Gred Oden is big. He is also amazingly athletic, if sometimes a bit uncoordinated. The Trailblazers seem to be going through one of those periods when a team either forges a new identity as an elite power, or begins to melt down internally from the friction. Andre Miller has not exactly endeared himself to Portlanders in his first month in town and the loss of Nicolas Batum has proved to be a big loss to the Blazers perimeter defense. All the pieces are in place for either scenario. Essentially the Trailblazers’ fate will rest on their ability to play team defense, keeping their big men out of foul trouble and on the floor.
It’s terribly important that the Blazers get out to a strong start this year. With so many young players and a couple new faces this year a long losing streak could do major harm to a slightly shaken-up and not terribly confident team. Through two games they’re 2-2, leaving something to be desired in the chemistry department. The Blazers seem to be having trouble with team defense, especially on the perimeter. Steve Blake has never been a defensive beast and Andre Miller is still learning the system. Batum’s absence in the starting lineup thus far has put a lot of pressure on the big men, especially against guys like Carmelo Anthony who can penetrate and get to the line. This has given a great deal of shot-blocking opportunities to the boys down low but it’s also saddled the frontcout with major foul problems in the first three games. Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City showed some improvement, but it was the Thunder after all.
While it’s still early and the team is going through a metamorphosis of sorts, Oden is showing all the essentials the Blazers will need from their young big-man to press the Lakers for a championship, if not this year then certainly in the years to come. Oden has had troubles on the offensive end, averaging only 6.5 points in the first four games. He’s also averaging 4.7 fouls and over 3 turnovers per game in just 24 minutes per contest. These are not attractive numbers. That being said, the Blazers do have a plethora of scorers and dishers surrounding Oden, so his lack of offensive prowess at this point doesn’t hurt the Blazers significantly.
What the Blazers need from Oden is rebounding and shot-blocking. Luckily, he does both with the best of them. According to NBA.com, through three games Oden is second in the NBA in blocks per game and fifteenth in rebounds per game. He added 12 points, 10 boards and a block on Sunday night in a victory over the Thunder, helping the Blazers’ defense hold the Thunder to just 74 points in their own arena.
Greg Oden obviously has athleticism, size and talent on his side. If he and the other Blazers can find a way to play solid team defense the sky could be the limit. With Oden and Aldridge surrounding the post the Blazers should be among the league’s elite defensive units. If the perimeter defense falls into place and Oden continues his progress, the Lakers may very well have a run for their money in this year’s conference finals.