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Can Inconsistency Be Clutch?

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Lamar Odom must be every coach's nightmare.  He's 6'10" with arms that span the width of a basketball court (unofficially).  He's a power forward with the skills of a point guard, and he's got athleticism, strength, and quickness to boot.  But he's often very passive, deferring to teammates even when he shouldn't be.  His focus comes in and out like the tides.  As a coach on the other team, you have to prepare for the possibility that he can destroy what you want to do on both sides of the ball.  As the coach of LO's team, you get to constantly watch him under-perform when measured against the vast potential he possesses.  If there's one sure thing you can say about LO, it is this; regardless of whether you root for or against him, he scares you.

For the past week, Odom has been playing like a man possessed.  It's like somebody is playing NBA Live, but they adjusted Lamar's player rating to 99 in all categories.  He's shooting the ball well, rebounding like a madman, and his aggression is at a level few players can reach.  We all know it won't last, but it is certainly a site to behold.  I recently described his play by saying "It's as if Lamar has typed in a bunch of cheat codes and is now in God mode".  He simply can not be stopped.

Except that he can and will be stopped.  Not by another player, or another team.  Odom will stop himself.  His aggression will not last, his effort will not stay consistent.  We know this is true because we've spent too much time watching Odom's career to think otherwise.  The Odom that has played the past few games is a Max player, and yet our Odom gets paid about half that, because he only gives that type of performance 1/2 of the time (or less).

Yet, I can't help but notice that Lamar's play seems to perk up when the Lakers really need it.  Last year, when Bynum went down, Lamar was the one who stepped up his game the most, allowing the Lakers to pick up victories in Boston and Cleveland behind his effort.  In last year's playoffs, Lamar shot over 50% from 3 pt range.  And this season, with Bynum and Bryant missing the past few games, Lamar has turned in one of the best 3 game stretches of his entire career.  All of it begs the question:  Is Lamar Odom Clutch?

We're not dealing in statistical definitions of clutch here.  We're talking about general sentiment.  Does Lamar perform at his best when his team needs him the most?  A big part of me wants to say yes.  Think about it.  We've heard forever about how inconsistent Lamar is, and it's true.  He certainly does not provide the same effort for every game.  He definitely does not attack the basket all the time.  It is the definition of inconsistency.  But we may be ignoring a pattern to his inconsistency, a pattern that indicates a level of control over what he does.

Forgive the moment of self-indulgence, but Lamar's recent play reminds me a bit of myself.  No, I'm not an NBA level basketball player, though I think I could take LO in a three point contest (the score would be 4-3).  But there is a parallel between what he's doing for the Lakers, and what I've always done.  See, I'm a lazy person by nature, and one of the biggest procrastinators you will ever meet.  If you work on a team with me, there's a decent chance that my participation will disappoint you at some point along the way.  But, when the chips are down, when you need someone to perform well in the crunch at the final hour, I'm exactly the person you want by your side, because I've lived a lifetime's worth of "perform in the crunch" situations.

And I think that's exactly what LO has become.  I don't know if I can consider him inconsistent anymore, because inconsistency denotes that you don't have control over what you are doing.  It seems to me that Lamar is in perfect control.  It seems to me that he has an internal switch that he can flip at any time and turn into an instant All-Star.  Sure, it'd be great if he had the mentality to simply be at his best all the time, but he doesn't.  It's what separates the All-time Greats from the All-Star caliber players (the ones who, like LO, have the talent to be an All-Star, but don't perform up to that talent).  That's not who Lamar is.  It's not even who Lamar is expected to be anymore, as he now has a contract that underpays his best performance, and overpays his worst.  So, now that LO has been properly valued, we can appreciate what he has become.  He's not the best Laker or the most important.  He's not even the X-Factor anymore.  He's simply the guy who won't give you everything he's got until you absolutely need it.  It can be frustrating, it can be annoying, but it's also a great asset to have, because we can have a certain level of confidence that no matter what happens, the Lakers have a little something left in reserve.  When they really need it, Lamar will be there to push them over the top.

[Author's Note:  I'm leaving town tonight for a lovely vacation with my wife, and won't be around the site for the next couple of weeks.  DexterFishmore and our bevy of awesome new authors will make sure that you don't want for reading material and conversation fodder in the interim.  So don't burn down the blog while I'm gone =) ]