Projecting Greg Oden's impact

Greg Oden has had good production in the rare stretches when he's been healthy. Tom Lipman

Editor's Note: Kevin Pelton revisited his look at Greg Oden and how he compares to Yao Ming, in response to Ming's reported retirement on Friday.

All week long, ESPN Insider has been focusing on projections for the upcoming season. Now, our attention turns to the most difficult prediction of all: the enigmatic Greg Oden. Since being taken No. 1 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2007 NBA draft, Oden has spent more time in the trainer's room than on the court, dealing with a series of injuries to his knees.

Oden hasn't taken an NBA court since Dec. 5, 2009, when he fractured his left patella. While rehabbing the injury, Oden suffered cartilage damage in the same knee, requiring microfracture surgery -- his third season-ending knee injury in four NBA campaigns. Oden became the second NBA player ever to have microfracture surgery performed on both of his knees (Denver's Kenyon Martin was the first).

As a result, when Basketball Prospectus' SCHOENE Projection System suggests that Oden would put up somewhere in the neighborhood of 10.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the 23.9 minutes he averaged before his 2009 injury, those numbers are largely meaningless. Production has never been the issue for Oden, who has been effective whenever he has been healthy. The question is whether he can get back to that point.

There is no conclusive way to project the future for Oden. Will injuries end up bringing his career to a premature end the way they did for Yao Ming (for a look at what Yao's career could have been, click here)? Or will Oden stay healthy long enough to realize the potential he's demonstrated in limited action?

History can shed some light on the subject. During the past three decades, I found 10 regular starters who were limited by injury to fewer than 25 games over a two-season span. (Oden has played 21 over the same time period.)