Lamar Odom had a solid first half of the 2007-2008 season. But upon Pau Gasol’s arrival in February, Odom ushered in three consecutive months (February, March, April) where he averaged ten plus points and rebounds while shooting over 50% from the field. The Gasol acquisition essentially bumped Odom from the second option to third — a role Odom is better suited for.
With a fully rehabilitated Andrew Bynum penciled in as the Lakers starting center next season, coach Phil Jackson has two options:
- Move Odom from power forward to small forward and start him alongside Gasol and Bynum in the Lakers frontcourt
- Bring Odom off the bench
I don’t think Odom is the answer at small forward. Odom lacks the lateral quickness required to defend opposing small forwards and many of his strengths (penetration, low-post scoring) will be null and void with the return of a healthy Andrew Bynum. The majority of the Lakers post-up opportunities will go to Gasol and Bynum and the lane will be occupied by those two.
With two seven footers in the lineup, the Lakers starting unit is going to become increasingly half-court centric. And as such, they will need a small forward that can stretch the defense with long-distance shooting. Odom possesses an accurate mid-range jumpshot, but is a career 31% three-point shooter.
As the Lakers sixth man, Odom could spell either Gasol or Bynum in the Lakers frontcourt while moonlighting at small forward from time to time. Odom’s point forward skills and ability to finish on the break could also be beneficial to the Lakers second unit, which was an uptempo squad for much of last season.
Of course, this is dependent upon Jackson’s desire to bring Odom off the bench and Odom being amenable to a “diminished” role. But it could also go a long ways towards determining Odom’s future with the Lakers. Odom is the final year of a contract that will pay him $14,148,596 next season. If the Lakers decide to extend Odom’s contract, it will be at a considerable discount. And one way to convince Odom to accept a paycut while underscoring his value would be to give him an opportunity to win one of the league’s most underrated individual awards: Sixth Man of the Year.
After capturing the Western Conference’s number one seed and advancing to the NBA Finals without their starting center, the Lakers are the odds on favorite to win the championship in 2009. The league’s Sixth Man of the Year award has a long history of being awarded to the first reserve on one of the NBA’s top teams. Manu Ginobili won the award last season after he averaged a Spurs team-high 19.6 points per game coming off the bench. Leandro Barbosa won the award in 2006-2007. Both Barboasa and Ginobili ended up averaging starter-like minutes, but gave their teams an advantage coming off the bench.
Toni Kukoc won the award in 1996 as the first man off the bench for the 72-10 Chicago Bulls. Dennis Rodman was the runner-up to the award in 1989. And Kevin McHale — one of the greatest power forwards of all-time — won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 1984 and 1985. The Celtics won the championship in ‘84 and advanced to the NBA Finals in ‘85. Bill Walton captured the award in Boston’s ‘86 championship season.
Odom’s versatility and unselfishness would be on full display as the Lakers sixth man.
Coming off the bench carries the stigma of a reduced role. But as the Sixth Man of a championship contender, Odom could have more impact on the Lakers than he ever has.