Lamar Odom adapts to starter's role in place of Andrew Bynum rather quickly
Every game involves the same routine.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom doesn't go into much detail explaining what that is, other than keeping himself prepared mentally and physically. But by the way he's played this season, it's obvious the approach has worked. Whether he's starting or coming off the bench, he's still provided the same versatility and consistency that makes him hard to stop.
Of course, that role is nothing new for Odom, a reason why Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called him "invaluable" and argued the Lakers wouldn't have won the 2010 NBA title had the organization and Odom not agreed to a four-year, $33-million deal in July 2009. But it's still amazing to see how Odom maintains that level of play.
While Andrew Bynum served the first of his two-game suspension in the Lakers' 84-80 victory Sunday over the Portland Trail Blazers, Odom took a starter's role at power forward, while Pau Gasol moved to center. The result: Odom produced a double-double with 16 points on eight-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds, numbers that ring fairly similar to the ones he's produced in all 70 games (14.3 points on 53.8% and 8.7 rebounds per contest). Even if the Lakers lament Bynum's absence in Tuesday's game against the Phoenix Suns, they're at least comforted in knowing Odom can fill that void.
"I know my role on this team," said Odom, who's third on the team in multiple categories, including scoring (14.3), rebounding (8.7), assists (3.0), minutes played (32.2) and second in both field-goal (53.8%) and three-point (38.3%) percentage. "Now more than ever, I try to keep myself prepared just in case. Who knows? A turned ankle or a two-game suspension. Who knows what it's going to be? I just try to be prepared physically and mentally, just having myself in that good space where I can just come in and do a good job."
Clearly, Odom's used to it by now. He started in Bynum's place in the first 33 games of the season, 24 while Bynum rehabbed from his surgically repaired right knee and nine as Bynum phased himself back into the lineup. Though Bynum's absence eventually put a toll on Gasol, very little of that reflected on Odom. In fact, Odom's numbers as a starter eclipsed those as a reserve, including points per game (15.7, 13), field-goal percentage (57.2%, 50.5%) and rebounds (10.1, 7.4). These numbers don't necessarily reflect a discrepancy in effort as much as a change in roles. Regardless, Odom has maintained the same sharpness stemming from his work last summer in the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
"It's nothing to him," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said of Odom. "We can put him at the five and it's easy for him. It just speaks to how talented he is and how he's used to playing in this system. It's a walk in the park for him. It's a big advantage for us. We got an All-Star who's willing to come off the bench. It makes us a much better ballclub."
Jackson didn't exactly agree with the assertion that Odom's move to the starting spot against Portland proved seamless, however. Jackson recalled having a conversation with him about the Trail Blazers beating the Lakers in second-chance points and rebounds, pointing to his need to be more assertive in filling Bynum's void. But Odom quickly overcame it in the second half, leading a fourth-quarter charge that entailed making a right-handed layup, scoring off Gasol's pass inside and grabbing a defensive rebound that led to a Bryant layup. The latter play tied the score at 74-74 and shifted the momentum in the Lakers' favor.
That's the kind of play Odom has exhibited all season, except mostly off the bench, a reason why Jackson believes Odom is a strong candidate for sixth man of the year. But for one more game, Odom will carry that skill set as a starter, a role he's always willing to fill.
"You can spark the team in so many different ways," Odom said. "I don't necessarily have to score to spark the team by scoring. I can start with a rebound, an assist, pushing the ball or pushing us in transition. ... We have to find out how to score as a team as a second unit."
-- Mark Medina
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