I'm Judging Me

With Odom continuing to play the best basketball of his career (42 and 43 in two days against the Warriors) now seems like as good a time as ever to revisit something Shoals mentioned a couple months ago: the dream of what Lamar Odom could be. Now I don't feel capable providing a fully satisfactory response that question at the moment, but I do hope to at least address why the question itself fascinates me as much as it does.

Few players in the NBA inspire pundits and scribes to search for excuses for his inadequacies quite like Lamar does. "He needs the ball in his hands to be effective"; "he's better as a third or fourth option"; "he just doesn't mesh well with Kobe"; "he's not a good fit for the triangle"; "he's more comfortable on the perimeter because of his frame"; "he needs to work in the post to be efficient"; and so it goes. The debate over whether or not he'd be more productive as a 3 or a 4 (designations which, as well as I can tell, don't actually exist in Phil's system) highlights why discussions revolving around him inevitably drift towards unimaginative terms like enigmatic and confounding.

This impulse to rationalize his disappointments and to create alternate universes for his potential to reside in fascinates me, both because it's a pretty absurd thing to do and because I often find myself submitting to it myself. The consensus seems to be that he is failing to live up to some considerable potential but also that his potential is not only indefinable, but very likely unattainable. Which creates an odd tension: the gap between potential and performance typically bears with it the assumption that it could eventually be crossed. With Lamar, I'm not sure even his most ardent supporters believe he could ever actually reach the idealized perception that some of us imagine he could reach if only given an ideal scenario that none of us can really describe.

When Lamar showed up to training camp with a star etched into his hair the explanation was that his barber believed this would be his breakout all-star season. Upon hearing that I thought both, 'OK, that makes sense, there's no reason he couldn't be in New Orleans in a league where Mehmet Okur can be an All Star,' and 'That's going to be embarrassing when February arrives and he's still wearing that ridiculous star.' Sure enough, when he returned from the break, he was back to his pristinely bald head. I imagine there was quite the awkward moment between him and his barber as they were forced to finally concede that this wasn't going to be the year he made the leap.

Over the summer I wrote a fairly-derided post aimed at tearing down Hollinger's numbers, in part because they failed to depict Lamar in a positive light. Looking back on that it strikes me that most people missed how self-consciously questionable my decision was to question the system rather than the player that struggled within it. It was and is much easier to critique an equation rather than accepting that Odom just isn't capable of being as productive as I want him to be. Having an incredibly rare combination of skills, immense physical gifts, and style to spare should be a recipe for success. That Odom's freakish ability to rebound the ball in traffic on one end, push it up the floor, and finish single-handedly at the other doesn't in itself translate to victories, independently of the maturation of Bynum or the acquisition of Pau, is frustrating. I don't want to admit that retrofitted cliches like "winner's mentality" actually hold water on some occasions. I don't want to see Odom retreat into a well-paid rebounding specialist who has occasional flourishes. Conceding that talent alone isn't enough to win basketball games opens the door to the necessity of the Bruce Bowens and Shane Battiers of the world.

Even more troublesome for me personally, sentences like the one above force me to confront the fact that I have the tendency to denigrate things like desire, hustle, cleverness, and work ethic; virtues I would typically applaud in non-basketball settings. Confronting that personal contradiction isn't something I'm exactly prepared to tackle just yet though; this is still ostensibly about Odom and my desire to believe he can be (is?) a star on this stage.

This latest spurt of awesomeness, while causing me to grin from ear to ear, also has me worrying a terrible thought: what if Lamar's much-celebrated versatility is somehow directly related to his much-lamented inconsistency? As though his ability to do various things in a way that few others are capable of actually makes him an impractical player in this league. While the eclecticism of a Marion or a Rasheed works in mysterious ways, the equally irregular puzzle piece that is Odom fails to fit in for equally inexplicable reasons. This is a depressing thought that I choose to reject on emotional grounds, even if my mind is gradually coming to accept that Odom will never be the transcendent star I feel he should be capable of becoming.

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At 3/28/2008 12:31 PM, Blogger Tom said...

I'll probably be completely shot down on this, but isn't Odom the best native New Yorker in the Association these days?

If I'm not just blanking on someone better, it's quite the condemnation on the current status of Ball in Mecca.

At 3/28/2008 12:48 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

Carmelo was born in Brooklyn and lived in the Red Hook projects until he was 8, which doesn't exactly count, much as Michael Jordan's Brooklyn birth is something we brag about here even though he grew up in North Carolina.

But hey, we still have Stephon Marbury!

At 3/28/2008 4:08 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

It's appropriate that Odom is realized against the Dubs, if only because they are the philosopher's stone of Letting It All Hang Out.

That said, for the first quarter of last night, they were routinely abused by Joel The Vanilla Gorilla Pryzbilla. In other words, let's see him do 20-20 against any other team in the league, who presumably wouldn't be giving Matt Barnes serious minutes at the 5.

At 3/28/2008 4:27 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

I haven't figured out Odom either but have watched him several times this season. What I've learned is that he played way better after the emergence of Bynum when he could use his talents opportunistically instead of in a planned and calculateable way. I'ts like he can channel his Magic Johnson or his whoever else only for a few seconds at a time.

Also, Odom and Pau have something special going. The way they have executed beautiful hand-offs even in their first few games together is amazing.

And once every other game he will do something that leaves you scratching your head. Not always as spectacular as the infamous inbounds play (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y0MXOjmWdo), but still strange and out of place after all the good things that preceded it.

And my favorite Odom play of all time:


At 3/28/2008 4:45 PM, Blogger avery said...

this post reminds me of the time I put all small forwards on my team on NBA Live '95. Man, Detlef Schrempf and Cliff Robinson were awesome.

At 3/28/2008 5:04 PM, Blogger Reggie said...

tom - Ron Artest?

At 3/28/2008 6:01 PM, Blogger George said...

"what if Lamar's much-celebrated versatility is somehow directly related to his much-lamented inconsistency"

meaning he should tone down some facets of his game and focus on others? then he just becomes what you feared...

"a well-paid rebounding specialist who has occasional flourishes"



At 3/28/2008 7:48 PM, Blogger Ryne Nelson said...

L.O. fits best into a supporting role. I think he's tried to be a superstar, the No. 1 guy, but that's not his game. When the pressure is essentially off, he becomes that superstar we all expect.

Definitely some backward logic.

At 3/29/2008 1:10 AM, Blogger paper tiger said...

i haven't checked to see if the original got purged in the great flicker fire of '08, but this werner is the first photo repeat i recall at freedarko.

At 3/29/2008 8:31 AM, Blogger Notorious D.I.G. said...

I watched lamar at Rhode Island and dreamed of the Twolves taking him over Wally for a magicallt forward combo with Garnett. I was let down.

The Clips bringing him to my local LA area made me pee my pants. But the team never worked because Lamar, the chosen leader, never stepped up.

In Miami he rode rookie DWade and sophomore Caron's coattails.

By the time he reached LA he was 25 with 5 pro seasons under his belt. His career high scoring avg then and now was 17.2. So at this point, 9 season into his NBA career he's yet to avg 20 a night.

Every team in his 9 seasons has lived off the phrase "up and coming depending on Lamar's development."

9 years in let's face it. There is no consistent development. And consistency is what being a professional is about. Look at his career numbers: http://www.nba.com/playerfile/lamar_odom/career_stats.html

Talentwise, Lamar is on the same page as Lebron. That skillset in that body?! Mentally Lebron is an adult while Lamar is still playing AAU.

At 3/29/2008 10:41 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Tom: Presuming that you are anti-Artest this year, I'm going to throw out Skip To My Lou as the best NYCer this year. Hard to argue with the guy whose team won 22 games in a row, especially when he is a key player on said team.

Beyond that, I think Lance Stevenson is worthy of inclusion in this discussion, too. Is it too early to put him down as a top-5 pick in 2010?

At 3/29/2008 12:14 PM, Blogger berts said...


At 3/29/2008 6:49 PM, Blogger EL MIZ said...

the GOODS is better as a complementary player, nothing wrong with that. he's always had a lot of talent but clearly not the mindset to be a team leader.

At 3/30/2008 3:13 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Not exactly the best source of a player's value, but I think it's funny that in NBA 2K8, Lamar still has an A+ potential. I think he's the only player in the game with more than 8 seasons under his belt that still even has potentiail.

At 3/30/2008 4:23 AM, Blogger Tom said...

CB, have you ever considered that Odom's problem just might be disinterest? I know, not a very interesting theory but from the 200+ games I've seen from him, it seems clear to me that when Odom decides to assert himself, he is absolutely unstoppable. Most of the time, he's opportunistic and at his worst, he's launching 3s from the top of the key with 10 seconds left when there's a clear path to the basket. What strikes me is how often Odom fills up the stat sheet without having any discernable impact on the game.

At 3/30/2008 8:12 AM, Blogger Notorious D.I.G. said...

basically he like a big man's Vince Carter.

At 3/30/2008 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's not quite as bad as Vince. Vince is so contemptuous. Odom is not an "impose the will and change the game to suit your talents" - he just has some bizarre skill set that isn't perfect for basketball. Somewhere, there's a perfect game for him.

At 3/30/2008 5:43 PM, Blogger badly drawn boykins said...

B&M - I've mentioned this on another FD thread in the past, but I get the sense that Vince sees his gift as a burden.

He's the high school kid who would fuck around and still get a B+ average simply because he's smart, but he won't fulfill his A-student potential because, in his mind, the rewards will never be worth the extra work it would take. Plus, what if he tried hard and *didn't* get an A? Better to be a B-student and have people think "He'd be amazing if he just tried." But I'm probably projecting myself on him too much.

Odom, on the other hand, is an aspiring artist stuck in a vocational school.

At 3/30/2008 7:07 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

You know, as long as it has taken him, Marvin Williams is beginning to remind me of Odom. Not in style of play, just the boundless potential.

At 3/30/2008 9:08 PM, Blogger badly drawn boykins said...

el pres,
I was just thinking last night that this would be his senior year had he stayed in Chapel Hill for all four. Which he wouldn't have, of course, but weird thinking a guy who's just old enough to legally drink is a late blooming veteran.

WV: vrbxz = verbal intercoursez

At 4/13/2009 3:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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