
Updated: January 26, 12:49 PM ET
Battle for No. 1: Oden vs. Durant

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Basically, ever since we first heard about Greg Oden, he's been penciled in as the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

And Oden hasn't disappointed – he's having a heck of a freshman season, despite missing Ohio State's first seven games due to injury.

But in case you haven't been watching, Oden's got some competition now in Kevin Durant. The 6-foot-9 freshman swingman from Texas is putting up gaudy numbers, too. Some people are even saying they'd take Durant over Oden with the No. 1 pick this summer.

We won't know for a while whether either, or both, will enter the draft. But we couldn't wait that long. And it just so happens they're both playing on ESPN2 this Saturday, practically back-to-back. Texas faces Baylor at 6 p.m. ET, and Ohio State hosts Michigan State at 9.

So let the debate begin. Here are 10 reasons to pick Greg Oden No. 1 this June, no matter what holes your team needs to fill … and 10 reasons to select Durant with the top choice.

Greg Oden Kevin Durant
Greg Oden
Kevin Durant
By Kieran Darcy

1. You can't teach size
Particularly 7-foot, 280-pound size. Plus, throw in a 7-2 wingspan and a 33-inch vertical. Durant's no slouch in the altitude department, but those three inches (and 55 pounds) make a big difference.

2. The man-child
Oden is, quite simply, a man. Yes, he looks like a grizzled vet (although he did trim his beard recently). But that's not what I'm talking about here. Oden just turned 19 on Monday – yet already has an NBA-ready body -- something Durant really can't say.

3. To the left, to the left
OK, the dude is essentially playing with one hand – and not even his dominant one! Oden's right wrist, which underwent surgery to repair ligaments June 16, hasn't healed fully. He still wears a brace, and still can't do a whole lot with it. Yet the kid is averaging 15.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, and shooting 65.8 percent from the field! Oden drops turnaround hook shots with his off hand like he's been a lefty all his life. Most impressively, he's shooting free throws with his left hand – and making 61 percent of them. Shaq would kill for that percentage with his right hand.

4. D-FENSE
The big fella is averaging 3.6 blocked shots per game, and altering a whole lot more. You don't see too many guys drive on him, and he's got enough lateral quickness to be a good help defender. Listen, if Bill Russell's name is coming up in conversations about Oden – and it is – Mr. Oden can play some serious D. Kevin Durant … well, no one's really talking about his D.

5. For the love of the game
Oden was dying to come back and play. The day after he was cleared by doctors, he took the floor against Valparaiso, without having even participated in a full practice. (All he did was put up 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in 23 minutes – after sitting out 5½ months following surgery!) Beyond that, if you watch Oden closely, it's obvious how much he enjoys the game. Against Iowa last Saturday, Oden won the opening tap, sprinted down the floor to get position on the low box and ended up snatching an offensive rebound on the possession. I've never seen a big man move that fast after winning the tap, and he pursues almost every rebound in sight.

6. Work ethic
Oden wouldn't have been able to return so early – a month earlier than projected – and make such an impact right away without a lot of hard work during rehab.

7. The brain
We haven't peeped his first report card yet, but the word is he's a pretty smart kid who genuinely enjoys school, so I'm guessing he did pretty well. He's clearly a pretty smart basketball player. For example, just watch him pass out of double-teams and find the open man. Even better, once he passes, he usually does an excellent job of getting deeper position for a second entry pass into the post. Oden's averaging only 2.3 fouls per game this season, without fouling out of a game. You've got to be smart to avoid foul trouble at his size and position.

8. Hangin' tough
Oden actually tore the ligaments in his wrist last February, but he played through the injury for eight more games, leading Lawrence North to a third straight Indiana state championship. He even played in the McDonald's All-American Game and the Roundball Classic. Seems this kid can gut through some pain.

9. Stayin' humble
My favorite line of Oden's biography on Ohio State's team Web site: "Hopes to continue playing basketball after graduation." I know nothing's a given in this world, but come on! All joking aside, Oden appears to have his ego in check despite all the hype – a great sign. He's got a personality that a team and its fans will adore.

10. A cornerstone
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.
By Bomani Jones

1. Seriously, how do you stop someone that long, quick and skilled from getting the shot he wants? Not even Bruce Bowen's kryptonite would work on this kid (unlike Dirk Nowitzki, Durant could leave Bowen in cement). The last big guy to hit the draft anywhere close to being as refined a perimeter scorer as Durant was Glenn Robinson in 1994. And Durant has more range and doesn't share Big Dog's allergy to defense.

2. In last week's game for the ages at Oklahoma State, Durant missed a 3-pointer for the win in the second overtime. So what was he doing in the huddle before the third? Smiling.

This was after having played 47 minutes on the road, with the knowledge that things get tougher on the visiting team as a game goes on, he was still cool and still ready for more. That's how I want my superstar to be wired.

3. The dominant low-post center just isn't as valuable as it once was. Oden might scare the bejeezus out of li'l fellas in the lane, but how much will that matter when Oden's man is money from 15 feet? Plus, he won't have as much success duping guards into shooting layups and coming out of nowhere to swat them away as he's had in college. In the NBA, that technique will leave him with deodorant in his beard, if you get my drift.

4. Further, how many teams in the last 20 years have won championships on the back of its shot-blocking center? The Rockets' back-to-back titles had more to do with Hakeem Olajuwon's Dream Shake than his shot blocking, and Ben Wallace was a cog – albeit an important one – in the Pistons' machine, not a franchise player. Defense might win championships, but I'd rather have a dominant scorer lead the way.

5. The most intriguing thing about Oden is that he's better than Tim Duncan was as a freshman at Wake Forest, but like Duncan still has plenty of room for improvement. But Duncan became a legendary force because he used all of his college eligibility to hone his game. It's unlikely Oden will improve similarly if he leaves after this season.

Durant's room for improvement is in his physique. Hitting the league next year will not retard his physical development the way declaring for this year's draft would hinder Oden's work on his skills.

6. Durant, who's 6-foot-9 and able to play off-guard and both forward spots, is an even more of a unique talent than Oden. Oden reminds people of Patrick Ewing and a few others. But has there ever been a player as long, quick, and versatile as Durant who possessed a scorer's mentality? Connie Hawkins, maybe? According to the old folks, there's been a Ewing since there was a Hawk. Speaking of Ewing ...

7. ... whichever team gets the first pick probably will be all kinds of terrible. That team will need to put kiesters in the seats, and that team's fans will want a reason to put their kiesters in those seats. Now, knowing what we now know about Ewing's great-but-not-legendary career, who would be excited by the prospect of having the next Patrick Ewing come to town?

Now, raise your hand if you'd prefer Kevin Garnett with a scorer's mentality?

(Boy, that's a lot of hands.)

8. Think Durant looks good now? Think of how much better he'll look when he gets to the league and some kind veteran takes him to the side and tells him to brush his damn hair. It'll look like he's averaging three more points per game than he does now. Image is everything, right?

9. 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.

10. In a draft as loaded as 2007's could be, there's no reason to take a player that can't carry his team. Durant has shown the ability to do so. Oden has not. Perhaps that's because Oden's surrounded by more talent, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still not known whether his mere presence makes his team significantly better than it would be without him. On this point, Durant's the bird in the hand. Oden's still somewhere in the bush.

 

Photos: AP Photo/Phil Sandlin (Oden), Jim Redman/WireImage.com (Durant)

Kieran Darcy is an editor for Page 2. You can e-mail him at kieran.d.darcy@espn3.com. Bomani Jones is a columnist for Page 2. Tell him how you feel at readers@bomanijones.com.