Forget his pedigree and the additional attention his so-called “family,” and reality TV show will bring this season. The most important thing Lamar Odom will add to the Clippers this year is what they lacked most last year: versatility, particularly in the frontcourt.
Last season, the Clippers were forced to play unconventional lineups with conventional players. Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin played substantial minutes out of position at center, even though neither player is taller than 6-foot-9. Mo Williams and Chauncey Billups, albeit more inclined to play off-the-ball offensively at this point in their careers, were overmatched when defending taller, longer, quicker and more athletic shooting guards.
These jumbled and undersized line-ups limited the Clippers’ defensive efficiency (they ranked 18th) — as one player was usually caught in a mismatch, causing the rest of the team to try and compensate by over-helping — and often threw their rotations out of wack. The Clippers lacked “positionless” players, and in Odom, they seem to have found one.
This season the lanky 13-year veteran will play interchangeably alongside Griffin and Jordan in a now impressive frontline. Throw in his ball-handling skills, court vision and playmaking ability, and you also have a utility option who can play small forward in a pinch.
Though with the addition of Grant Hill, the 48 minutes at the three-spot will be occupied by either Caron Butler or Hill. Thus Odom will solely be playing the four and the five — mainly center in a small ball, stretch the floor type line-up — sans foul trouble or, gasp, an injury to one of the aforementioned small forwards.
Besides his positional flexibility — which cannot be understated; last season’s squad was basically one center and three “traditional” power forwards — Odom brings a unique dynamic to both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
With the ball, Odom can do multiple things last year’s Clipper big men couldn’t do: shoot from beyond a few feet from the basket, dribble penetrate from behind the 3-point arc, lead a fastbreak, take care of the ball, and create for others (Griffin can pass from the high post, the low post or on the attack, but Odom’s a much more creative passer).
The Clippers’ offense, mainly their second unit, will gain a new playmaker who actually looks for his teammates’ shots instead of his own, something they lack whenever Paul is off the floor. Depending on how Vinny Del Negro uses Odom in his offensive schemes, L.A. can only improve from their standing as the league’s fourth-most efficient offense.
Expect more pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pop options, different high-low variations, and spur of the moment plays created by Odom’s selflessness and keen vision.
The cherry on top is his ability to stretch the floor and keep the defense honest (because we all know no Clipper big man was a real perimeter threat last year) — he’s the “stretch four” Del Negro and former GM Neil Olshey always discussed and coveted. Odom’s only a career 31.7 percent 3-point shooter, which isn’t lights out, but in 2006 and 2011 he shot over 37 percent on about 2.5 attempts per game.
Defensively he’s not as quick or athletic as he used to be, but isn’t worse than any current Clipper defender besides maybe Jordan, who has his own number of flaws. Odom can defend at least three positions and switch onto slower guards in the pick-and-roll if need be.
Even with his on-the-court troubles last year, Odom ranked 75th in points per possession (PPP) on the defensive end, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Furthermore, he ranked 56th in PPP when defending isolation plays, allowing just 28.9 percent shooting, and 82nd in PPP when defending spot-ups, thus proving he was still an above-average defender despite his perceived minimal effort.
He’s not going to block a lot of shots or be an interior enforcer, but he can contribute within a defensive system (if the Clippers ever decide to implement one), defend multiple styles of big men, play superb help defense, rotate efficiently and use his length to contest shots or deflect passes. Plus he’s one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the game. This is important, as the Clippers could not defend the pick-and-roll — particularly the roll man — last year.
Last season was a small sample size and probably a terrible indicator, as Odom’s playing time and effort were sporadic resulting in an atrocious season, but it’s apparent that his offensive output suffered more than his defense. With the acquisition of Jamal Crawford, to go along with Hill’s arrival, the Clippers clearly have enough scorers. They need someone who can stabilize the second unit both offensively and defensively, make smart plays, defend well and grab rebounds.
Odom is that guy.
Of course, this is all dependent on the Clippers getting pre-2012 Odom.
If they get last year’s apathetic and out-of-shape version, this is not only a horrible deal, but a costly one, as there are more than a handful of teams looking for a point guard of Mo Williams’ caliber. They could have turned that asset into something.
If they get 50 to 75 percent of the 2007-2011 Lakers’ version — around 8-10 points, 6-8 rebounds, 2-3 assists, 15+ PER — then this is an absolute steal and can potentially vault the Clippers into contention for the Western Conference crown (which the Thunder have a firm grasp on right now, with the Lakers quickly gaining ground). Odom, when on his game, is that good.
This move was and still is a huge risk. But it’s safe to say Odom will have some type of bounce-back performance next season. He’s too good not to. There’s too much at risk. It’s a contract year and his pride and reputation are on the line. He clearly didn’t care for being a Maverick last season. Part of his subpar play was unquestionably age and miles, yes, but he was also mentally checked out in a place he didn’t want to be.
He always wanted to remain in L.A. Now, he’ll have a chance to face his demons, make amends with his past and write his own future. Sticking it to the Lakers — and Steve Nash in particular — in their own building will be high on his motivational list as well.
Odom is not the same player he was two or three years ago. There’s no telling of the effect of his personal tragedies and increased self-awareness from his reality television show. And who knows, maybe he no longer cares about basketball. We don’t know what type of Odom we’ll see next year. Only time will tell where his heart lies. If it’s with the Clippers, he’s a game-changer who can shift the balance of the Western Conference.