When Lamar Odom isn't living it up scripted reality style or selling unisex colognes with his wife, Khloe Kardashian, he's been spending his time playing superb basketball. Consistently. Twelve seasons in, Lamar Odom is having the best season of his career.
There could be many reasons. It could be his summer spent helping Team USA win gold at the World Championships. Or the the comfort of having a new contract and two NBA Championship rings. Or happiness in his personal life and new found celebreality fame. Personally, I think Lamar has fully embraced what it means to be a professional. To give fans his best effort night in and night out. That's not to say he wasn't professional before. The difference is that, now he's more in the spotlight. Thanks to the Kardashians, he has a slew of new fans to impress. He's loving the fame and performing his best because there's tons of people turning on the Lakers to see him play. He's a star now, and he's playing like it. It could very well be that simple.
Whatever the reason is, there's gotta be some method to the madness. At least on offense. So, I decided to see if there's any difference in how he's scoring his points now compared to seasons past.
Checking raw averages from this season to date, Lamar is averaging 15.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game in 33.6 minutes per game. Although he comes off the bench again, since Andrew Bynum's return, he pretty much plays starter's minutes. He has consistently been a 15 and 10 guy in his Lakers tenure, but in the same role off the bench in the last two seasons, his numbers have been 11.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 2008-09, and 10.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 2009-10. Even if he is playing 2-3 more minutes per game this season than the previous two seasons, his Per 36-Minutes averages will show that he's scoring at his best rate since he's been a Laker, at 16.4 points per game. That's more than his raw average of 15.9 points per game average in 2005-06 when he played 39.1 minutes.
Point and minute averages aside, the real improvement has been in his field goal percentage. This season's mark of 55.5% is by far the most efficient average of his career, and only the second time in his career that he's shot better than 50%. The only other time was in 2007-08 when he shot 52.5%. So what's the difference in this drastic spike in FG%? It's simple. Lamar is taking it to the basket more, and converting with LeBron James-like ease. He's also shooting the three much better than any point in his career.
At the rim, Lamar is taking 5.2 shots per game, while making 3.8 of them for a whopping 72.0% success rate. How good is that? Rim beasts LeBron James and Dwight Howard average 70.5% and 74.9%, respectively. Hell, it's also better than Pau Gasol, who averages 70.4% at the rim. Lamar actually takes more shots at the rim than Pau (4.5), slightly less than LeBron (5.6), and less than Dwight (6.1). That's just a handful of players to compare LO to, but keep this in mind, LeBron is similar to Lamar in the fact that they are both elite rebounders that can grab a board and go coast to coast. James may be the most dangerous finisher in the NBA, and Dwight and Pau are centers. All three can finish with either hand, but Lamar tends to be strictly lefty. Which should tell you how successful he's been at attacking the rim. Unfortunately, I can't provide you with data on what percentage of his forays to the basket involve the right hand, but we've all watched enough of Lamar to know he doesn't use it often. He's a one-trick pony still getting it done. As a point of reference, another tricky lefty big man, Zach Randolph, only averages 62.2% at the rim.
Comparing this season to the past two seasons - in which he played the same 6th Man / Bynum Injury starter role - Lamar's at the rim averages don't even come close to this season. In 2008-09, he shot 59.0%, and 58.5% in 2009-10. That's one hell of an improvement. Even more so, if you consider that he's going to the basket more too. He took 4.9 shots at the rim in 2008-09, and 4.0 shots in 2009-10.
The three-point line is also where he's made drastic improvement. Right now, he's shooting 37.4% from long range. That number in itself is pretty pedestrian for an NBA player, but for Lamar, it again marks the best season average of his career. In 2008-09, he shot 32.0% and 31.9% in 2009-10. I'd like to tell you that some rhyme or reason for the improvement with his shooting from deep, but there doesn't seem to be any I can tell from numbers. My gut tells me that maybe he takes them more in rhythm, since he's assisted on less of them this season (73.0%) than the the previous two seasons (90.9% and 82.8%, respectively). Yet, in 2007-08, when he was assisted on 74.1% of his threes, he shot a disgusting 27.4%. It's very possible that he's just decided to take better threes while also becoming a slightly better shooter at the same time.
Now, we've established that he's finishing at the rim and shooting the three better than ever. What's baffling is most other shots in between are actually worse. From less than 10 feet, Lamar is shooting better this year at 49.5% on 1.8 shots per game compared to 42.0% (1.2 shots) in 2008-09, and 47.7% (1.1 shots) in 2009-10. That's fine. So close to the basket, Lamar is deadly. But he's only a 31.8% shooter from 10-15 feet. Fortunately, doesn't take enough to hurt his shooting, nor the team. He's only averaged 0.4, 0.5, and 0.4 shots from that range since 2008-09. From 15-23 feet, he takes 1.7 shots per game and shoots 38.0%. In 2008-09 and 2009-10, he took 1.2 shots from that range, but dropped from 42.0% to 38.0% , respectively. Keep in mind though, he is playing more minutes this season. That will account for the up-tick in shot attempts from 15-23 feet, but he doesn't shoot it well enough to warrant him taking that shot often.
If there's anything to learn from chewing these numbers, it seems that Lamar Odom has found success in realizing that he should be going to the basket a lot more, and taking smarter threes (for him), and realizing to stay away from the mid-range where he struggles. For a player with his skill set - a fantastic rebounding, lefty 6'10 power forward who can dribble like a guard - trips to the basket should be something he makes it a point to take advantage of. Threes should be taken when a defender is giving him too much respect on his dangerous drives to the bucket. He's been consistent in playing to his strengths, while making it a point to stay involved. Inconsistency and lack of aggression are two problems that had seemingly plagued Lamar throughout his career, whether true or not. Maybe the increased spotlight and confidence has finally made him realize what a match-up nightmare he is, and more importantly, made him take advantage. He knows his own strengths and weaknesses now, and has adjusted his game accordingly. You couldn't have scripted this reality any better.
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All stats courtesy of ESPN, Basketball-Reference, and Hoop Data.