Thursday, September 11, 2008

Odom Realized

Holly MacKenzie and I were discussing Lamar Odom earlier today and a couple of ideas that have been circulating around in my head bubbled to the surface.

Odom's struggles on the court are well documented. He has been chronically misunderstood as a player, oftentimes relegated to the post when he is more naturally suited to perimeter play. His size was perennially misinterpreted to mean he would be most effective on the block. And last season, after the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, I joined the sizeable chorus of commentators who praised Jackson for finally utilizing Odom from the spot where he is most comfortable: The 3. Aside from his struggles in the NBA Finals, there seems to be a general consensus that Odom has found his rhythm and role in a way that had eluded him up to this point.

Although happy to see him develop as both a person and a player over the last season, I think that the notion that he has once and for all escaped the label of "underachieving enigma" has been too quickly applied. Odom needs a subtle combination of freedom and support from the Lakers organization that just may not be available. During the Finals, the old Kobe reared his ugly head, and if unselfish Kobe eventually turns out to have been a passing fad, there is a decent chance that Odom could find himself lost again on a team that lacks the necessary chemistry to really bring home another championship. I may be imposing this on him, but in some ways Odom strikes me as one of the NBA players whose confidence, if shaken, most directly affects his productivity. Something about the guy just seems sensitive.

So Holly and I are riffing back and forth on Odom, and she notes how she thinks he may be better suited for a more laid back franchise, like Miami. This reminded me of a feeling I have had for sometime: Michael Beasley will be Lamar Odom, fully realized.

I have always thought that Beasley and Odom were similar players: Muscular, long wingmen who could bang on the inside but were genuinely more dynamic when given some room on the perimeter to let their athleticism come a little loose. I think Beasley has a better outside shot, and in general is just a tab bit more likely to be in the "elite player" category than Odom ever has been. The other similarity is their personalities: both have a very casual style, as well as a playfully healthy sense of their youth (although Odom has always had a more tragic air about him then Beasley likely ever will).

But, unlike Odom, Beasley is already in Miami. Now maybe I am falsely imposing the culture of south Florida on the Heat, but it just seems inevitable that Beasley's casual style will be given more room to breath on South Beach. The positional mistakes surrounding Odom also strike me as less likely to be repeated with B-easy (not to say the threat isn't still there). I like Lamar Odom, and hope that during the next few seasons we see him permanently blossom into the player we hoped he would be. But I think it is much more likely we will look back a few years from now and find our aspirations for Lamar definitively realized by Beasley.


BallerBlogger said...

Beasley is a chucker. I honestly don't know how long he'll be content as the second option in Miami.

Odon is comfortable as the third option.

I'm not so sure there's any comparison between the two.

But that's just me...

Graydon said...

Obviously Beasley has first option potential, but I don't know if I would characterize him as a chucker. For now, he is likely to be a better scorer than Marion, maybe not immediately, but soon. I guess I just think Wade has the humility (as well as passing ability) to keep Beasley content. But then again, you may be right.

As far as the comparison goes, their games have a lot of differences, yes, but I think their similar physicality causes certain aspects of their styles of play to easily resemble one another.

BallerBlogger said...

I agree that they're both versatile. But I don't think Beasley is a power forward in the NBA. I think the power forward spot is Odom's best position too.

The Lakers tried to make him a point forward and the experiment wasn't very successful.

Beasley is only only 6-8. I think his game is going to be much more perimeter oriented than Odom's is.

Beasley's game reminds me of Carmelo Anthony. Both players can work inside and out, but are most comfortable facing up from about 20feet.

Graydon said...

I agree that Odom isn't a point forward, he really shouldn't be distributing the ball, but I do think he is better on the perimeter than as a power forward (and by on the perimeter I more accurately mean cutting to the basket rather than setting up on the block).

I think the Melo-Beasley comparison is intriguing. I think you're right to identify their jumpers as similar (at least in terms of the spots they choose), but I think Beasley has the potential to be a lot more physical than Melo will ever be.

BallerBlogger said...

Beasley may be more physical. But Melo doesn't exactly shy away from contact either.

I agree that Odom is most effective when he's on the move, particulary cutting to the basket. But most of his cuts occur from the elbows-in, rather than the 3-point line-in.

The problem with Odom at the three, is that he's not a very good shooter from long-distance -- which Beasley is. And you don't want to give Lamar too many options. You want him reacting rather than thinking his way through a game.

That's why the experiment with him at the point forward failed miserably. He's just not a great decision maker.

Odom is also a vastly underrated low-post scorer. I've never understood why the Lakers haven't utilized him more on the block.

I think Beasley is a much better shooter from long-distance. And he's a guy that's going to be able to score in a lot of ways. He's going to be a go-to-guy in the NBA.

Both players are incredibly versatile. But Odom never had go-to-scorer type skills. That, to me, is the biggest difference between the two.

nicny said...

You are certainly correct in your post about a few things: Odom is often understood as a player, the possibility of Odom's confidence being shaken and how that affects him, and how he really came to life after the acquisition of Pau Gasol.

But you are off on where Lamar truly flourished last year and why he did so. LO played the four alongside Pau Gasol, and before that Andrew Bynum, and averaged more rebounds than he had previously in his career. While I agree that Lamar is more comfortable on the perimeter, slashing to the rim and getting that little lefty scoop lay-up, than backing down an opponent on the block, he length, size, and athleticism allow him to flourish at the four on both ends of the floor. The big reason why he stepped it up so big after Pau arrived, however, was that an immense amount of pressure was relieved from the guy, whom you aptly deem as tragic; I've always seem Odom as a bit of a "Charlie Brown" kind of guy. But he was able to find an incredibly useful role once he could slide down to the Laker's third scoring option. There, he didn't have to focus so much on the hoop, so he was allowed to do what comes naturally, which is focus on his teammates, making them, and ultimately himself, better in the process.

I am a huge supporter of Lamar Odom, and those fans who were calling for him to be traded for someone like Ron Artest should really be ashamed of themselves. He has really been our glue guy since the Shaq trade, and will continue to be so as long as he is allowed to be. THAT'S why he improved so much last year, not because he was moved to the three, where he hardly played at all. That is Vlad The Impaler Radmanovic's starting spot, which is a whole other story...

Oro3030 said...

I think your Beasley - Odom comparison has some validity. Where I think you have it wrong is that Miami is a more "laid back" organization than the Lakers. I think the opposite is true. The Heat organization is a reflection of Pat Riley - very hard nosed and by the book with crazy conditioning standards (ask Posey and 'Toine) and no tolerance for malcontents (see Smush Parker's banishment). I think the reason Odom thrived in Miami was both the more structured nature of the Heat organization and the offense SVG ran for Odom (basically a point-power forward where he had very delineated decisions to make).

rebelsushi#9 said...

Slight correction, before Pao odom played the 4, with andrew bynum and kwame fitting in at center. After pao came in, odom still played the 4.

I believe he was playing the 3 for a few games in the begginging when ronnie turiaf got the start at the 4.

Jackson has only used him on the perimeter last season as a point forward. but it wasn't as obvious cause its the triangle where there are no point guards anyways.

The ONLY time he was ever truly used on the permitter was his first few seasons on the clippers where he was practically the point guard and he REALLY was on his way to being the next magic.

Joe said...

Who are these people who think Odom is an underachiever? Seems pretty weird to me, he's been an extremely valuable and productive player for his entire NBA career.

Now, a guy Darko, that's what I would consider an underachiever. But certainly not Lamar Odom.

I guess there are some people out there who just can't appreciate all-around players like Odom. Go figure.

Joe said...

And I want to add that Beasley will probably score more points than Odom, but their rebounding numbers should be similar (9 or 10 per game). I expect Odom to put up more assists, blocks, and steals, along with more smart and unselfish plays that don't show up in the box score.

I think Beasley will be sort of a poor man's Charles Barkley/Carmelo Anthony hybrid, but I just don't know if he has the bball IQ, the unselfishness, or the defensive ability to ever lead a team to a championship. Remember, there are a lot of guys in the NBA who can put up 20/10, or close to it, but that doesn't necessarily make them great players (ex: Zach Randolph).

Wang McMuffin said...

The year Odom spent in Miami was probably his best year, and he played very well there, it really revived him and brought him back into the spotlight a bit. It was sad for me when he(and Tuff Juice) were traded to LA where he reverted back to old Lamar. I have to say though, in Miami it was probably as oro said, a much more structured approach, where it was more of a do this or this, and not a loose as Jackson runs things.

Steve said...

Odom didn't play the 3 after the Gasol trade. He remained a 4. The only 3 associated with him was as the no.3 option, or with the notion that Lakers are a better team if Odom's the third best player.

I agree that Odom gets an unfair and ignorant amount of grief and criticism for not playing in the post more. He's just not that good in there and I don't understand why people don't get the hint. His post game consists of trying to get as close to the rim as possible to get a layup. There's no shot fakes and up-and-unders, no turnaround jumpers or hook shots, just brutal force. In a sense, his great physical size is more of a burden than a blessing.

What this reminds me of is how people also always criticized Antoine Walker for not playing inside more, just because he was tall. Didn't people notice that his touch around the basket was horrible? (a characteristic he shares with Odom) That he quick shot everything to avoid getting blocked? (not that it helped, he got stuffed a lot). I found it exasperating, maddening. If anything needed changing, it was that he shoot fewer threes and try to average 7 assists rather than 20 points because he was such a talented passer. He could have averaged 17/10/7 and been one of the best all-around players if he wasn't so in love with scoring so much. I always wondered what could have been.

Thinking of it, Odom and Walker seem a lot alike to me. Of course there's some big differences: Walker, the Celtics version anyway, has an Alpha personality while Odom is much quieter. On the court that comes out as Walker wanting to be an no.1 option while Odom is susceptible to blending into the background, drifting invisibly. But what they do share is a singular skill on the court, the ability as 6'9, 6'10 power forwards to grab a rebound and streak down the court. When Odom does it, it's beautiful, his long limbs lope down the court. Walker's style is to high step it, to chug his knees like a locomotive and it's no less captivating. I can't think of any other power forward of their era who possessed this ability. Well, maybe Dirk but he was never a fastbreak initiator.

When Walker and Odom entered the league, they were considered possible point forwards. Odom was even touted as potentially revolutionizing the game. This is why, to tie this in with Beasley, that I don't think Beasley would be Odom realized. Odom, fully realized, was going to be the Magic Johnson of forwards. Beasley, fully realized, is a scoring champion, his era's Bernard King. Or maybe a better Glenn Robinson, a Robinson who averages more free throws and rebounds. But at the same time, they do share two big weaknesses of poor defense and subpar passing skills. I don't think I would be surprised if maybe Beasley doesn''t underwhelm a bit like Robinson.