When you watch Joel Embiid look like a force of nature for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, know this: That is how Greg Oden was projected coming out of college. An athletic big man who could score, defend, grab boards, and just be a force in the paint.
But Oden’s body betrayed him. He played just 82 games (one season’s worth) in the five seasons he was with the Blazers. He had seven knee surgeries, three microfracture. Some fans seemed to want to make this a personal failing of Oden’s, when in reality it was the opposite. Most people in his shoes would have given up and just lived the rest of their lives very comfortably on the millions he made off his rookie deal as the former No. 1 pick, but Oden loved the game enough to fight all the way back and make the Miami Heat roster a few years back (during their title years). Miami gave him a shot, but he just couldn’t stick (he played 26 games), his body to slowed and unable to stay healthy. He spent part of last season in China.
But Oden knows how he will be remembered, as he told ESPN’s Outside the Lines:
“I’ll be remembered as the biggest bust in NBA history,” Oden told Outside the Lines. “But I can’t do nothing about that…
“Don’t get me wrong,” Oden said. “If I was healthy, I would love to continue playing, but I’m not healthy.”
We can debate if Oden was a worse No. 1 pick than Anthony Bennett or Kwame Brown or a few others, although I would say no (because it was injuries in Oden’s case). Part of what makes the Oden pick look bad is that the debate was him or Kevin Durant to go No. 1 that year. Obviously, Durant has gone on to be one of the great scorers the game has ever seen. It makes that debate look silly (although GMs telling us now he would have chosen Durant are lying, it was pretty much a unanimous consensus for Oden back in the day, there’s a lot of revisionist history with that draft).
Oden is currently taking classes at Ohio State to finish up his degree. Whatever is next for him, hopefully, it goes more smoothly than his NBA career.