Thursday, July 23, 2009
Mini-Camping With Greg Oden
Go here to see video of Greg Oden working out with Team USA. And go here for a Q&A with Oden.
Watching today's practice I got the sense that, with adequate time, the United States could win a gold medal with a team comprised solely of the mini-camp invitees. Maybe I'm being naive, nationalistic or both, but it seems to me that if you put in three weeks of work with a squad consisting of guys like Kevin Durant, Devin Harris, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Russell Westbrook, Paul Millsap, Eric Gordon and Greg Oden, you could beat any other team in the world. If nothing else, they'd be hungrier than a few Team USA's of the not-so-distant past.
But maybe it's best not to jump to conclusions after one practice. After all, there's probably some guy in Spain or Greece or Argentina thinking the same thing of his national team. Same thing should probably be said of Greg Oden's performance. I thought he looked great, especially on defense, where his improved lateral quickness and timing was evident, but I don't want to set expectations too high. That's not healthy for anyone.
So here's my attempt at a rational, measured assessment of what I saw in the gym at Valley High School today.
I got quite a few questions via twitter today asking if it looked like Greg had lost any weight. As far as that goes, I really can't say. I'm a horrible judge of such things. What I do know is that he looked to be in good shape, probably more athletic than we saw him last season. The coaches put the squad through a ton of halfcourt drills and Oden didn't back down once. He admitted he needed a blow by time the scrimmage came around, but that was true of everyone.
"They went hard," said Nate McMillan, who sat right up front during the entire workout. "I thought the entire team went hard. For the first day they did a lot of halfcourt and I thought they were pretty gassed once they got into the fullcourt. Coach Jay (Triano) kind of felt that and decided to cut the practice. Hopefully tomorrow they scrimmage a bit more."
I don't think Coach McMillan is alone in that sentiment.
Greg didn't really get much of a chance to show what he could do on offense. Guards, as most anyone will tell you, tend to dominate these kinds of runs, and today's practice was no exception. There's just not that much emphasis on dumping the ball into the post and letting the big guy work. They run some pick and roll, but I don't recall ever seeing the screener getting the ball going toward the hoop. That wasn't exclusive to Oden, as the same could be said for Brook Lopez, JaVale McGee, Paul Millsap and Kevin Love. Big men don't often get fed in this setting.
The two times Oden did get the ball in the post he went straight to the jump hook, and I'm happy to report it looked much improved from the last time we saw it. Both times he put it up over Lopez, making the first attempt and missing the second. But even the miss looked better than his makes from last year (numerous people not affiliated with the Trail Blazers noted this as well). He's getting his shoulders more square to the basket before releasing the ball. There seemed to be times last season when he wasn't able to get a clean look at the rim before letting fly, but that wasn't the case today. Footwork looked clean. Boxing out, which was never really a problem, was accomplished with relative ease.
"Offensively I don’t know that he’s at the level of some of these other guys yet,"said Jay Triano, who is running the mini-camp, "but boy oh boy, having a stopper like that is pretty impressive."
And as stated above, that's the area where Greg really shined. I don't think it would be a stretch to say he turned in the best defensive performance of all players at today's practice. I think there was one time when an opposing player scored in the post when Greg was in the paint. Every time someone tried to take it at GO he'd either block the shot, something McGee, Iguodala, Millsap and Jeff Green can attest to, or force a miss, without fouling (referees were on hand calling the scrimmage).
"Oh geez, I thought he was great," said Triano of Oden's performance. "I mean defensively, he shut everybody out on the inside. The international game is a more physical game and he took advantage of it. I thought he established himself very well. I was really happy to see what he did out there today. He was probably the big surprise for me today, especially on the defensive end of the floor."
Oden looked nice outside of the paint as well. He did a great job of showing in the pick and roll defense, always busting his tail to recover back to his man. His rotations were sharp and instinctual. Thinking, something people had accused Oden of doing to much of last season, wasn't necessary. He's just doing. And he was doing a lot of communicating on defense, something Coach McMillan is an absolute sucker for.
"He looked comfortable," said McMillan. "He looked a bit more relaxed. He was talking. I saw some teeth. He looked like he was having some fun and in a comfort zone with this group of peers."
The one thing McMillan kept going back to when discussing Oden's performance was comfort. Greg seemed at ease on the court today, something everyone in Portland would like to see more of.