Can Mike Brown Tap Into Lamar Odom’s Versatility?

Darius Soriano —  August 1, 2011

From the limited exposure we’ve had to Mike Brown via press conferences and sit down interviews, we’ve learned a few things about what he plans to do with the current Laker roster on the offensive side of the ball. He will implore the team to play a bit faster by having his guys push the ball up court and initiate the offense quicker. He wants to get Kobe the ball “in his spots” in order to maximize his effectiveness. He plans to utilize some of the offensive sets from his days as a Spurs assistant coach to take advantage of his twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. And while all of this sounds great – after all, these are the key players to the Lakers’ offensive attack – one name we haven’t heard come out of Mike Brown’s mouth very often is Lamar Odom.

But make no mistake, Lamar Odom will need to be involved for the Lakers to truly excel on offense.

In the past 4 seasons Odom has been a key contributor on offense, using his well rounded game to both be a complimentary player and a primary option in the Lakers’ offensive sets. Phil Jackson used Odom’s versatility expertly by having him initiate the triangle offense, run pick and rolls as both a ball handler and a finisher, play off the ball as a slasher, post up smaller players, isolate slower defenders, push the ball as a middle man on the break, and space the floor in lineups where Kobe and either Gasol or Bynum worked the post. Odom’s ability to do all of these things effectively gave him immense value and created a variety of mismatches whenever he was on the court.

However, as the Lakers transition away from the Triangle and into a more traditional offense it’s fair to ask how Odom will fit into this new scheme. Some open questions:

  • Will Odom still have a lot of ball handling responsibilities?
  • Will Odom still initiate the offense?
  • Will Odom work more as a post player ala Gasol and Bynum or more as a perimeter power forward?
  • Will Odom have the freedom to still push the ball in transition or will he be bottled into the more traditional role of a big man?

As of today, we don’t have answers to these questions but I can only hope that we can say “yes” to all of the above. Odom’s versatility is his biggest asset on this team and putting him in positions to explore his full skill set is the best way to maximize his value. Mike Brown has spoken extensively about trying to get the most out of his players, but doing that with Odom may be his most difficult job as an X’s and O’s practitioner next year.

Understand that Odom was the Lakers best pick and roll player last year when you combine the ability to initiate and finish in the set. His ability to create off the dribble for himself or his teammates is second to only Kobe and his instincts on when to pass and when to shoot probably surpass #24’s. Odom works effectively in space with and without the ball and getting him moving into the free space to take advantage of the attention Kobe/Gasol/Bynum draw is one of the best ways to create high percentage shots without having to run an actual play. Not to mention he’s one of the team’s best offensive rebounders so putting him in position to still attack the glass is also a key.

Can Mike Brown’s offense do all of these things for Odom; can his sets put Odom in positions to utilize such a wide variety of skills? The triangle naturally set Odom up to use all his natural ability by limiting the play calls and letting the players read and react to the defense. This let the players’ ability take over and put their versatility on full display. On any given possession Odom would bring the ball up and then shift from the two guard front to the to the wing; he’d set up shop at the elbow or sink into the short corner; he’d work to the middle of the paint off flashes and dive cuts, doing it all based off what the D was doing. On one side of the floor he’d be involved in a pick and roll with one of the big men, making an entry pass and then cutting to the rim looking for an easy score or setting up for the offensive rebound. On another possession he’d isolate at the top of the key in a 1-4 set or hang back behind the arc and shoot the long ball. But in Mike Brown’s O – one in which he’s stated the PG, SG, and SF are interchangeable parts as initiators and where big men are post up players and screeners – where does Odom fit in?

Will he play like a guard? Like a big man? Can he do both for Brown like he did for Phil?

Carving out a role will be key, but in an offensive system where players usually play more conventional roles it will be interesting to see how one of the more unconventional players in the league is used. As a power forward, Odom can do it all but what will his coach ask him to do? And when he asks him, will it stifle his skill set or allow it to flourish? Right now, I have my questions and concerns as to how this will actually play out. We’ll know more when the games start, but the fact is we’ll have to wait because Mike Brown isn’t offering any clues as to how the versatility of Odom will be tapped into.

Darius Soriano

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