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Greg Oden Arrived?

There you go, America.

Greg Oden -- the man who was projected as a top overall draft pick since he was a junior in high school -- has arrived. Took just 12 shots, but managed 22 points and 10 rebounds.

It's in all kinds of stories as his coming out party; his big night, or his arrival.

If you look only at the box score, Oden has arrived and the rest of the Blazers somehow let him down against a lesser Golden State team.

But I watched that game, and I can tell you that the thing that's letting everyone down is the box score.

Even as a Blazer fan who is steadfastly over the moon about this young man (he will crush you) it is flat wrong to say that the Blazers held him back last night. The opposite is true.

Here's what I saw: After a slow start, the Blazers were rolling. Honestly, it was just so obviously Portland's night. They had better players at nearly every position, and they were hunting turnovers on defense, while putting the right pieces in place on offense.

Then Greg Oden checked in.

At this early stage of his career, he might move more awkwardly than any professional athlete I have ever seen. I don't expect that to last. In college he was generally graceful and athletic, and he still is that while moving in a straight line. But get him moving laterally, or heavens forbid, rotating, and he is like a new doe in the spring, skittering around trying to remember what his feet are for.

I don't know if the weird movements make his decision making tough (it's evident at times he doesn't know where he is, let alone his teammates or the defense) or, more likely, if both the decision making and the weird movements are products of being in a new environment. Remember, he's not just back on the basketball court after a layoff, but on the NBA court for the first time ever. And he's all fired up to impress everybody, trying to move hard, even when he's not all that sure where to go.

His presence got Portland jammed up all kinds of ways. Somebody should keep track of how many times he fell down. I bet it was at least five. He turned the ball over five times. He also fouled five times. And by having his weight distributed strangely he was often not ready to jump quickly to protect the rim when the C.J. Watsons of the world came driving in. Then there were the many times he didn't see an open teammate, or turned a high energy pass into an energy-sapping difficult catch. I watched a couple of plays in slow-motion where Oden's large newness inpsired his teammates to make turnovers, and Portland's turnovers were the story of the game. (Someone, please tally the team's turnover rate with Oden on the floor compared to Joel Przybilla. UPDATE: Hats off to Brett from Queen City Hoops, who tells us that Portland's turnover rate with Przybilla was 12.3%, and 14.7% with Oden. Spinning those numbers the best possible way to reinforce my point, and using my sketchy math skills, I assert that means Portland was nearly 20% more likely to turn the ball over with the rookie on the floor. UPDATE: Turns out the difference was much more stark last night. Those were the total season numbers. Last night, with Oden Portland turned the ball over 20.1% of the time, and with Przybilla it was 14.2. Neither number is good, but that's 49% more turnovers last night with Oden on the floor.)

Oden was effective in the post -- he hits his free throws, which is essential for someone who falls down so much -- but there's also a certain cost to having Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw and the like cool off while standing and watching.

It's all stuff Oden can and will fix. One less cup of coffee. Maybe some meditation. Or, just some growing up. With comfort on the court, and poise, this all melts away and we'll get to say that Greg Oden has really arrived. It will happen, and when it does it will be obvious.

But last night?

Forget the points and rebounds totals for a second. After the game I e-mailed some friends to say I was thrilled to see Brandon Roy and Greg Oden developing a version of the Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire routine, but that I bet the Blazers could have won by benching Oden more. The team just didn't click when he was out there.

This morning I checked and found that Greg Oden had the worst plus/minus of any player on the court. In his 30 minutes, Golden State outscored Portland by 11 points. It's rare that a player on the losing team has the best plus/minus in the game, but the guy Oden came in for, Joel Przybilla, tied two Warriors for that title. Portland was ten points better than Golden State in Przybilla's 17 minutes.

So, no, Portland didn't hold back Oden last night, and he didn't arrive.

He is enormous. He is strong. He is talented. He got a lot of minutes and touches, and turned them into some nice numbers. But the player who is going to anchor Portland's next title team? I'm still patiently waiting to see Greg Oden evolve into that guy.

In the meantime, I'm thrilled at Nate McMillan's conviction to spend time on Oden, and to keep featuring him even if it costs the team games. Even if the costs are non-trivial, getting Greg Oden confident is one of the best investments a coach can make, because he's only showing us a fraction of what's to come.