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Player Preview: Lamar Odom

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This is the ninth in our series of Player Previews, in which we discuss what to expect in the coming season from each of the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers. Up today is sixth man Lamar Odom aka Candy Man.

Amazing. Inconsistent. Talented. Underachieving. Lackadaisical. Leader. 

Lamar Joseph Odom is all of those, and much much more. As the Sixth Man and arguably soul of this Laker team, he is quite a character, open yet mysterious. Over the 10 seasons of his career to date, Lamar has both amazed critics with both his undeniable yet sometimes unbelievable talent, and his seeming reluctance to put it on display, or even consistently use it for the good of his team.

A misfit, an underachiever, a wanderer.. those were the early years of Lamar Odom's career, his stints with the Clippers, Heat and post-Shaq pre-Gasol Lakers. But then everything changed. With Andrew Bynum's development, the Gasol trade (with the development of Marc, I refused to call it a 'heist', as many are wont to do), and the re-emergence of Los Angeles as a true contender pushed Lamar back to a sixth man role where he would be the third or even fourth option on offense. And he fit like a glove, flourishing in the role. In fact, his statistical best season as a Laker was his first with Gasol. It seems Lamar has finally found his place in this League, as the sixth man and proverbial 'glue guy' on the two-time defending champions of the NBA.

Scoring, help defense, rebounding, ball-distribution; Lamar does it all. The general consensus is he doesn't do it enough, but that's just who he is, and entering his 11th season in the NBA, he's unlikely to change significantly. Nonetheless, team mates and fans alike have grown accustomed to his inconsistency, and most appreciate how he aids in keeping the team level-headed and bridging the starters and bench in his role as often de-facto starter. 

Last season was a significant down season for him, with near-career lows in many important statistical categories, such as scoring, assisting and shooting percentages (although his per-36 numbers were solid), and it's been as such ever since his move to the bench. However, from there he performs one of the most important roles on the Lakers, as the third head of their three-headed monster of length, and as perhaps their best help-defender in the post. His versatility in unmatched, and his ability to handle the rock at 6'10" crucial.

Remember, he is only a year removed from being one of the league leaders in plus-minus, due to his knack of always being there and helping spark a critical run, whether it be through his defense, his monster rebounding ability, or his ability to take his often-bigger defender off the dribble and take it to the rack, a skill he wholly underutilises. Also important to bear in mind is the fact that he played the second half of last year with a semi-serious shoulder injury, rendering his right shoulder near-useless at times; quite possibly accounting for his subpar postseason performance. Whilst he has not had any publicised treatment on this injury, and his rest over the offseason was limited, it's reasonable to believe his condition will have improved for this upcoming season.

His role on the gold-medal winning US World Championship team this offseason serves as both beneficiary and worrying for the Lakers. On the positive side, his continuing to play competitive basketball through the offseason ensures he has remained fit, and his role as a veteran and leader, both statistically and in the locker room, is sure to provide some benefit. However, on the other hand, the lack of rest for his 30-year-old body is not exactly reassuring, something exacerbated by Andrew Bynum's injury forcing Lamar back into the starting lineup for what looks to be at least the first month of the season.

In the end, Lamar Odom is Lamar Odom. Consistently inconsistent, with a very underrated dash of clutch thrown in there. The Lakers would not be the same without him.



Role on the Team:

Due to Bynum's injury complications, Lamar will start the season as a starter, as he is wont to do, and will likely serve as the third option on offense and as a key help-defender; in addition to often playing the point guard role whilst Derek Fisher is relegated to being solely a spot-up shooter. After Andrew Bynum returns, Lamar will return to his role as Sixth Man (hopefully making a run for Sixth Man of the Year Award), whilst playing starter's minutes, and serve to lead the second unit and quite often be its first or second option. 

In the locker room Lamar is often regarded as the heart and soul of the team. He mirrors the attitude of the organisation in being consistently level-headed and even-keeled and he bridges the gap between the starters and the bench. He does a little bit of everything on both sides of the court and is never selfish when it comes to shots. He is the one the Lakers gather round in a huddle before running out the tunnel in pregame.


Best-Case Scenario for the Upcoming Season:

Whilst Andrew Bynum is out of action, Lamar comes in, in top form due to his play in the Olympics, and dominates, showing flashes of the potential he has always possessed. He puts up 17 and 12 in Andrew Bynum's absence, forming an unstoppable frontline along with Pau Gasol. He handles the rock effectively, playing point guard in the Triangle often with the starters, and averaging 5 assists per game doing so. He shoots at an insane clip during this stretch, 55% from the floor and 40% from deep, and utilises his whole array of skills. Andrew Bynum comes back early, in the third week of November, and Lamar smoothly returns to his role on the bench, with rookie Derrick Caracter's development allowing Lamar some well-deserved rest.

Lamar uses his newfound Team USA experiences to mature into more of a leader in the traditional sense, making sure the second unit knows what to do at all times, and accepting a role as first option when that unit is playing together. Lamar also ups his efficiency considerably, topping 50% from the field for the second time in his career (the first being 07-08), as well as getting to the line more, all in all upping his scoring average to around 15 per game without taking shots away from better options (instead taking all of Shannon's WAKIs and Jordan Farmar's WTFs). He continues his strong work on the boards, staying just over 10 per game, and through his role as first option, ups his assist total to around 4.5 per game, as well as adding 1.3 steals and blocks each to his numbers.

He keeps the second unit running smoothly and makes opponents groan when he steps on the court. He goes on a hot streak from three point land to mirror the one he went on during the '09 Playoffs, except he maintains it for most of the season, finishing the year shooting 38% from deep. He tops off the Regular Season winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award. When the Playoffs come round, Lamar delivers deadly clutch performances, the absolute antithesis of his Playoff performance last year.


Worst Case Scenario for the Upcoming Season:

Lamar, exhausted from the World Championships, struggles in his extended minutes as a starter, proving ineffective and downright ugly. His inability to play extended minutes forces Phil to give excessive minutes to a 37-year-old Theo Ratliff and an untested second-rounder in Derrick Caracter. Due to this, Andrew Bynum  forces himself to return from rehab too early, and thus proves to be ineffective for much of the season as well. Upon Andrew's return, Lamar returns to the bench and essentially disappears, removing any hope the Lakers had of having a strong bench this season.

Soon, Lamar's shoulder issues, which he opted not to receive treatment on, start flaring up, and he requires surgery that keeps him out till late in the Playoffs. When he attempts to make his return, the pain overwhelms him and he turns to dangerously excessive candy consumption to distract himself. He is soon arrested for robbing a candy store and later forced into addiction rehab. Upon hearing this, Khloe Kardashian will file for divorce, and a long and messy lawsuit will follow, resulting in him missing even more games and being significantly distracted.


What we expect from him in the Upcoming Season:

Lamar will probably perform closer to 08-09 levels, meaning that while his stats do not seem significantly higher at first glance, his efficiency is improved and he has a far more positive affect on games, reflected in his recovering plus-minus numbers. He keeps the second unit consistent, and his ability to fill in as a starter means the Lakers do not heavily suffer in Andrew Bynum's absence.

Lamar Odom's minutes will probably go down slightly if Andrew Bynum ends up healthy, hovering around the 28 minute range, but his stats will either hold steady or slightly improve due to increased efficiency, with him likely averaging something in the 11.5/10/4 range with a steal and a block per game, at around 49% from the field, 70% from the line and 32% from deep.

Come playoffs, his minutes will increase as lower-end big men Caracter and Ratliff are squeezed out of the rotation, and his contribution will likely improve to match. He'll have at least one game where he virtually single-handedly wins it, and probably multiple games where we asks ourselves 'where the fuck was Lamar Odom tonight?'.

His candy addiction, while still present, will likely remain controlled so that it does not significantly affect his play.

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