Roundtable: Oden vs. Durant
Greg Oden has struggled through rookie season in return from knee injury
Kevin Durant's growth as future MVP candidate has increased pressure on Oden
More topics: Best trade of the season; fixing the basketball Hall of Fame
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats and records are through Monday.)
1. Greg Oden hasn't had the smoothest of rookie seasons. On the other hand, in his second year, Kevin Durant seems to have emerged as a multidimensional superstar-in-the-making. Looking back on the 2007 draft, should Portland have taken Durant at No. 1 instead of Oden?
Ian Thomsen: I just don't think it's fair to resolve that question at this time. Oden has been limited to 55 games in his short NBA career. His development will depend largely on his health, so who knows how he'll progress? You can't say he's a drag on the Blazers: At the moment he is contributing to a playoff team, while Durant is a star on one of the league's least successful franchises.
I think Durant is going to be a terrific player, and his Oklahoma City team is positioned to improve this summer -- to the point that next season I'm sure we'll begin to read and hear opinions that Portland picked the wrong guy. But who knows what will happen over the next five years? That's the time frame Oden will require as a 21-year-old center who missed his opening season. Considering last season was a rehab year for him, he's done pretty well to help Portland reach the playoffs.
Jack McCallum: I'm not right about much, but I'm on record as saying that Durant should've been the first pick. I never saw much offense in Oden's game, and it was a huge gamble to believe that he was going to develop it in the NBA. Now, if you thought he would turn into the second coming of Bill Russell, someone who dominated games with shot-blocking and heady defending, well, that's another matter. I thought he would be a really good defensive player, but not in the class of a Russell or even a Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett.
This is not to jump on Oden. If he overcomes his injury problems, he may become a fine player, but Durant is a future All-Star, no doubt about that.
Chris Mannix: I'm still in the too-soon-to-tell camp on this one. You won't find too many people who don't think Durant is destined to be an MVP candidate in the next few years. He's a polished and dynamic offensive player and, if you believe Thunder coach Scot Brooks, his defense is starting to come along. In Oden's case, we still don't know if he is going to be a part-time player for the rest of his career. Even if he isn't, what I've seen of Oden's offensive game makes me wonder if he will ever develop into anything more than Dikembe Mutombo. Now, I know 30 teams in the league that would take a young Dikembe Mutombo on their roster. But that's not the question, is it?
Steve Aschburner: Picking Oden was the right thing and remains so. If the Blazers had Durant, we'd be wondering if they ever could be physical enough inside with LaMarcus Aldridge or if Joel Przybilla could be the man at center for a championship-caliber team. It's not as if the Blazers lack for what Durant brings to the court, so this question seems all about erasing an alleged mistake in drafting Oden. I don't see it as a mistake -- Oden has plenty of time to get and stay healthy, and have the impact that everyone expected. He's not even holding Portland back yet, because teams that stocked with young talent have to go through their training-wheels phase anyway. If we're still waiting for the big guy six years from now, well, then the question will have answered itself. But it's too early to panic.
2. From Mo Williams to Ron Artest to Chauncey Billups to Rafer Alston, some of the NBA's key contributors this season have come via trade. Which deal do you think has had the greatest impact on the season?
Ian Thomsen: Since the Cavaliers have emerged as the best team, Williams has made the most important impact. With him as their No. 2 player, they have a chance to win the NBA title. They wouldn't be as strongly positioned without him.
Billups turned the Nuggets into a contender to reach the conference finals while liberating Denver from the luxury tax -- a huge win-win that is the envy of other franchises. Alston saved Orlando from plummeting out of contention after the season-ending injury to Jameer Nelson. But nothing is more important than winning a championship, and Williams' arrival has created that potential for Cleveland.
Jack McCallum: The real answer to that will come in the postseason, when we find out how far Houston, Denver, Orlando and Cleveland will go. All have high hopes. But since you demand an answer right now, oh autocratic one, I'd say Denver's early-season acquisition of Billups for Allen Iverson and Antonio McDyess (though the latter eventually returned to the Pistons).
It's not like Billups is tearing up the league; he never does. But his steady, one-day-at-a-time leadership makes one believe that the Nuggets, in second place in the West and riding a seven-game winning streak, can win a couple of rounds in the postseason, instead of imploding as they normally do. At the same time, Iverson's change of address has been a major factor in Detroit's becoming a second-rate power in the East.
Chris Mannix: I don't think we're going to truly be able to measure their impacts until the postseason, but right now the leader in the clubhouse has to be Williams. Everyone knew Williams could score -- the phrase "most prolific scorer to ever play with LeBron" was practically tattooed on his forehead when he was acquired from Milwaukee -- but did anyone predict he would be an All-Star? Williams has been a complete player in Cleveland: His three-point percentage (43.4) is a career high and he's getting his 17.9 points (also a career best) on an economical 14.0 shots per game.
Steve Aschburner: Of all those acquisitions, which range from dynamite to transforming, the biggest to me has been Williams to the Cavaliers. The pressure was on Cleveland to take a big step, not just in its progression as a franchise but in its implicit wooing of LeBron for the long term. Landing Williams as a combo guard and LBJ's wingman, at an All-Star level, has addressed both priorities, with the ultimate payoff still to come. Williams has been the sort of player James might have been justified in seeking on some other roster, as he considered future landing spots. That he's in Cleveland, good to go for seasons to come, could ease the superstar's wandering eye. So that one is a high-impact move now and maybe a higher-impact move later.
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