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Oden or Durant: Who is the best choice?

Oden’s physical presence and athleticism lend comparisons to MVP centers.

With Thursday’s NBA draft looming large in the minds of every pro basketball fan, there has been a great deal of debate on who the Portland Trail Blazers should choose as the No. 1 pick. According to nearly everyone who knows what a basketball is, the top two players in this year’s draft are Ohio State star center Greg Oden and Texas offensive phenom Kevin Durant. Both players have amazing skill sets and will surely make a lasting impact on whichever team chooses them. However, if the Trail Blazers want to win their first championship since 1977 – when Hall of Famer Bill Walton patrolled the area under the basket – the team will take Oden, a player who can dominate the paint and provide the low post presence that is essential to winning an NBA title.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at recent history.

Each of the last nine NBA championship teams were led to the promised land by an unusually athletic,

physically imposing big man. Earlier this month, three-time finals MVP Tim Duncan earned his fourth ring when he led the San Antonio Spurs to a four-game sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After bringing back-to-back-to-back titles to the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-2002, Shaquelle O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat and guaranteed the city an NBA title.

He delivered on his promise last season, pairing with All-Star guard Dwayne Wade to earn his fourth championship ring and give the Heat its first title in franchise history.

Many people claim that the NBA game is evolving away from the traditional back-to-the-basket type centers like Patrick Ewing, O’Neal and Oden and toward the lengthy, perimeter shooting big men like Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitski and Durant. However, this year’s playoffs went a long way in disproving that theory.

After posting an NBA-best 67-15 record during the regular season, the Dallas Mavericks – which features Nowitski, a 7-footer who epitomizes the new less-physical, more multi-talented type of big man – couldn’t make it past the first round, falling in six games to the Golden State Warriors.

The Phoenix Suns, whose 61-21 record was second in the NBA last season, hit a roadblock in the form of Duncan and the Spurs in the conference semi-finals. The Spurs’ physical style of play proved too much for the Suns and their high-powered offense. When the NBA Finals came around, it didn’t take long for the Spurs to prove that having an offensive phenom – even one as talented as LeBron James – can’t make up for the lack of a presence under the basket.

With all this in mind, Oden would be a great fit for Portland. The best choice for a franchise that finished 10 games behind Golden State for the West’s final playoff spot last year is obviously the one that can provide the biggest impact, both literally and figuratively.

Also, the Trail Blazers already have the perfect complement for Oden in Brandon Roy, last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year. Roy, who averaged 16.8 points and four assists in his first year in the league, could team with Oden to create another elite guard-center combination like the ones that have brought home multiple titles for their franchises in recent years. With a few years to learn the NBA game, Oden and Roy could have an impact in Portland similar to the one O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had in Los Angeles, and Duncan and Tony Parker have in San Antonio.

While an electric scoring threat like Durant might be hard to pass up for any team, the smartest thing Portland can do Thursday is take Oden and watch him become a force in the paint for years to come.

Brendan Galella

Durant’s versatility and scoring potential make him the best choice for Portland.

Conventional wisdom says Greg Oden is a no-brainer for the top selection in Thursday’s NBA Draft. He is a dominant 7-footer, and teams traditionally never pass up a center of his caliber for a smaller player. However, tradition may be about to change with Kevin Durant’s entrance into the league.

Experts believe Durant’s skill set can range in similarity from great guards like Michael Jordan and Tracy McGrady to a versatile big man like Kevin Garnett.

The 6-foot-9 inch Durant will likely enter the league as a swingman, as he played while at the University of Texas, splitting time between shooting guard and small forward.

If experts are unsure of what type of player he will be, how are they going to devise plans for guarding him?

Exactly 20 years ago the Portland Trail Blazers, owners of the No. 1 selection in this year’s draft, were burnt badly by conventional wisdom. Portland chose a 7-footer named Sam Bowie second while the Chicago Bulls picked Jordan third.

Jordan won the scoring title seven times, along with six championships and five MVP awards. Bowie went down as arguably the worst top-three pick ever, only averaging 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for his career.

While a contrast like that is highly unlikely between Oden and Durant, Portland may want to consider taking the lanky kid from Texas first.

Durant possesses the ability to score from anywhere on the court, as evidenced during his 25-point first-half performance against Kansas, in almost every conceivable way. He can hit from three-point range (he shot more than 40 percent from beyond the arc), has more post-up moves than Oden and is a better passer.

Durant has the potential to become a scoring champion in the league for years to come.

Defensively, Oden is superior, as his shot-blocking ability is reminiscent of Hakeem Olajuwon (the first pick in the 1984 draft), and he is a great rebounder. But Durant ranked fourth in the country in rebounding (11.1 per game) while Oden brought down 9.6 boards per game.

While it is debatable as to which individual is the better player, there is no question about Durant being more exciting to watch.

What the Trail Blazers need more than anything is an entertaining player to make basketball relevant in Portland again. Last year, the team averaged 16,360 fans per game, 22nd in the league, despite being the only major professional sports franchise in the state.

Another red flag about Oden is his health. Along with a wrist injury that caused him to miss Ohio States first seven games, there are reports saying he has a bad back.

If those reports are true, then selecting Oden could prove to be a mistake.

Above all, the Trail Blazers need a small forward more than any other position right now. Last year, they acquired rookie LaMarcus Aldridge in a draft-day trade to play alongside Zach Randolph. Oden’s presence would give the team three players at two positions.

The Seattle Supersonics own the second pick in the upcoming draft, and if Portland selects Oden as expected, landing Durant with something to prove could be the best thing to happen to the franchise since winning the championship in 1979.

With the Supersonics and Portland scheduled to play four times next season, Durant will have plenty of opportunities to show the Trail Blazers firsthand the unique talent they passed up in favor of Oden.