The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Give Oden the ball

Posted by disappointmentzone on 25 February 2007

Billy Packer tends to drive me nuts. Every few seasons he seems to say something inane — calling Allen Iverson a monkey, verbally abusing two Duke students for having the audacity to be both female and working a men’s college basketball game, railing against St. Joseph for being given a #1 seed in the NCAAs, railing against the selection committee for inviting mid-major teams over major conference teams that finish 8-6 in their conference — and what he says usually undercuts any authority he’s earned as a basketball analyst. It seems he just can’t stop himself sometimes and during those times I want to throw my shoe at the television. This isn’t a blowhard being contrarian just to be contrarian. This is a blowhard who thinks he’s right even when he’s blatantly wrong, which is certainly the most undesirable of characteristics to be found in a person with a microphone and a national audience.

That said, strictly as an analyst of on-court matters Packer possesses a degree of insight generally lacking across the profession (I’m looking you at you, Vital. And you, Lundquist. A little razzle dazzle! Kiss it off the glass!). This afternoon during the OSU-Wisconsin game Packer put his finger on something that has slowly become obvious to most OSU fans: the team does not use Greg Oden well. There Oden will be, battling down low for position, momentarily earning that position, and then …. there his teammates will be, dribbling about on the perimeter, not passing him the ball. It’s almost as if they aren’t aware that standing just 12 feet away is a monster of a player who may very well be the first overall selection in the upcoming NBA draft (although I say he’s staying in school). No one on the current team will be in his lifetime a better basketball player than Oden is right now. No one. And yet they all play like a bunch of Larry Hughes’s (6-17 today. Good times!), jacking up jumpers like it’s the end of the world (well, with a few exceptions).

Packer suggested that if the team wants to advance to the Final Four, Oden needs to attempt at least 14 shots per game. I say Oden attempts 25 shots per game. During the Wisconsin game Oden could have scored an easy 20 points if his teammates only found him down low when he had extremely good position. He could have score another 10 points if he’d have been given the ball when he had just adequate position. The fact of the matter is, Oden is a college version of Shaq. He’s big enough that no one can guard him close, but agile enough that he can score when he gets the ball eight feet away either by unleashing one of his low post moves or by getting to the line.

(Anyone else find it strange that Oden is only four points behind LBJ in free throw shooting percentage even though Oden is a student, is taller, is less talented, and has to shoot them with his off hand? Who wouldn’t be in favor of NBA teams fining players who shoot free throws at a percentage lower than Oden? Shouldn’t this be enforced just on principle alone? It could be called The Oden Rule. In addition to being fined there would be a temporary moratorium on looking hard after taking an and-1 because making a layup while being fouled is tough, but bricking a free throw is pathetic, and pathetic overrides tough, at least in my book.)

So far Packer’s insights have been about what you’d expect from anyone familiar with basketball. But then he astutely observed another downfall of misusing Oden in the manner the team does: he gets shot-happy. Every time he gets the ball down low he shoots. Why? Maybe because his touches are so few and so erratic that he wants to get his shots when he can. Can you blame him? Probably not. And this might be the most damning aspect of not giving Oden the ball. Oden is incredibly tall and teams routinely double and triple team him. OSU has a bunch of pretty good shooters and slashing scorers, many of whom are open when Oden has multiple men guarding him. Put those two things together and you get a big man who can facilitate the offense with a deft array of passes. Double team Oden and he’ll pass it out to the slashing man who’ll get an easy layup. Triple team Oden and he’ll find the guy in the corner for an open three. When you force teams to guard Oden like the player that he can be — bid, dominating — you open up passing and driving lanes for everyone else. When Oden is just another player who happens to be big and able — which is essentially how he’s being used right now; kind of like Dials Light — you lose not only the advantage of his individual talent, but also the advantage of a player who forces other teams to play defense in a way they are unaccustomed to. After all, how many teams have to guard a Gred Oden during the regular season? How many teams have a player in practice who can simulate Gred Oden? Four? Five? Two? But Oden can facilitate the offense with deft passes only when he’s getting the ball often enough that he’s not under any pressure to shoot it. Oden should touch the ball on at least 75% of the team’s possessons. Unfortunately, that’s not happening now. Even more worrisome is that however incapable the team is of feeding Oden the ball when he’s being guarded man-to-man, they are more incapable when teams run a zone — which is exactly the sort of defense that should make the OSU offense salivate.

Right now OSU is ranked #1 in the nation and is well on its way to earning a #1 seed in the NCAAs. But unless the Oden situation gets fixed soon, the team will also be the most vulnerable #1 seed in the country and, barring some outstanding play by one of the guards, will be more likely than not of losing before the elite eight than after.

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