Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lamar Receives an Apt Award

Image via Wikipedia
Lamar Odom finally got an NBA award befitting his unique talents.  He finally got a major award period.  He is this year's Sixth Man of the Year.

The multidimensional Odom was on the 2000 all-rookie first team, an award that came with the expectation that he'd make his way onto a 20xx all-NBA team.  A 6'10 forward who could handle the ball, rebound, shoot from the outside and make passes that men five to 10 inches shorter usually make, Odom was supposed to be a nightly triple-double threat.  He was supposed to be a big-time scorer.

Well, we all know that didn't happen.  Lamar never averaged over 18 points per game or made an all-NBA team.  He accumulated a respectable 12 triple-doubles throughout his career.  He didn't meet people's initial expectations of what he'd become, partly because they overrated his talent, and partly because they placed a mentality upon him that he simply didn't have.  Without a low post game or even an average 3-point shot (career 32.1 percent shooter), Lamar was never equipped with the necessary skills to be a big-time scorer.  Handles separate good perimeter threats from middling threats, and though Lamar was tall and could bring the ball up the court, he didn't possess elite attacking handles.  Going right is always an adventure for Lamar, and going left and finishing at full-speed off the dribble isn't a gimme either.  He had skills, but he wasn't Kevin Garnett at power forward or Carmelo Anthony as a multidimensional scoring forward.

How did the expectorators (I know it's not a word, but it sounds dangerously professional) plop a mentality onto Odom that he emphatically rejected you ask?  Watching Odom for a decade now, I've never seen a player act more unselfishly.  Sure, he possesses extraordinary vision for a power forward, but passing ability isn't what I'm talking about here.  It's his active decisions on the basketball court to make his teammates look good that put Odom in a rarefied air among NBA players.  A telling anecdote is the story of when Odom was being examined by NBA scouts.  During the game, he passed the ball more than usual and tried to get his teammates involved, trying to make them look good for the scouts who were there.

Another is during a blowout victory for the Lakers last year.  Odom was playing with the bench warmers in garbage time.  With maybe a minute or so to play, he caught the ball and could have shot over the non-existent outstretched arm of an incredibly lazy opposing bench warmer.  Instead, he swung the ball to his teammate in the short corner, who proceeded to hit a jumper.  As I've said before, swing passes make champions.

Lamar doesn't look out for himself, which is part of the reason why he is an astoundingly effective support player, or glue player.  As a second option in 2006 and 2007, Lamar was an inconsistent sidekick to Kobe Bryant, a sidekick who never saw a rise in stats that usually accompanies being a clear-cut second option for a talented player in his prime.  There's a reason for that:  Lamar's not an "option"-type player, a blessing of a trait and a curse of a trait if Lamar's on your team.  He won't dominate for you, but you know his decisions will always be in the best interest of his teammates.  That's valuable.

Receiving the 2011 Sixth Man of the Year award fits Lamar.  He's still only 31, still talented enough to start on teams.  But he sacrificed and accepted his place as a sixth man coming off the bench for a championship team behind Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.  Atypical for most.

The voters got it right.  The award found its rightful owner, apropos after Lamar has spent a decade dutifully finding his teammates.  Typical for one- Odom.             

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