With the post season rapidly approaching, we’re nearing the point where the regular season awards will be voted on. Over a series of posts, I’ll make my argument for a specific Laker to win an award or be included on one of the All-NBA or Defensive teams. Today, my take on why Lamar Odom should win the Sixth Man of the Year award.
I understand that with any regular season award there are several viable candidates. And in terms of the Sixth Man of the Year award, this year is no different. Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, George Hill, Shawn Marion, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Ty Lawson all having very good seasons and helping their respective teams win games. They’re relied upon to be the first (or second) man off their teams’ benches and expected to produce in tangible and intangible ways to help their squads. I think any team would be lucky to employ the above list of players, they’d surely have a better team for it.
That said, Lamar Odom should win the Sixth Man of the Year award.
I won’t delve into the numbers here because others have already done that very well, making convincing cases for LO. Check out this post for a clear look at how Odom compares to some of the above listed players. Or this one to see how some of the top candidates perform in different parts of the game. Heady cases both of those articles are, and worth your time.
Instead, I’m here to talk about Odom’s role on the Lakers and how, even beyond the tangible numbers, he’s been key to the Lakers success.
As I’ve mentioned several times over the past few years, Odom’s versatility allows the Lakers to play multiple styles without sacrificing talent. On offense, Odom is an initiator of the Lakers sets and allows the other versatile pieces on the roster to spread their wings and work different parts of the court to be most effective.
This is most evident in how, with Odom bringing the ball up the court and facilitating the offense, Kobe Bryant can move out of the two guard front of the Triangle and into his sweet spots of the elbow and weak side low block where he can take advantage of his mid-range and excellent low post games. As has been proven countless times over the years, when Kobe is isolated at the elbow or the low block, defenses are put in the difficult position of having to choose between single covering him or coming with a double team. What rarely gets mentioned however, is how the Lakers are able to put a guard into these positions on the floor without sacrificing floor balance or spacing. The key is Odom, as his versatility allows Kobe to move off the ball and into positions where he can focus solely on working over a compromised D.
But Odom’s ability as an offensive initiator isn’t his only valued skill in the Triangle. He’s also a tremendous finisher with an innate understanding of spacing, timing, and how to work off other offensive threats to make himself available as a finisher. How many times have we seen Odom perfectly time a cut off the ball, receive a pass from Kobe or Pau, and finish inside? How many times have we seen him use a screen to curl into the lane and get an easy dish that he converts for an easy deuce? Or how about the times that he’s working sideline P&R’s with Gasol and he either swoops into the paint for a lay in or dishes last second to Pau or another teammate for an easy finish? The fact is that Odom’s ability as a finisher perfectly complements his teammates and he’s able to consistently do damage both with or without the ball in his hands. The fact that the Lakers don’t have to run plays for Odom but still reap the rewards of him as a finisher is one of the most underrated part of his success.
Defensively, though, is where I think Odom really makes an unheralded impact. The fact is that most times, when looking at this award voters only focus on one end of the floor. However, when looking at Odom, that’d be doing him and his contributions a major disservice. Odom is very good at defending the P&R and is one of the few big men who more than holds his own when needing to switch onto ball handlers on the perimeter. Beyond outright switching out onto wing players, though, he’s also excellent at showing help and then recovering back to his own man, or rotating to a teammate’s man to keep the integrity of the Lakers’ schemes. This year he’s also been much better at stepping in and taking charges beyond being a threat to block shots from the weakside (or even on the ball). When you throw in his top 15 rebounding numbers, you have a player who’s impacting the game a great deal on defense with few metrics actually available to measure it.
Lastly, there are arguments to be made about other players being a “closer” for their team. I know that Jason Terry is an elite scoring option in 4th quarters for the Mavs and is often a player that hits big shots for his team down the stretch of close games. However, Odom too is a closer for the Lakers. Many times, it’s he – not Bynum – that is in at the end of games as his versatility on both sides of the ball is valued by Phil Jackson. Just last Friday against the Timberwolves, it was Odom who hit a three-pointer that pushed a three-point lead to six with only two and a half minutes remaining. He then again hit a big jumper with a little over a minute to go to make a five-point lead seven. This type of late game production has happened a lot this season, but with Kobe, Gasol, and even Fisher all on this team there isn’t a lot of room for recognition of late game heroics.
In the end, Odom has the numbers but he also has had a tremendous impact on the Lakers beyond those numbers. His versatility makes it so he can be a highlighted player or one who contributes in the background. He helps slot players into different roles where they can excel, all while molding his game to fit the teammates he’s playing next to. In essense, he’s been the ultimate Sixth Man and he deserves this award.