Greg Oden hasn’t taken the NBA court in years.
The former Trail Blazers first-overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft was supposed to have a career full of highlights and championship rings, instead he called it quits after six seasons as he was riddled with injuries.
But when his Lawrence North teammate Mike Conley called asking Oden to help him prepare for the 2020-21 NBA season, Oden was at “the top of the key in Conley’s home gym,” as The Athletic’s Tony Jones explained.
“Oden was once a generational big man prospect, but injuries robbed him of a promising career. But he’s still seven feet tall, still has arms that are freakishly long and is still Conley’s best friend,” Jones wrote.
“So, when Conley called for help, Oden was willingly available.
“I just wanted to see my friend again,” Oden said. “This was a chance to hang out with him because with his schedule we don’t see each other that often. I asked Mike: ‘Is this going to help you?’ He said yes. So once he said that I was going to stay as long as possible.”
Oden did more than provide rim protection and deter drivers from the paint. He helped Conley alter his game. The 33-year-old went from working in tandem with Marc Gasol in Memphis as the league’s most consistent two-man game to being traded during the 2019-20 season to Utah.
After his first year of playing alongside towering big man Rudy Gobert, Conley wanted to improve.
“Why would Conley seek Oden’s help for basketball purposes? It’s simple,” Jones wrote. “Conley played with Gasol as his big man for his entire career. Gasol was more of a pick-and-pop big. He wasn’t going to catch lobs over the rim. He caught pocket passes, bounce passes. One of Conley’s biggest adjustments last season was playing with Gobert, who is maybe the best vertical lob threat in the league. Only Conley was used to throwing bounce passes, which of course is not Gobert’s strong suit.”
While Oden has gained a few pounds along the way and he’s nowhere near the tip-top shape he was in the NBA, that repetition ultimately led to Conley’s success this season.
The Jazz hold the league-best record at 25-6 and Conley is playing arguably the best game of his storied career, averaging 16.4 points, and 5.6 assists per game while ranking second in the NBA’s defensive rating.
While Trail Blazer fans still have a sour taste in their mouth over Oden as one of the biggest draft day busts, it's good to see he's found a way to continue to have an impact on the game.