Lamar Odom has always been somewhat of an enigma. His talent has never been denied. He's been garnered with once-in-a-generation kind of player types of accolades since he was a teen in Queens playing AAU ball with Metta World Peace. Unfortunately, he has never met the expectations of critics and fans to be the player we thought he could be.
Always the first word that would pop up in anybody's mind when thinking of Lamar Odom. For eleven seasons, there've been flashes of brilliance, followed by disappearing acts. He can be so good when he's on that for eleven years, no one wanted to admit that maybe Lamar just was who he was. The uber-talented inconsistent enigma. And just when we all thought it was safe to realize who Lamar really was, he gives us his finest season ever by being consistent. He played with an aggressiveness and assertiveness that we'd never seen before, night in and night out. He seemed happy with life, with his role on the team, and it translated to the floor. Inconsistent became reliable.
Just like that, the "shoulda coulda woulda's" and "potential" conversations started back up. We wondered if he would keep it up. What took so long? Would it last? After all, he was a star in his own reality show and married to a Kardashian of all people, who only live life depending on ratings and tabloid run. How could that be good for him? It was. Good enough to win the NBA's Sixth Man Award, his stellar play lasted all season.
I believe two things happened that transformed Lamar's play this past season. The first was the happiness he seemed to enjoy from his marriage and celeb-reality fame. Instead of faltering under the bright lights of Hollywood and tabloid obsession, he blossomed under the new attention. He wasn't just Lamar Odom, #7 PF for the Los Angeles Lakers, teammate of Kobe Bryant. He was also Lamar Odom, star of "Khloe and Lamar," catering to a whole new fan base he seemed willing to please. All of a sudden, casual sports fans like my mother are watching Lakers games because they watch E! and want to see Khloe's husband play. He was comfortable in his star. Being a professional basketball player in itself should be enough, but hey, whatever works.
The second positive was helping lead Team USA to gold in the World Championships. Away from the glare and intensity of Kobe Bryant, or the tutelage of Phil Jackson, Lamar was able to realize his impact as a championship caliber veteran who could lead as well. Something clicked in Turkey. He came back not only in basketball shape, but confidently knowing that he could take over games when needed.
Being able to take over a game and knowing it are not the same. We love Kobe Bryant because his will and talent are intertwined. This season we saw Lamar realize some of that will, instead of deferring to Kobe and Pau when the situation called for him to take advantage. He was willing to try put the team on his back. Finally.
While Andrew Bynum was recovering from an injury to start the season, Lamar resumed his starter's role and got off to a hot start. He started 35 games, and made us wonder if he should go back to the bench. His points and rebounding averages were similar to his career norms as a starter that hover around 15 and 9, respectively. The difference was the the ease and efficiency in how he scored them.
Starter (35 games)
37.2 minutes, 57.3 FG %, 34.8 3pt %, 10.2 rebounds (2.4 ORB), 3.4 assists, .9 blocks, .6 steals, 2.1 TO's, 16.3 points
57.3% from the field. Wow. His best year was in 07-08 when he shot 52.5% from the field (the only previous year he shot over 50% in his career). He was scoring points more easily than any point in his career. The story didn't change much when he returned to the bench.
Land 'O Lakers:
Reserve (47 games)
28.4 minutes, 49.4 FG %, 40.2 3pt %, 7.5 rebounds (1.9 ORB), 2.7 assists, .7 blocks, .6 steals, 1.4 TO's, 13.0 points
The Kamenentzy Brothers also point out:
"The only notable disparity as a starter is the bump in overall field goal percentage, which certainly could be the byproduct of more court time with Kobe Bryant. However, that's offset by a percentage from three point range that was nearly six percent higher as a reserve."
I'm not sure how to explain the improvement in three-point shooting for Lamar other than confidence in shooting them. Did he put in work on his outside shooting during the offseason? I'm not sure. My eyes told me he wasn't worried about deferring and shot the ball like he felt it was going in. In respect to amounts of threes taken, he was effectively the Lakers best shooter from three after Derek Fisher (Fish?). Not so good for the Lakers, but great for Lamar as he averaged 38.2% 3P on the season. It was his improvement from long-range that made his unstoppable long-armed left-handed drives more effective. Using any angle or spot on the backboard, he'd convert a bucket after the slightest hesitation from a defender's respect on the perimeter.
In other areas, Lamar was basically the same player he's always been. He's always been an effective rebounder (though I'd love to see him box out more) and passer. His rebounding and assist rates stayed in line with his averages since Pau became a Laker (when LO's role as #2 changed).
One of the advantages the Lakers enjoyed with Lamar was his versatility on both ends of the floor. We've gone over his ability to score, handle the ball, and rebound, but he also has great value as a a player able to guard multiple positions. He can play bigs, and still play on the perimeter to a degree.
Here's where the "sort of" on his consistency factors in.
Once the Playoffs started, the new Lamar we grew accustomed to didn't show up. The old one did. His assertiveness declined, and worst of all his defense did too. We watched as inferior Hornets bigs made too much of an impact, or Mavericks attack the basket at will. Pau deserves much of the blame, but LO isn't free from criticism. To his credit, there was a team-wide question that there just isn't an easy answer to. Was it Lamar reverting back to his old ways, or did it just seem that way because the Lakers had just clearly lost something heading into the Playoffs? It's tough to say. After three long seasons, it's very possible that they just didn't have the mental and physical energy to keep up their peak performance.
The season ended in disappointing fashion, and on a sour note, as Lamar (then Bynum) walked off the floor in disgrace following a frustration cheap shot on Dirk. It was unfortunate that Lamar had his best season while the Lakers' ended in flames, but I will not point the finger at Odom. It would have been great for him to carry over his superb regular season play though. So, his newfound consistency comes with some sort of asterisk. Barring that last play, and giving him somewhat of a pass for a team-wide disappointment in the Playoffs, Lamar Odom is my Lakers Player of the Year.