In a statement as self-aware as it is sad, Greg Oden, the former Ohio State basketball star and No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, recently told ESPN's Outside the Lines that he will go down as the biggest bust in professional basketball history.
Not “one of the biggest,” as he previously said after his career came to an end; in Oden's mind, his legacy is already written.
The 7-foot Oden is currently taking classes toward his degree and is a student assistant coach at Ohio State, where he spent one season in college before being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers with the first overall pick in 2007.
“I'll be remembered as the biggest bust in NBA history,” Oden told Outside the Lines. “But I can't do nothing about that.”
You can't, Mr. Oden, but we can. The argument for Oden as the biggest bust is twofold.
First, there's the prickly nature of expectations.
Had he remained healthy, there was every reason to believe Oden would have evolved into one of the game's best big men — not just of his era, but of all time. He was a supernaturally dominant force in college, slowed only by an acute wrist injury in the early part of his freshman year. Although there was a legitimate debate about whether the Blazers should select Oden or Kevin Durant, the overwhelming consensus at the time was that Portland made the right choice.
You know the rest of the story. Before he played his first game, Oden needed microfracture surgery on his right knee. When he finally stepped on the court, he suffered a foot injury. Upon his return, he played well … then bumped knees with the Warriors' Corey Maggette and missed more time with a chipped left knee cap.
And just like that, Oden had injuries to both knees and one foot. From there, his decline was inevitable. Men his size with injuries like his don't last long in the NBA.
Second, there's that whole KD problem.
Taking someone like Oden over Durant immediately vaults a team into the “Bowie over Jordan” draft conversation, but that's the franchise's cross to bear. “Biggest draft mistake” and “biggest draft bust” are two very different things, and Oden seems to realize that. Otherwise, he'd be calling Sam Bowie the biggest bust ever and just including himself on the list.
So, with that context considered, is Oden the biggest bust in NBA history?
Unlike Oden, no one outside of Cleveland considered the UNLV player worthy of the top pick. For whatever reason, though, in that dark time in Cavaliers history between LeBron James stints, the Cavs bucked conventional wisdom and selected Bennett.
He never stood a chance, and a side-by-side comparison of his numbers to those of Oden, Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi—two other noted draft busts—tells the story (via Basketball-Reference):
Bennett is last in points, rebounds, and assists per game among the group, and has the worst career field goal percentage. Far and away, Anthony Bennett is the biggest draft bust in an already exclusive club.
Again, this wasn't Bennett's fault. The Cavs did him dirty in 2013. Unfortunately for Bennett, Oden simply put together a better NBA career—if just barely.