No Respect For My Cognitive Reverie

“You ever just know something, Mr. Nash?” – General
“Constantly.” – John Nash

I’m in full belief that I have a gift for recognizing talent. I could be full of crap. But it’s the belief that I have.

Now clearly, just about everyone not named Andrew Bynum has required basketball talent in order to make it to the NBA. We never fully get to realize just how good these guys are. We read tales of players like Wally Szczerbiak and Peja Stojakovic making 85 out of 100 threes in practice but think they can’t be all that good because when it comes to in-game, crunch time situations, they rarely come through for their fans. But their talent is off the charts.

I’m narcissistic (or maybe delusional or maybe both) enough to believe that I can look at any player and tell you whether or not they’ll be great or not, simply by watching them play for no more than a minute. Much like Matt Moore can find writing talent (excluding myself of course; who knows what the hell he was thinking there?), I can find an NBA player and tell you if he’s one of the special ones.

But when nobody else outside of a certain Pacific Northwest, rabid fanbase can see what you see, at what point are they completely ignorant or are you completely wrong? At what point do you trick yourself into seeing what isn’t there or realize you hit the jackpot of evaluation by recognizing what others simply choose not to see?

Welcome to my obsession with Greg Oden.

We all know the tales of Gregory Wayne Oden, Jr. He was an All-American at the high school and college level. He was the number one overall pick over the smooth scoring Kevin Durant. He had micro-fracture surgery before his pro career even started and instantly started getting catcalls that referenced Sam Bowie. Bill Simmons thinks he’s a bust while having stated in consecutive pre-season podcasts how good Andris Biedrins and Andrew Bynum are with his buddy, Joe House. Oden is a running joke right now amongst those that don’t cheer for the Rose City. Hell, he’s probably even a joke or punch line for you and your friends.

But I have to tell you something.

You’re wrong.

Greg Oden is a beast of a man, ready to unleash hell on the rest of the NBA. He’s a rebounding vacuum. He’s a shot-blocking, missile defense system that the Pentagon would be envious of. He has an Ike and Tina kind of relationship with the rim on offense. He’s a decent enough free throw shooter and he moves as smartly without the ball as any young center in the NBA. Greg Oden is not only a good player; he’s a sure-fire perennial All-Star who will help his team win a couple of titles. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year a couple times over.

I could try to get my Kevin Pelton on right now and spout off all of the pertinent statistics that tell me I’m right about how good he can be. I could mention his Per 36 averages of 14.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. But that wouldn’t convince you. I could mention that he was one of the top rebounders in the league last year based on rebounding percentage but you wouldn’t care about that. I could mention that his offensive rating was 12 points higher than his defensive rating but you would just scoff. I could mention that Greg Oden is one of 12 centers in NBA history to get 4.3 Win Shares or greater as a 21-year old rookie or that his PER was 18.1 last year or that he is far more athletic and skilled than you could ever imagine but you think he sucks and is a bust.

But then again, you don’t see what I see with Greg.

Wait; do I actually see what I see with Greg?

You see injuries, slow feet, and an awkward shuffle up court.

I see powerful dunks, skying for blocked shots, and brute strength unlikely to be matched by feats of feeble young giants.

You see Pyrite, sedentary in a hearth of failure.

I see 1970s Solid Gold magic.

And that’s where a man by the name of John Nash and the movie portrayal of his life come into play.

In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash is the type of genius that nobody can understand. He sees codes where others see inanimate objects of little consequence. He finds diamonds in the rough, military plans in a wall of numbers and trends in months of magazine articles. He’s the greatest mathematical mind that had the gall to disprove 150 years of economic understanding. He is a protractor’s wet dream.

He’s also completely F’ing insane. He believes he’s being chased down by Russians and has an imaginary roommate from college who also has an imaginary niece. He thinks that he’s been decoding secret Soviet messages and helping the Department of Defense when in fact he’s been mumbling gibberish and stuffing nonsensical letters into random mailboxes. He hallucinated half of his life’s work and personal interactions and needed intense therapy for psychosis. Eventually, he learns how to balance medications and his own gift for seeing things that nobody else can sees (in a sane way) but it raises two questions for me, one being in regards to him and one being in regards to me and Greg Oden.

Does it make what Nash experienced any less real if it was ultimately a hallucination?

And am I cracking code with who Greg Oden really is or just hallucinating a college roommate that I wish I had?

Personally, I tend to think I’m right about this. Then again, John Nash thought he was ripping Sputnik a new one. For those who think Greg Oden is a bad basketball player and a bust, you’re absolutely dead wrong, no matter how crazy I am about this guy. The more appropriate question with Oden is how healthy can he be? He seems to have suffered a series of freak accidents in his career with injuries.

He broke his wrist right before his college career began and never fully healed until the NCAA title game. He needed micro-fracture surgery on his knee before his pro career could start but it was such a small area of his knee that needed the cartilage rebuild that it couldn’t have been a better and easier surgery. He hurt his foot playing against the Lakers on opening night this past season and the Blazers cautiously sat him for weeks on end.

He’s never had a string of injuries like a Danny Manning or a Yao Ming. He’s just had the on-the-job kind of luck Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. And that’s why I think he has the ability and the likelihood to be great.

He’s never been in true NBA shape. He’s been conserving his explosiveness and his aggressiveness in order to make sure the knee heals properly. This off-season, he’s apparently been shedding pounds and moving much better as he trains. He will no longer have that twinge in the back of his mind keeping him from moving properly on the floor in fear of facing another physical step backwards. Those were the type of things keeping him from being in position properly last year while he racked up nearly four fouls per game in just 21.5 minutes each night.

With more confidence in his movement and therefore more confidence in his game, you’re going to see a lethal attack of two-handed jams while he throws his pelvis in the air ala Shaq. You’re going to see him swatting weak floaters in a single bound. You’re going to see drop steps and hooks with both hands landing like he was Bernard Hopkins. If there is a rebound to be had, he will have it. He won’t be an All-Star next year. He won’t lead his team to the title next year. And he won’t score even half the points that Kevin Durant puts up.

But the foundation will be laid. And he will be established as the next big thing.

In A Beautiful Mind John Nash said, “You have no respect for cognitive reverie.” I believe that at this current moment, I haven’t convinced you to change your mind on Greg Oden. I believe that you read my cognitive reverie about this giant and believe me to be hallucinating. But I’m confident in my assertions.

Sometimes, you just know something.