A pretty quiet week in the Association. BG's historic dunk has dominated both the airwaves and the blogosphere, so I won't add to that clusterfuck.
Okay. Just one more time. In Slow-Mo.
Anyways, on tap for this week: the saddest story in the world, quality basketball in the upper midwest, and the real play of the week. Hint: it doesn't involve Blake Griffin. Let's get to it.
1. Praying for the Big O to be the Big Z.
On Friday, in almost an afterthought, we learned that Blazers center Greg Oden underwent another knee surgery -- his fifth in four years -- today in Vail, Colorado. While this doesn't officially end Greg Oden's season, it does certainly represent yet another setback in an injury saga that is unfortunately well-known. The procedure cleared out debris in Greg Oden's right knee, which hadn't had issues since 2007. I am no doctor, but it seems like a bad sign if your "good" knee ("good", as in "no ligament tears in four years") is deteriorating due to the rigorous activity of...rehab. That, to me, seems like a case of knees that cannot handle the rigors of professional basketball. Of course, Oden has only played 82 games over the last four seasons, and hasn't played an NBA game since late 2009.
At this point, the Greg Oden saga has become the NBA's greatest tragedy; an issue that is increasingly difficult to discuss without feeling some sense of sadness. Even the most optimistic observers would have to admit that a third missed season -- which this surgery seems likely to do, given Oden's typically slow recovery from any medical procedure -- would all but put an end to Greg Oden's career. In some ways, it would be a relief. Finally, all parties could move on with their lives, much like Yao Ming and the Rockets have done since he retired this past summer due to recurring foot injuries. Greg would be able to reinvent himself in some other basketball-related capacity, and the Blazers could receive some measure of closure about the failed Roy-Oden project.
However, as with any Greg Oden story, it is incumbent upon the author to provide some sort of ray of sunshine; some chance that it could all be okay. So, in that vein, here's your Golden Calf: Zydrunas Ilgauskas. You see, most people forget that Big Z spent the first part of his career managing chronic foot and ankle injuries. Drafted 20th in 1996 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he missed his entire rookie season due to a broken foot. After playing well in his second season (his actual rookie season), he signed a 6-year, $70 million dollar extension with the Cavs. He rewarded the Cavs with five games over the next two seasons, due to surgeries on his feet and ankles. He started out strong with the Cavs in the 2000-2001 season, but then injured his foot again, and missed the rest of the season. Most people thought he would retire, but he came back the next season (backing up Chris Mihm), and played in 62 games, still missing 20 games due to ankle sprains and sore feet. However, by the 2002-2003 season -- his eighth season since getting drafted -- Ilgauskas was finally becoming Big Z. He averaged 17.2 points and 9 rebounds per game, and was an All-Star for the struggling Cavs. Big Z would go on to play in one more All-Star game in 2005, and more importantly, would stay healthy throughout the nine remaining years of his career, in which he would go to the NBA finals twice. Not too bad, considering the hell he went through in the first part of his career.
So, don't give up on Greg, yet. He's young. I do think he'll have good, productive years as an NBA center. At least, I hope so.
2. Bucks Basketball: No Longer Completely Unwatchable.
I hated watching the Bucks last year. They played absolutely ugly basketball. Their defense, which ranked third in the league, was offset by their offense, which at 91.9 points per game, ranked dead last. It seemed like Brandon Jennings and John Salmons missed every shot they ever attempted. Bogut still wasn't completely back from that nasty arm injury he suffered in 2009 (YouTube it yourself, it makes me want to puke). And, when your most entertaining player was defensive stopper Luc Mbah a Moute -- well, I wasn't going to be watching too much Bucks basketball.
But that's all changed this year. The Bucks have raised their offensive output to 94.1 points per game, up from 30th (dead last) to 15th in the Association. Passing seems to be key: the Bucks raised their assists from 30th to 8th. Most of that is due to Brandon Jennings, who is leading the Bucks in every statistical category (including rebounds, now that Bogut is probably done for the season). Their defense has taken a bit of a dip -- from third to 15th -- but it's still really respectable. And, what's more: the Bucks are winning. They've won three straight, including two against the Miami Heat. They currently sit at 10-11, good for eighth out East.
What's most baffling, at least to me, is that the Bucks are winning without having added many impact players. In fact, they're missing a lot of their great players. Starting center Andrew Bogut has been out for two weeks, and is likely out for the season with a broken ankle. Stephen Jackson, acquired from Charlotte on Draft Day, has not found a consistent spot in the rotation, and is reportedly lobbying to be traded from Milwaukee. John Salmons, the team's third leading scorer from last season, is now in Sacramento. Instead, they're winning games on the aforementioned Jennings, but also a strong supporting cast that includes Carlos Delfino and a healthy Drew Gooden. Irsan Ilyasova, Shaun Livingston and surprising rookie Jon Leuer (a favorite of mine) have been working hard as well. Finally, the Bradley Center is one of the funnest places to watch a game at, with a crowd that clearly loves their team cheering loudly and blowing vuvuzelas.
Long story, short: if you got nothing else to watch, well, watch the Bucks.
3. The Best Individual Minute of Basketball of the Season.
"A thousand years from now people will be talking about LeBron James as they talk about Hercules now."
- Sherman Alexie (2008)