|ESPN.com: 2007||[Print without images]|
The worst-case scenario for Oden and the Portland Trail Blazers became reality when exploratory surgery for the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft turned into microfracture surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee. Oden missed the beginning of his only season at Ohio State with a fractured wrist, and while he demonstrated great toughness and work ethic by playing through the injury and improving his all-around game despite being less than 100 percent, we are still left to wonder what kind of player he can be at full strength.
Will we ever know?
While recently we've seen players like Amare Stoudemire, Jason Kidd and former Blazer Zach Randolph successfully return from such a procedure, it could take anywhere from a year to even two years before Oden returns to form. Even Stoudemire wasn't completely back to his old self by the end of last season, despite the impressive numbers he was able to put up.
And those are some of the more positive cases in recent memory. Other players, like Kenyon Martin and Chris Webber, didn't find the road back after surgery to be so smooth. The biggest positive in Oden's hopes for a complete -- and hopefully quick -- recovery has to be his age, since he's still a teenager.
That's what Oden is up against before his NBA career officially starts. What fantasy owners are up against is figuring out what Oden's subtraction from the lineup means to his Trail Blazers teammates for the upcoming season.
The players most greatly affected are LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye, who were expected to see most of their time at power forward this season, only being asked to play the center position when Oden or veteran Joel Przybilla wasn't on the floor. Since Przybilla has yet to average 25 minutes per game in any of his seven seasons in the league, and he's had plenty of injury issues of his own, we can assume he can't be counted on for more than half a game in the middle even when he is healthy.
Aldridge was very effective once inserted into the starting lineup for good at the beginning of March. He averaged 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, while shooting 52 percent from the field and a respectable 73 percent from the line in those 14 starts before his season was cut short at the end of March due to a heart abnormality. Aldridge returned to the court and has dealt with a sore heel that caused him to leave the USA Select Team as a precaution, but he'll be good to go for training camp and should at least duplicate those numbers now that Randolph has departed and Oden is out. The key will be his ability to play big minutes night in and night out since his durability remains in question.
Frye had a disappointing sophomore campaign with the Knicks in '06-07, but should take advantage of his new opportunity in Portland. It's not as though the Blazers have better options, and being given consistent minutes is just what Frye needs to show he can be a key contributor for this young squad. Most of the Portland roster is comprised of perimeter and slasher types, so Frye stands to improve upon his 43.3 percent field goal percentage this past season. A return to his rookie averages of about 12 points and six boards is not only likely, but necessary on this team in such dire need of interior production. However, since he doesn't stand out in any single category, isn't a great shot-blocker and doesn't have tremendous upside, he's still only a later-round selection.
How the point guard situation will play out is still to be determined, so the direct effect of losing Oden is hard to pinpoint for Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack right now. The backcourt player who is most greatly affected is reigning rookie of the year Brandon Roy, who was already expected to take on the brunt of the scoring load. Last year's per-game averages of 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.18 steals were just the tip of the iceberg. He should be a 20-point scorer this season, continue to shoot a reasonable percentage from the field and increase his rebounding numbers slightly as well. He'll be worthy of selection in the late third round or early fourth round in 12-team leagues and could prove even more valuable than that given what is going to be asked of him.
The wild card here is Travis Outlaw. More will likely be asked of Outlaw, which would make him a nice back-of-the-bench steals and blocks threat, particularly in deeper leagues. In just under 23 minutes per game last season, Outlaw averaged just under one steal and 1.1 blocks. An increase in minutes could make him a nice late-round sleeper, especially since he's not afraid to shoot it, either. Fellow small forward Darius Miles is still recovering from his own microfracture surgery and he hasn't been cleared to practice. It's hard to imagine the team is expecting much from him this season since his knee injury was quite severe, so any contribution would be a major bonus. Even after Miles is cleared, returning to game shape will be his biggest obstacle. James Jones and Martell Webster will remain relevant only to those in desperate need of 3-pointers.
Keith Lipscomb is a fantasy sports editor for ESPN.com