— The NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) September 23, 2013
In a vacuum, Greg Oden’s ranking is astoundingly high. The man has not played in an NBA game since December of 2009, little more than a year after the current president was voted into office for his first term. Oden has but 82 regular season games under his belt, total, and he’s not played even 2,000 minutes in the league. By these measures, it’d be safe to rank Oden in the last percentile, not among the middle of the pack.
But for Oden, like so many others, this #NBArank is more about potential than it is the past. I do not expect Oden to play much this season for the defending champion Miami Heat, nor do I think he’ll perform all that well when and if he does see playing time. But there’s the chance, however slim, that Oden will break free of a cycle that’s sent him crashing to and fro in a sea of uncertainty, that this is the year he’ll no longer be victim to a deluge of hopelessness that’s only gift is the ever-faltering opportunity to break the surface of the water and gulp down another life-sustaining breath.
And if Oden can somehow keep his head afloat this year and provide something — anything — on the floor, then maybe a few more things will click. And if a few things click, maybe Oden can stay on the court for 15-20 minutes a game. And maybe he can defend the post well enough to hassle Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez when Miami needs to give Chris Bosh a breather, and maybe he can grab his fair share of rebounds to shore up a potential weakness for the Heat.
Again, none of this is likely; the odds are that we dramatically overvalued Oden’s shot at redemption, because, well, he’s seven feet tall and a former number one overall pick. But if he can somehow put that skillset and massive frame to good use, then he’ll likely be a top-200 or so player. Of course, therein lies the rub with Oden and his potential; even at his very best, he’s likely to not offer much value over his presumed status in the middle of the pack. There’s plenty of room for Oden to be of less value this season than his ranking assumes, and little chance that he’ll be better than this ranking. Perhaps a ranking in the mid-300s would have been more palatable and indicative of the obstacles that stand before Oden and a triumphantly average return.
But a middle of the pack ranking seems right to me, given the risk and the reward; it represents the fact that we just don’t know what Oden has left in the tank and what he might bring to the Heat this year. Oden’s #NBArank is, in a sense, a testament to the travails of a return from injury, the possibility of a road less traveled to a forest in which a man might remake his own image. It’s a path fraught with pitfalls and peril that will, in all likelihood, swallow up the latest chapter in the Saga of Greg Oden. What that 284 ranking truly signifies isn’t how good or bad of an NBA player Oden currently is, or whether he will ever be the Greg Oden we hoped he would be. It’s an indication that there’s still hope for Oden, that he might become the Greg Oden that he can be, and in so doing, be one of the top 300 or so players in the league. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, even while it lingers in the higher planes of questionability.
284 is a gross misrepresentation of who Greg Oden has been and who he is in the moment. Whether it’s a laughable number to associate with 2013-14 Oden remains to be seen.
Image by Ferminius via Flickr