The higher Blake Griffin’s chin continues to rise above standard, 10-foot NBA rims, the lower Lamar Odom’s chances at making the all-star game become. And in all likelihood, barring a league-wide decision by all of the coaches to award Odom with a lifetime achievement bid, it will be Blake Griffin taking Lamar Odom’s place in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game here at Staples Center come February. There’s a bit of sad irony to be had here if such an occurrence does indeed happen, for it was about 11 years ago that Lamar Odom was in Blake Griffin’s same exact shoes, being fitted with those same lofty expectations as a rookie, donning that same troubled Clipper jersey, being billed as the franchise’s savior – one of the most versatile 6’9 forwards to ever grace the hardwood floor. The fact that LO could potentially be replaced in the All Star game, being held in Los Angeles of all places, by this 6’9 rookie prodigy who’s managed to excel in the role that Odom himself was never quite able to uphold in his 4 years with the Clippers only adds more insult to injury. But at least he got his extra shoves in against Blake Superior the last time the two faced off, right?
I just hope Lamar doesn’t let the inevitable disappointment get to him for too long, for as is the case with most players who play for the Lakers instead of the Clippers, Lamar’s got ‘bigger fish to fry’ anyway – it’s the Laker who’s usually aiming for something greater in the end. For Lamar, it’s that Sixth Man of the Year award, not a fleeting All-Star bid, which should be holding the most weight in his mind.
In order to be eligible for Sixth Man of the year, a player must come off the bench in more games than he starts and if the Lakers’ big men can come out of this season relatively unscathed (knock on wood), Lamar should definitely be right in the running…jumping, and flying. With Manu ginobili now playing as a starter for the Spurs, Jason Terry and the Mavs both struggling (except when they play us), and Gilbert Arenas playing like he’s never seen a hot, Asian grill (or girl, who knows) before, Lamar’s only real competition at the moment is Jamal Crawford (last year’s winner) and the ghost of Ben Gordon. Since coming off the bench 14 games ago against New Orleans, Lamar has experienced no such drop-off from his already stellar, beginning-of-the-year numbers, only registering one sub-par game in which he scored 7 points and 7 rebounds against the Memphis Grizzlies.
As a starter, Odom averaged 15.6 pts, 9.8 rebs, 3.2 assists, while shooting 57% from the field and 36% from deep. Playing six minutes less as a bench player (from 35 to 29 minutes), however, Odom has upped his efficiency and proceeded to average almost identical numbers: 15.6 pts, 9.1 rebs, 2.4 assts, 56% from the field, 36% from deep. With a PER of 20.5 (Kobe has a 24.7), Lamar is hands-down, having the most efficient, most consistent year of his NBA career. Last year as a sub, Lamar often sunk into ‘stench mob’ mode, showing up some nights, disappearing on most others. He averaged a paltry 9 pts, 8 rebs, and 2 assts of the bench last year. So yes, there have been improvements on all sides of the coin for Lamar this year.
For someone who’s struggled with being consistent his entire career, Lamar Odom has truly been a revelation this season. For a 31 year-old entering his 12th season, that’s saying a lot. Whether it be the renewed sense of focus and intensity he gained by playing with Team USA this summer, or the natural paradigm shift he’s undertaken as a married man (or a new part of the Kardashians), Lamar Odom has maintained a strong focus on winning, diligently worked on his own craft, and become a better basketball player at an age when most are content to give way to the young guns of the league.
In the past, whenever Lamar started games off poorly or passively, he’d usually be out of the game for the rest of the night and end up posting some disappointingly mediocre stats. These days, the games he has started off slowly in, Lamar has still found Kobe-like ways to turn-it on in the second half and leave a huge imprint on the game. His recent games against the Nuggets, Mavs (14 of his 20 points in the 4th), the Warriors (scored 16 of his 20 points in the 4th quarter) can attest to that. During this stretch in January, he’s also scored double figures in three straight fourth quarters. FOURTH QUARTERS, folks. Never has that ‘all-star caliber’ moniker so given to Odom every season been more completely justified than this season.
This year, all facets of his game (except for maybe his free-throw shooting) – from his three-point shot to his ability to position himself under the basket for put-backs and easy baskets – have been on point. His mid-range jump shot has been silky-smooth and he’s even added a mini-turn-around jay to his game that I don’t ever remember him having in his arsenal before. Even if Lamar were to average 13 and 8 the rest of the way, the sixth man award is his to lose – especially if the Lakers as a collective unit finally hit their stride. And with the Lakers soon entering a tough remaining schedule filled with playoff-caliber teams, there will be none more important a Laker player than Lamar Odom to help them get through it in one piece.
So yes, would I love to see Lamar be rewarded for his stellar improvement by being named to an all-star team in the city in which he’s played all but one NBA season in? Of course, I would. We all know if Lamar was given the green-light to play his type of free-lance ball, he’d definitely deliver ‘the goods’ and provide the exact type of basketball entertainment that crowds expect (or not expect) to see at an all-star game.
Who doesn’t want to see Odom dribble-the-ball behind the back, bounce it off the rim, and alley-oop it to himself?
Or, better yet, give Blake Griffin a Darius Miles-like alley-oop pass like this?
Simply put, you’d be insane not to let that type of talent play in an all-star game. And for a player who’s spent his entire career putting his teammates before ahead of him, it sure would be nice for Odom to get a little personal spotlight. Unfortunately, Lamar may end up becoming a casualty of circumstance this year – a casualty of an indirect Blake Griffin posterization.
But none of this might even matter when it’s all said and done because when we all look back on Lamar Odom’s NBA career, it could be his role as the Sixth Man of the Year for the three-time defending champs (hopefully!), not a one-time all-star bid, that will leave the most lasting imprint on his legacy as a Laker great. In the end, flashy all-star jersey or not, Lamar Odom is in prime position to potentially hold up yet another trophy in his hands by season’s end – except this time, he alone will be celebrated. Give the man his candy.