Sometime around 4:30 today (Oregon time), the Blazers will draft Greg Oden as the overall first pick in the draft. Their phony campaign to elicit input was pure PR--they knew they were taking Oden the second Stern announced who got the pick. But, just to go on record, the Blazers should take Durant. (Keep in mind that last year I urged them to take LaMarcus or Brandon Roy--they took both--and those turned out smashing successes. So I'm riding a wave here.)
The main reason people want Oden is because he's a center, and ever since George Mikan, general managers have believed that height equals domination. But that doesn't appear to be true. Recent decades have been defined by hybrid players--Bird and Magic to begin with, then Jordan, and now LeBron. These are guys who don't fit neatly into the guard-guard-forward-forward-center schemes coaches draw up. Of all the great centers of recent vintage, only Shaq, who has taken all three of his teams to the finals, can truly be called dominating. Patrick Ewing couldn't get it done, Hakeem couldn't get it done alone, and Tim Duncan, whom height fans always cite, isn't a true center. (Dirk Nowitski is a seven footer, too.) If centers of the old mold were still so valuable, why can't Yao Ming dominate?
(As a matter of economics, centers are definitely a dud. People want to see running and scoring, not standing and dunking. All the exciting players in the NBA since the seventies have been guards or small forwards. If you want to pack people into seats across the league, get a fun team together.)
Which brings me to Durant. He's just two inches shorter than Oden, but he shoots 47% from the field. He can shoot the long ball and he can drive and post up. He's going to be unguardable. Add to that the fact that he outrebounded Oden over the year (11 per game versus nine and a half), had two blocks and two steals a game, and he's a complete package. He's got to bulk up, and there will be a transition period, but his work ethic is legendary--he'll train harder than any rookie in the league. Expect him to instantly electrify Seattle.
Oden's cool, and arguably a better fit for Portland, so I don't have any problem with the pick. (Portland's a great fit for Oden, too; a young team to mature with, a great teaching coach, amazing fans.) But amid all the delirium over Durant, it seems like someone ought to point out the alternate view: Durant's the better player and would make a better pick.