Oden vs. Durant: Let’s Beat the Dead Horse

Recently there’s been a lot written about my point of view that the Portland Trail Blazers should have drafted Kevin Durant NOT Greg Oden in the 2007 NBA Draft. it all stems from my new book where I talk about one of my early encounters with former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard. Headlines like, “Blazers consultant would not have drafted Greg Oden” and “Blackjack King Jeff Ma saw the NBA’s future in 2007” highlight my Nostradamus type qualities when using my magical slide rule to evaluate NBA players.

If only I were that smart.

Yes our numbers had Durant rated higher than oden but that is akin to saying Obama’s approval rating is dropping – pretty much a non-story. Durant had a phenomenal college season – one for the ages. Would have been hard for anyone let alone a guy playing with his off hand to top him statistically.

I’ve never approached a reporter or written a blog to highlight my displeasure with the Trail Blazer’s brass for picking Oden. That’s because there is no displeasure. Yes I admit at the time I was “disappointed” that they chose Durant but that isn’t sour grapes harbored for three years, that’s simply an answer to the question, “were you disappointed that they didn’t take Durant?” it’s a pretty natural reaction to have some level of disappointment when a decision goes opposite of what you hoped for. But that disappointment was quickly replaced by hope that my numbers were wrong.

Likewise, the statement, “I would have drafted Durant” is simply an answer to the question, “who would you have drafted?” People ask me all the time in passing – what did your number say – Oden or Durant? And each time I answer with candor that our numbers said durant. If I am giving up some trade secret with that admission I apologize to the Blazers’ organization. 

I have always believed in transparency, especially with bloggers. Ben Golliver was introduced to me through ESPN’s Henry Abbott so I was indeed very candid with Ben. Perhaps too candid. But that is my nature as I don’t believe in hiding facts so long as they don’t compromise competitive advantage. I don’t believe I did that.

It’s hard to know for sure without using the wayback machine but as i recall most people believed that oden should be the first choice that year, yet let’s forget about that right now and say that it was instead 50/50. With such a disparity in production with hindsight as our friend so far we would have 50 percent that were right and 50 that were wrong. I just happen to sit in the 50 percent that “look” correct at this point.

And “being right” here is not a testament that using stats works as much as our lauding of guys like Sean May and Kyle Lowry is not a testament that that stats don’t work.  Like any method the proof is in the results over a long time frame not one individual pick.

I do think Durant would have been the more unconventional choice (which i admit occasional bias towards) simply because Oden was the consensus pick of most experts. If I am wrong on that I apologize for my poor memory.

I have always tried to practice humility in my use of analytics and even within this interview I made a point to marginalize our role in the process for what it was – one of many pieces to the puzzle. And that is my only real issue with the reaction to my statements about Oden, etc. If I sounded like I knew I was right and like I think my crap doesn’t stink then I apologize because that is the worst mistake a numbers guy can make.


10 Comments on “Oden vs. Durant: Let’s Beat the Dead Horse

  1. As a Blazer fan I appreciated the fact that you didn’t hide behind the teams smoke screen their throwing up lately. Personally I thought Durant would have been a better pick because he was the best player available regardless of position. Wasn’t that the Blazers mantra that they then themselves ignored? I hate position picks because they rarely work unless they are a proven lock, which Oden wasn’t. Way too many health concerns to not overlook while Durant lit it up. I think Pritchard was trying to be sneaky and hope he made the right choice by choosing the darkhorse. Don’t get me wrong, the print mouthpieces proclaimed Oden the next dominating center in the league and Durant just a scorer. Couldn’t the Trail Blazers use a little more scoring? I’m still a huge Oden fan and have a ton of hope but at some point you have to be realistic. Thank you again for your candid insight, true Blazer fans appreciate it since Paul Allen has constructed his ridiculous hazy shade of winter on the media.

  2. (1) It was a wonderful dilemma to face, and I hope the next five years prove the Blazers made the right pick, but if Greg Oden is the downside, I’m still happy.

    (2) Mr. Ma, don’t sweat it.

    (3) Kudos to D for, in the end, appropriately honoring S&G.

  3. It was no secret that Durant was the better player, but most GM’s realize that Oden represented a “generational” type of big man, and that big men win championships.

    Oden was the correct pick for the Blazers, because he was/is what they needed. High scoring wing players are relatively plentiful in the league. The Blazers had hitched their wagon to Brandon Roy. Durant and Roy each need to be the focal point of their teams.

    Oden was the correct pick even though he wasn’t the best available player at the time.

  4. Jeff,

    Great post, but I think your one mistake was actually saying anything about the GO vs. KD debate. Fans who were affected by the decision and wags across the league are going to yell and moan for one side or the other, probably forever. This will go down as one of the great polarizing fights of the ages, like abortion, gun rights, or coke vs. pepsi. Any time you put both of their names in the same paragraph, somebody somewhere is going to get mad. Thanks much for doing the interview and providing this response!

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  6. conspirator5- I’m not too angry about the Michael Jordan – Sam Bowie argument… Give it five years, nobody will remember Oden except for his potential before all those injuries.

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  8. I think Oden and Beasley are the biggest question marks for players living up to their potential. Each of them have played for a few years with mediocre results, whereas Blake Griffin hasnt really had an opportunity to play in the league and prove his worth. The former have proven to be busts so far, and the latter is still in question.

  9. Hi Jeff, just discovered your site the other day, so I know I’m a bit late in commenting on some of these blog posts. I was wondering if you would be willing to share some of your analysis on Durant vs Oden as draft prospects. I actually still believe that if you remove injury risks Oden is/was the better prospect(and I’m assuming that injury risks were not a major part of your analysis which led you to conclude that Durant was the better prospect). On a per-minute basis Oden was actually quite effective even if his means of effectiveness doesn’t garner the same national attention as a bulk scorer like Durant will- although it is worth mentioning that injuries weren’t the only thing preventing him from playing more minutes(foul trouble).

    Also, do you really view Kyle Lowry as a bust? It seems incredibly strange to see him and Sean May mentioned in the same category. I realize that your views may have changed over the course of this season, but did most advanced stats not like Lowry even before the season started? I’m pretty sure Morey has been high on him all along.

  10. I think Kevin Durant show his skills even later then in the year 2007. It is difficult to get the best person after short draft. Nobody knows how they will play during the season and what all reason will influence on the game of the player.

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