The New Big O?: He’s Really The Next Big Thing

By Bill Livingston
Updated: January 26, 2007

CLEVELAND — Being so big draws such unwanted at tention to basketball’s big men that they sometimes stand tall in opposition to their very size.

Wilt Chamberlain, an accomplished high jumper in college, wanted to prove he could score not only on dunks, but also on graceful fadeaway bank shots requiring a high degree of timing and coordination. Opponents loved the move because it took him out of rebounding position.

Joakim Noah at the University of Florida, at 6-11, uses an explosive first step to get to the rim from the top of the foul circle.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas of the Cavaliers takes 20-foot jump shots.

The Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki won the 3-Point Shootout at the All-Star Game.

Then there is Greg Oden.

Said Cavaliers General Manager Danny Ferry of the 7-foot, 280-pound Ohio State freshman center, “He is comfortable in his own skin.”

Oden is a genuine back-to-the-basket player who knows his game and wants to expand it only in degree, not kind. When his right wrist is healed from ligament repair surgery, which will not be any time this season, he plans to develop a 15-foot jump shot.

When asked after he was the inbounds target against Tennessee’s press if he considered bringing the ball up himself, Oden said earlier this month, “That would probably be two points for the other team.”

Yet few big men do not want to demonstrate that size isn’t all that matters.

Shaquille O’Neal, the most physical player ever, likes being a summon-the-earthmovers load near the basket. But Shaq has a huge hole in his game, as did Wilt. He can’t be trusted at the foul line.

Alex Hannum, who coached the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1967 NBA title, thought Wilt, who blended in with the other tall people in the scrums around the basket, felt isolated, exposed and freakish when he was at the line, that he really hated being there.

Oden ought to be uncomfortable while shooting foul shots with his left hand, his off-hand, because of the wrist injury. But by sheer hard work, he has become a 60 percent foul shooter. Shaq only dreams of making that many.

Orlando’s center, Dwight Howard, overpowered Ilgauskas in the paint Monday. If any current NBA player should be Oden’s model, it is Howard, who is 6-11, 265. At 21 and in his third NBA season, Howard was a member of Team USA in the World Championships.

Oden has the basics for low-post offense, including a drop step, a jump hook, and fire and brimstone dunks.

“But he will hang his hat in this league on defense,” said Ferry, who likens Oden to former New York Knick center Patrick Ewing.

Ewing had a reliable mid-range jumper. But it was blocked shots (an Oden specialty) and rebounding (ditto) that made him great.

The question with Oden is when does he turn pro?

It would be hard to stay at OSU, despite his offensive limitations, because of the scare of the wrist injury. The comparison to Ewing, who was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, means many dollar signs in Oden’s future.

Agents use the term “start the clock” for the onset of a player’s NBA career. It means signing and getting headed toward the maximum $90 million contract extension. Oden likes college.

But his clock is ticking.