By: Kathy Hoskins
LOS ANGELES – Like most of the others, the Sixth Man Award is pretty vague. Is it for a player that actually is the sixth guy in the rotation? Is it for a bench player, exclusively? Can a guy that started almost half his team’s games win it?
According to the rules, yes. To be eligible, you just have to come off the bench more games than you started. Lamar Odom is just barely eligible (34 starts, 39 off the bench). But in a way, that’s one of the best parts of his Sixth Man resume.
Odom has filled in everywhere this season for the Lakers. Power forward, center, small forward. The guy is maybe the most versatile player in the league. And it’s not like he’s done a good job. He’s done a fantastic job.
At 14.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on nearly 54 percent shooting (almost 60 percent true shooting, the highest of his career) and a PER of 19.88, Odom might be having his best, most efficient season of his career.
He’s always been sort of the X-factor for the Lakers because of his unique skillset. And he’s always been very good for them in whatever role he’s used. But his main issue has been consistency. This season, he’s been reliable almost every single night. When that happens not only is he one of the most dynamic players in basketball, but the Lakers are maybe the toughest team to beat.
Look at what he did in the World Championships in Turkey. Playing as one of the United States only big men, Odom was absolutely vital to the team bringing home gold for the first time in 16 years. His value to a team can’t be understated. Things like points and rebounds per game don’t often do him justice. Most felt Odom was an All-Star snub for his efforts this season, despite his apparently “low” numbers.
Not that his number are bad though. He’s second in scoring off the bench and first in rebounds. He’s 10th in the entire league in field goal percentage and among power forwards (if that’s what he even is), he’s fifth in assists per game. However you cut it, Odom has had a great year.
There are other very nice candidates, no doubt. Jason Terry of course, Jamal Crawford, Thaddeus Young, Glen Davis and a few others. Sixth Man is sort of one of those hard to figure awards because you have to try and measure production versus impact off the bench versus value to the team versus other intangibles. What separates Odom for me is that he encapulates everything you want in a role player. Able to step in and start three positions. Able to play in crunch time. Able to take over a game on his own if needed. And always productive. Checks across the board.
That’s not always been the case for Odom as when his career wraps, I think we’ll all look at his incredibly unique skills and ability and wonder if he underachieved. I don’t necessarily see it that way — especially these last few seasons with the Lakers — because fitting in next to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol is hard. Really hard.
For guys like Terry and Crawford, they basically know what they’re called on to do. Terry is to play second fiddle to Dirk and score in bunches. Same for Crawford off the Atlanta bench. But Odom has to manage how he fits next to being productive. That’s really, really challenging. And a reason stats don’t always tell the story.
Odom really feels like the one player out of this group that if you subtracted him, his team would be cost a substantial number of wins. I really think he’s that valuable to what the Lakers do. Just the options he gives Phil Jackson late in games to match up or create mismatches with.
Really, the best argument there is right now as to why not to vote for Odom is because he started so many games. As long as he’s within the rules, it doesn’t matter to me and again, I kind of like that. Like I said, being the type of play that’s able to fill in wherever is needed is what makes a great sixth man.
Being a bench player is something Odom has said is sort of hard for him to grasp, because he knows how good he is. He was the No. 4 overall pick of the Clippers in 1997 and has the ability to start for basically everyone.
“At first, it was hard for me,” Odom told reporters recently. “From a business standpoint, the year Phil wanted me to come off the bench was my free agent year. You know how that goes. When you’re a free agent, you want to start and play as many minutes as you can. But it was the right decision.
“As a sportsman, you’re used to starting,” he continued. “I used to be one of the guys and go to guys on the team. I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t. I’ll be honest with you, a little bit. I’ve always started for every team I was on and was one of the first three options.”
And that sort of mentality is exactly what makes a guy a great team player and a great sixth man. A lot of guys with the kind of profile Odom has and talent aren’t willing to sacrifice minutes and a starting spot. Odom is, while still playing at one of the highest levels he ever has.