On a mid-January evening, NBA scouts are faced with a tough decision. Two freshman sensations are playing on the same night. The question is, do they travel to Texas or Ohio? A trip to the Lone Star state would be a chance to watch Kevin Durant, otherwise known as college basketball’s best scorer. It sounds like an easy decision, but the problem is that in Columbus, Ohio, the equally-talented Greg Oden is playing. Despite the dilemma, at the end of the night, scouts at both campuses feel like they have just seen the NBA’s next superstar. Durant tears apart Oklahoma for 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Oden leads his team to victory over Tennessee with 24 points and 15 rebounds. Two great nights for two great players having two great seasons. Come June and the NBA draft, there will only be one question for the team with the first selection: Which one do we take?
Before the season started, the answer to that question was Oden. The young center was the most heralded high school player since LeBron James. Instead of going straight from high school to the NBA, Oden chose to attend Ohio State University due to the newly-implemented age limit. However, an injury to his right wrist prior to the season had some people questioning if he still was the best choice for the top pick.
Oden returned after seven games, but because of his injury, he was forced to shoot with his weaker left hand. Since returning, Oden has averaged 15.3 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game. While his injury has kept him from scoring at the level that was expected, his 3.6 blocks per game are an example of why he is one of the best defenders in the country. The Buckeyes have a 16-2 record with Oden, and he has led them to a Top 5 ranking.
The other side of the debate over the No. 1 pick features the truly unique player: Kevin Durant. Despite displaying tremendous talent, Durant had always been in the national shadow of Oden. On Jan. 13, Durant had his coming-out party. In a thrilling triple-overtime game against Oklahoma State, Durant made one big shot after another to keep his team in the game. Even with his best efforts, Texas fell short, but his 37 points, 12 rebounds and clutch shooting opened the eyes of fans everywhere. It was at this moment that the Durant versus Oden debate began.
Currently, Durant is the favorite to be the Player of the Year in college basketball. He is the only player in the country to average over 25 points and 10 rebounds a game. Even more remarkably, Durant is averaging 31 points per game and 13.1 rebounds per game in the Big 12 Conference games. Statistics like these are reasons why NBA teams cannot wait to have Durant starting for them.
With two players having such talent, NBA teams have begun to throw their seasons away in order to improve the chances of getting a top pick. Due to the NBA lottery, the team with the worst record does not always get the first pick, but the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers are putting themselves in the best position.
Boston is currently in the middle of a franchise-record losing streak that has given them the worst record. The Celtics have been without a consistent center since Bill Russell retired in 1969. Considering that and the fact that they already have a talented scorer in Paul Pierce, it would be surprising if Boston passed on Oden.
Memphis would be more likely to take Durant with the first pick. The Grizzlies already have an All-Star center in Pau Gasol, who would be a good complement to Durant. If the Grizzlies were inclined to take Oden, there is still the possibility that they could shift Gasol to power forward. Memphis has a lot of talent despite its record, and it could just be a player away from returning to the playoffs.
Although the 76ers did their best to get the first pick by getting rid of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, Philadelphia is left with the worst chance of these three teams of getting the pick. Unlike Memphis, the 76ers have little talent on their team and either player would instantly become their best player. There has been talk out of Philadelphia that the 76ers are enamored with Oden, so if they do win the first pick, expect them to go in that direction.
There are a variety of reasons for these teams to pick Durant. Most likely, he will become the face of the NBA. He will have his share of All-Star appearances and endorsements. He’s a combination of Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki, but regardless of what statistics or comparisons can be used to describe him, Durant should not be the No. 1 pick.
Players with the physical gifts of Oden do not come around every year. These are the type of players that championship teams are built around. Six of the last eight NBA champions have featured centers David Robinson or Shaquille O’Neal. Bill Russell has 11 NBA championships; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has six. Former No. 1 picks Dwight Howard and Yao Ming have already turned their franchises around, making big strides toward competing All-Star teams are built around players like Durant. Championship teams are built around players like Oden.