About a week ago, it appeared as if the Cleveland Cavaliers would select a center with the top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Whether that player was going to be Alex Len or Nerlens Noel, the Cavaliers appeared as if they were going to address a big need on their roster. But, in one of most surprising picks of the historically wild 2013 NBA Draft, the Cavaliers shocked the basketball world (Bill Simmons included) by selecting UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett.
The Bennett pick (as well as the Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix selections) saw the Cavaliers neglect the center position in the NBA Draft. It’s a position that, while more solidified than small forward, is a cause for concern on this team. As it stands, the only true center on the roster is Tyler Zeller, a player that struggled heavily in his rookie season. No matter how you spin it, Zeller’s rookie campaign did nothing to make the Cavaliers or anyone else believe that he can be a long-term starting center in the NBA. At best, he could be an athletic big off the bench who can help spread the floor. But he’s probably not going to ever start consistently.
Most importantly, he’s not going to be a shot blocker simply because it’s not part of his game. In four years at North Carolina, he averaged 1.1 blocks per game (his high was 1.5 as a senior), and, in his rookie season, he averaged 0.9 per game. Those 0.9 blocks, in fact, led the Cavaliers last season.
Anderson Varejao, while a far better player than Zeller, is similar in the sense that he isn’t a shot blocker. Last season, he averaged 0.6 blocks per game, and for his career, he holds an average of 0.7 per game. Plus, he is truly playing out of position at center. He can no doubt hold his own, but he is better suited to be a power forward in the League. Although Bennett’s arrival and the rise of Tristan Thompson complicate any potential playing time at the four, a move there would better suit his skill set.
This brings me to Greg Oden, the former top overall pick whose NBA career has been slowed down by knee injuries. For his career, a sample size of 82 games, Oden has averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. In his last season, the 2009-10 campaign, Oden averaged 2.3 blocks per game. And while it’s been two years since he last stepped on the hardwood, there’s good reason why Oden is drawing interest from eight NBA teams. It’s the same reason why he was selected at No. 1 over Kevin Durant in 2007. There’s a reason DraftExpress.com wrote that, at full potential, Oden could be a new age David Robinson. Oden has the potential to be a shot-blocking, defensive force in the paint that can change a team’s offensive game plan. The comparisons to Robinson (and maybe even Emeka Okafor, once thought to be his floor) probably aren’t realistic at this point.
But as long if there’s a chance that he could come in and be somewhat of a defensive presence, isn’t he worth the risk? And on a team like the Cavaliers with one true-ish center and no real shot blocker presence, isn’t it worth the risk to try and sign Greg Oden? It’s a small financial commitment — a low risk-high reward signing. What’s not to like?