Odom the whole package for Lakers
The best way to describe Lamar Odom as a player might be to think of him as Kevin Garnett Lite.
He isn't as dominant as the Celtics' star and doesn't have the same defensive presence, but the overall effect he has on a game is unmistakable in a Garnett-like way. He just does whatever has to be done and he does it in a quiet, efficient way.
To put it bluntly, the Lakers wouldn't be the top seed in the Western Conference if it weren't for Odom, who without much fanfare is having the best season of his nine-year career. He is a facilitator -- the guy who makes everybody else look good by doing a little bit of everything.
"He's absolutely scary good," ABC analyst Mark Jackson said during the Lakers' 128-114 victory against the Nuggets in the opening game of their first-round playoff series. While Pau Gasol was dominant with 36 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and three blocked shots, and Kobe Bryant was Kobe Bryant with 32 points, Odom was his usual steady and reliable self with a complementary 17 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals and only one turnover in 39 minutes. Six of his rebounds were at the offensive end.
"There isn't one thing on the basketball floor that he can't do," Jackson said. Lakers point guard Derek Fisher called Odom "the consummate team player."
The difficulty in dealing with Odom starts with the fact that he plays a unique position, kind of a point power forward. At 6-foot-10, 230 pounds, he's a near-impossible matchup for opponents -- too big and strong for most small forwards to guard, too quick and too good a ball handler for most power forwards.
One thing that has made the Lakers tough to defend this season is that with Odom on the floor, he, Fisher or Bryant can start the offense. That keeps opponents off-guard and guessing, which helps in both fast-break opportunities and in the half court.
What Odom does, ever so subtly, is stay out of his teammates' way while at the same time being wherever he needs to be and doing whatever he needs to be doing to help his team win, whether that be as a scorer, rebounder, assist man or decoy.
While Gasol has gotten much of the credit, and deservedly so, for the Lakers' finishing atop the West, Odom has more than done his part. While the Mavericks and Suns had long adjustment periods as they got used to playing with Jason Kidd and Shaquille O'Neal, respectively, Gasol's assimilation was smooth. One of the reasons for that was Odom. Before the trade, Odom was usually the second option to Bryant, but he has gladly and encouragingly let Gasol move comfortably into that role. Gasol's presence just gave him another player off which to play.
Odom's production actually increased after the trade. He averaged 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists and shot 46.3 percent before Gasol arrived and, going into the playoffs, had increased those numbers to 15.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 59.4 percent since the midseason deal.
If there is a knock against Odom, it's that with all the talent he has, he should be a more dominant player. "He can flat-out do some things on the basketball court," TNT's John Thompson said. "He has as much talent as anyone in the league, but he just doesn't seem to play with passion all of the time."
But it just isn't in Odom's nature to show much emotion when he plays. He just goes about his job in a confident, professional manner. The furthest thing from his mind is to be recognized as a high-scoring superstar.
"I don't really approach the game like that," he said.
His approach has been fine with the Lakers and it could very well be just what they need to get another NBA title.
David DuPree covered the NBA for nine seasons for the Washington Post and 23 seasons for USA Today. His column appears weekly at SI.com.