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Dan Devine

Greg Oden: 'I can be an All-Star’

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Coach Nate McMillan says there's "not a date at all" yet. But when Greg Oden(notes) does come back, he told FanHouse's Chris Tomasson, he plans to open some eyes:

"When I get out there 100 percent, everybody will see what kind of player I am. [...] When I get 100 percent and I get to improve on the court, I feel I can be an All-Star.

To tell you the truth, it feels kind of odd to be identifying this as "news." The Portland Trail Blazers' all-too-infrequently-available franchise center should feel this way, and he should say so. But given how many setbacks he's faced — losing his rookie season to microfracture surgery on his right knee, getting put on the shelf for three weeks of the '08-'09 season after chipping his left knee cap, then missing most of last year after fracturing that same knee cap — it's refreshing and, yes, newsworthy, to hear him speak with such confidence.

Whether or not Oden has the talent to be an All-Star-caliber performer isn't the question here — as has previously been noted in this space, Oden showed marked improvement while healthy last season, putting up per-minute and efficiency stats that in some cases rivaled Dwight Howard(notes). When you consider that level of performance and remember that Oden, at just 22 years old, still has a lot of NBA seasoning to pick up (since he's only played one full season's worth of games since coming out of Ohio State as the top pick of the '07 draft), you realize that it is, as Tomasson notes, "hardly unreasonable" to think that Oden could become one heck of a player.

That said, this isn't just a "How badly does Greg Oden want to be great?" question, or even necessarily a "Can Greg Oden stay healthy?" question. There are some other, external factors at play. Namely, other players. Good ones.

Including a couple of really, really good ones, who play the same position as Oden. It's obviously dicey business to start staring into crystal balls and making predictions — players could fall off, find new roles, get hurt, get traded, etc. — but a look at the landscape suggests that Oden's likely to face some stiff competition for All-Star status in the seasons ahead.

If the selection trends of the past few years offer any indication of what rosters could look like in the future, the West's All-Star squad will probably only have room for two centers, or maybe three, if the coaches continue to make at least one pick that straddles the ever-shifting positional line between power forward and pivot. (We will call this pick "The Tim Duncan(notes) Straddle.")

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With Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson suggesting that Andrew Bynum, his own oft-sidelined big man, might have to be "a short-minute guy" to maximize the team's return on Dr. Jerry Buss' investment, Pau Gasol(notes) could see a lot of minutes at the five for the Lakers — not just during the first half of this season, as Bynum works to return from summer knee surgery, but in future campaigns, as well. Pau's the best power forward in the game right now, but he can also handle just about any center in the conference, and if he performs that way while playing the middle in Bynum's stead, he's a likely pick. Ditto for Duncan, a perennial pick despite advancing age and the quintessential "is he a four or is he a five?" specimen, who was listed as the West's starting center in last year's All-Star Game and who will now share upfront duties with highly touted Brazilian import Tiago Splitter(notes) for the San Antonio Spurs.

In terms of pure centers, Yao Ming's(notes) on track to return for the Houston Rockets, and while he's still in recovery mode and probably won't be nearly the world-beater he once was for quite a while, he's still a fan favorite who's liable to get bajillions of votes to put him on the team. There's also Chris Kaman(notes), the Los Angeles Clippers center who earned a bench slot on last year's All-Star team, and Marc Gasol(notes), Pau's brother, an improving force on the block who nearly snagged a bid for his work last year with the Memphis Grizzlies. A healthy Bynum, of course, should also merit serious All-Star consideration.

Oden could also have to fend off challenges from a revitalized Al Jefferson(notes), unleashed from the Negative Zone in Minnesota and paired with all-world point guard Deron Williams(notes), which could make the new Utah Jazz postman a viable threat. With Andris Biedrins(notes) already in place, David Lee(notes) will likely see more time at the four than at the five for the Golden State Warriors, but Lee was an Eastern Conference All-Star playing out of position as an undersized center with the New York Knicks last year. Nene is a straight-up beast who played 82 games for the first time in his career last season, consistently ranks among the league's best in field-goal percentage and, at age 28, could still make the sort of mini-leap that would boost his numbers enough for the league to take notice (especially if, thanks to some unforeseen circumstance, there are going to be a whole lot more shots to go around in Denver).

So while Tomasson cites "a dearth of centers," it seems like there are at least a half-dozen other prospective All-Stars in the conference at the moment, all of whom will be fighting over two or three seats at the table, which means that Oden's got his work cut out for him. By the sound of things, though, he's up for the challenge, which is pretty great news for fans who want to see what kind of monster he could be if given the chance.

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