Depth is key in basketball. It separates the winners from the losers over the course of the grueling 82-game season. These bench players offer assistance to the starters and allow teams to pull away against the myriad of relief players found around the league.
This season, we are going to have to go with a defending champ in Lamar Odom for our pick for the Sixth Man of the year.
After winning the NBA Title with the Lakers last summer, Odom went on to be invited back to play on Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey. He helped the National Team win Gold for the first time since 1994. His contributions were amplified due to the sheer lack of size on that National Team and the fact that he played center rather than forward. He was a mentor as well for the relatively young squad that put the US back on top of global basketball.
The Lakers started off this season with its main center, Andrew Bynum, out with an injured knee. Both Odom and Pau Gasol were asked to play more minutes as the young Bynum missed the first the first 24 games. Odom averaged a double double and the Lakers built up a 17-7 record. Even the Beef said that it wouldn’t last as both Odom and Gasol were playing more minutes than ever before in their careers.
They had to do it again last month when Bynum was suspended two games for a hard foul on Michael Beasley. Odom filed in nicely with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists against Portland followed by 29 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists against the Suns. Both were wins as the Lakers made a run past the Mavs for second in the West.
However, Odom’s stats did not fall as the season dragged on, he only improved. His greatest scoring season in LA with a full season played was the 2005-06 season. He averaged 14.8 points and 9.3 rebounds a game in 80 starts at 40 minutes a game. This season, with 80 games played and only 34 starts, he maintained nearly the same numbers with 14.2 points and 8.7 points a game. Additionally, his minutes dropped to 32 a game. He played less time with the same results proving that his efficiency essentially improved.
Last season, he played in 82 games with 38 starts. He only mustered up 10.7 points a game and only played half a minute less a game.
Additionally, Odom provides a very diverse game for Phil Jackson to implement in his triangle offense. The basic premise is a morphing offensive series that is not set but rather changes according to the defensive matchups. It requires them to recognize what the opposing players are doing and move into the right positions to establish passing lanes. It’s based on constant movement and adjustment.
The system spreads out offenses allowing for one-on-one post play, slashes and isolation plays that prevent the double team. It really comes down to the players implementing the offense and how diverse their game is. Odom has the ability to not only post up but has also averaged .395 from beyond the arc bringing the Lakers’ frontcourt to eighth in the league in three-point percentage. Added to his 53 percent from the field, many consider him the second steadiest Laker right behind Kobe Bryant himself.
Despite the magnitude of Odom’s season, he has beaten out some stiff competition for the award. Jason Terry has been Mr. Fourth Quarter for the Dallas Mavericks all season. He and Dirk Nowitzki have combined for 918 more points in the fourth quarter than any other tandem in the NBA. However, down the stretch, Terry’s inconsistencies have flared and so has his frustration. Just last week, he was ejected for a hard foul against the Lakers’ Steve Blake in a must-win situation. He only mustered up five points. Last Friday, he got into a heated exchange with teammate J.J. Barea in a game where he went scoreless.
To the Beef, Odom deserves this award for his ability to be a continuing foundation in Los Angeles on a squad defending its title. He has maintained a heightened level of production in less minutes and acceptable a lesser role for the Lakers. The Sixth Man needs to be able to put his ego aside, play the game and deliver winning results. Odom does all of the above.