March 16, 2009

Portland’s Soft & Gooey Center: Greg Oden, Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson, Sam Bowie, and LaRue Martin

Greg Oden getting some much needed therapy for his injuries

Greg Oden getting some much needed therapy for his injuries

Only 16 games remain in the 2nd NBA regular season of Greg Oden’s career – a good time for an evaluation of the talented player drafted #1 by the Portland Trailblazers in June 2007.  Let’s begin with the 2 unluckiest phrases you can possibly hear in connection with your name on NBA draft night:

1. “With the 1st pick, the Portland Trailblazers select…”


2. “With the next pick, out of Duke…”

Runner-up: “Don’t worry, either Jay Williams or Bobby Hurley can give you a ride home.”

I’ll leave the Duke post for another time, but as a quick partial summary of Duke high draft picks: Trajan Langdon at #11; JJ Redick also at #11; Sheldon Williams at #5; Cherokee Parks at #12; Jay Williams at #2; Bobby Hurley at #7; Grant ‘accident prone’ Hill at #3; Mike Dunleavey at #3; William Avery at #14; and Danny Ferry at #2. If you want to make a couple Sweet 16’s and have Dick Vitale fall in Chihuahua love with you – go to Duke; if you want a good NBA career – go elsewhere (like the European Pro Leagues or Wake Forest).

Portland has selected 4 centers with the NBA overall #1 pick; and 1 with the #2 pick (Sam Bowie).  How has that worked out for them?  Not too well, actually.

name games missed (1st 2 seasons) games played (1st 2 seasons) points (1st 2 seasons) rebounds (1st 2 seasons) PER* (highest for 1st 2 seasons) games, career total PER high, career
Sam Bowie 50 114 1206 983 15.7 511 16.40
Greg Oden 102 46 412 333 17.8 0 17.80
Mychal Thompson 91 73 1074 604 17.0 935 19.20
Bill Walton 78 86 1271 1122 20.0 468 24.80
LaRue Martin 37 127 584 539 14.0 271 14.00
*PER (Player Efficiency Rating) created by John Hollinger, is the best available (though far from perfect) single number evaluation of a NBA player’s value.  PER is computed using most commonly available data weighted by value to the creation of points, and adjusted for pace and season.   High is used here for 3 reasons: 1) blocks and steals were not counted in the NBA during LaRue’s 1st season (they stole the idea from the ABA in 1973; 2) the computation would take many hours to perform; and 3) the results would basically be unaffected by the additional computation.

From this table we see that injuries are the major issue with these high draft picks.  The healthiest(? or ! or : P) here are LaRue Martin (22.5% missed games) and Sam Bowie (over 30% games missed).  If Sam Bowie is at the top of your healthy list jus ahead of Bill Walton, you may have trainer problems.  In this respect, Greg Oden is even worse than his predecessors, missing 102 games so far (a staggering 69%).

Quality of play for Oden is a little more promising than his health – he has performed significantly better than LaRue Martin.  On the other hand, Bill Walton appears to be the outlier here – a far better player than anyone else on this list including Oden.

The best comp to Oden here is Mychal Thompson.  Mychal missed the most games in the 1st 2 seasons, other than Oden, and his PER is very similar to Oden’s (17.8 to 17.0).  Mychal was seen as a soft scorer, rather than a banging defensive presence like the others here (notice the points/rebound ratios above) and lack of defensive data defense is the main weakness of PER.  Mychal’s missed games were due to one singular injury, unlike Bowie, Walton, and Oden, whose injuries have been multiple, chronic, and recurring.  Mychal had a one time injury, similar to Michael Jordan in his 2nd season. I have not seen Oden’s medical records, but his injury pattern does not appear similar to those who recover from an injury to have a long healthy NBA career.  Oden reminds me injury-wise more of Pervis Ellison and not Jordan.

Conclusion.   Greg Oden’s game appears to be similar to Mychal Thompson’s efficiency combined with Sam Bowie’s defensive ability.  Although not at the superstar level of Bill Walton, that combination is very impressive.  If Greg Oden can stay healthy just for a couple seasons, I could easily see him join Brandon Roy and Nate McMillen in the NBA finals soon enough.

Bill Walton Sports Illustrated cover

Bill Walton Sports Illustrated cover

I want to end with a few quotes from Bill Walton.  We all know that Bill was a tremendous basketball player, one of the best of all-time when he was healthy.  What is mostly forgotten is that Bill Walton was also a superior patriot, who gave his all to make his country and the world a better place. At a time now when American  freedom of speech is strongly muffled and contained, it is surprising to see these quotes that were commonplace and punished neither by fines nor anything by the NBA nor the government.  In fact, Bill Walton said he had a clause in his Portland Trailblazer contract that “prohibits the club from interfering with my religious and political beliefs, as long as I don’t practice them on the court.  I don’t think they (the club) felt all I was going to do was come up here and bounce a basketball.”

Nowadays, most American sports players are too afraid of fines and their image to pursue higher social goals and amplify the voice of the quiet and oppressed.  Derek Jeter is the epitome of today’s athlete, where every statement sounds like a corporate press release or Miss America speech.  Notable exceptions to this are: Carlos Delgado and Steve Nash.

In Bill Walton’s own words:

On why he did not consider Gerald Ford to be President of the U.S.: “Government is supposed to represent the will of the people.  When it no longer does that, it becomes illegitimate and no longer serves it’s function.”

“It’s my belief that this government has done nothing to warrant the cooperation of the people it is supposed to represent.  I can’t emphasize enough that it’s not the American people that I dislike.  I just don’t think the present government represents these people.”

“My friends and I are nonviolent people.  But I think we have a responsibility to fight back –  not with guns, but with love, truth, compassion and education.”

“Our values are to learn that health, our bodies, and our lives are more important than the value of money.”

Bill Walton quotes from The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball, 1976 edition: edited by Zander Hollander – article Bill Walton Faces the Future by Ken Wheeler, Oregon Journal.

Bill Walton doesn't eat animals

Bill Walton doesn't eat animals

via: SI; Kyle Macaulay’s page; and LeBron please save NY. Pervis Ellison reference via Satan!

puppies of purgatory

puppies of purgatory


  1. I’d read Skeptisys just for the pictures, which is sort of like saying you could count on my web hits even if I was illiterate.

    Even without the pictures, this is an excellent post. Got me thinking back to Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie and the boys before my hatred for Duke matured in adulthood.

    Walton’s a guy I wish I could go back in time and watch again, because knowing what I know now, he’d be a lot more enjoyable on the court (except as a Celtic – no fixing that)

    Comment by Len's somewhat Biased — March 30, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

    • Thanks. When I try to think of the most comparable player to Bill Walton, I think of Wes Unseld – because of his quick outlet passes and knack for always helping out on offense without getting credit (picks, screens, spacing). But Walton was a much taller, quicker, better shooter, passer, and jumper than Wes.
      An aside about Len Bias – I am looking forward to the new documentary. I would have named the film “The Trouble with Tribble” but that’s just me.

      Comment by skeptisys — April 2, 2009 @ 8:19 am

  2. Thanks for the Bias documentary tip.

    I still have that “Death of a Dream” Sports Illustrated cover, and remember that horrible day pretty clearly.

    Years later, his little brother got shot in the parking lot of PG Plaza.

    Comment by urbanshocker — April 2, 2009 @ 10:04 am

  3. […] Portland's Soft & Gooey Center: Greg Oden, Bill Walton, Mychal … Mar 16, 2009 … Portland's Soft & Gooey Center: Greg Oden, Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson, Sam Bowie, and LaRue Martin … […]

    Pingback by greg thompson portland | rasta k douglas walid portland oregon — May 12, 2011 @ 10:57 am

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