This late into the NBA offseason, free agents still on the open market aren't going to be key contributors if they end up inking a deal. However, Lamar Odom could be the exception with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Odom's career has taken a nosedive ever since he left the Los Angeles Lakers, but he's a no-brainer for a Clippers team seeking some frontcourt depth that doesn't come in the form of Ryan Hollins. More than a month after the moratorium has lifted, L.A still only boasts Hollins and Byron Mullens as backup bigs.
That obviously won't cut it in a brutally difficult Western Conference.
But Odom will make a big impact since his skill-set is exactly what the team is looking for from one of the last remaining spots open on the roster. Additionally, he's viewed by the organization as a great teammate, which never hurts.
It's easy to to write the former Sixth Man of the Year off as a washed-up NBA veteran.
After a controversial season with the Dallas Mavericks, Odom wasn't that much better during his first year with the Clippers. He was marginally more efficient but only posted 4.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game while shooting below 40 percent from the field.
However, Odom is only 33 years old, and he won't turn 34 until the 2013-14 campaign is underway. There's no reason for the productive portion of his career to be completely over.
And that's what the Clippers will be banking on.
What Does Odom Bring to the Table?
Odom's value as a scorer is almost completely gone at this stage of his career. He virtually never posts up (and doesn't have much success when he does), doesn't move fast enough to be much of an off-ball or transition threat and can't shoot spot-up jumpers.
Seriously, his jump-shooting is just awful. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Odom was the 310th-best spot-up shooter in the NBA last season, scoring just 0.75 points per possession on 38-of-115 shooting.
Fortunately that's not really what the Clippers are looking for, and Odom brings far more to the table.
His primary impacts come in three areas: rebounding, passing and defense.
As for the first, Odom still has terrific impact on the glass, particularly when he's patrolling for defensive boards. He posted a 26.3 total rebounding percentage—the second-highest mark of his career—during the 2012-13 campaign.
Had he played enough minutes to qualify for the leaderboard, that would have left him as the No. 10 player in the league when it comes to that category. Although he was aided by that limited action, he was still a terrific per-minute crasher of the boards, especially as the decline in his other skills has allowed him to expend more energy in that area.
Odom has also retained his passing and ball-handling skills, although it's far more rare to see him running the show from the top of the key at this stage of his career.
How many big men are able to find a gap like the one Odom noticed on this bounce pass to Ronny Turiaf?
How many can drive the lane, get a defender in the air and then hit the dump-off pass at the last second for an easy assisted layup?
They're few and far between, but Odom is one of them. He still sees lanes that other players his size can't really imagine, and he has the dexterity to actually feed the ball into those tiny gaps in the defensive pressure.
It's a useful skill, but even that isn't quite as beneficial as his defensive prowess.
It might seem shocking because Odom has never been a highly touted defender, but he's blossomed into quite the effective one as his career wears on.
During the 2012-13 season, L.A. allowed 108.5 points per 100 possession when the versatile big man was on the bench, good enough to rank 25th in the NBA if prorated to 48 minutes. However, when Odom played the number dropped all the way to 98.8. That staggering difference produced a number that would have left the Clippers as the top defensive team in the league.
How's that for impactful?
But Odom's defensive play wasn't limited to team impact. He was a standout individual point-preventer as well.
According to Synergy, he allowed only 0.78 points per possession, good for the No. 47 spot in the league. In isolation, he was even better, placing fifth by allowing just 0.54 points per possession.
Even when switched onto guards, he's remarkably savvy when it comes to maintaining positioning and using his long arms to contest shots.
How Does this Help the Clippers?
All three of these strengths will help L.A. off the bench rather significantly, mostly because they're weak areas for the backup bigs who were on board before Odom.
Take a look at how Odom fared on the glass in 2012-13 compared to Hollins and Mullens:
|Offensive Rebound Percentage||Defensive Rebound Percentage||Total Rebound Percentage|
While Hollins was the best offensive rebounder off the bunch, Odom more than made up for the difference on the defensive glass. In fact, only DaJuan Summers recorded a higher percentage of available defensive boards last season, and that's a stat tremendously boosted by a sample size of just seven minutes.
Odom also finished No. 1 in total rebounding percentage, even when you include the starters. The importance of this can't be overstated, especially because neither Blake Griffin nor DeAndre Jordan is one of the league's best cleaners of the glass.
He similarly stands out against the backdrop of established L.A. backup bigs with his defense and skills handling the rock.
The following graph shows the points per possession allowed in 2012-13 by each of these players in different defensive situations, courtesy of Synergy:
Mullens and Hollins are two of the worst defenders in the league. Odom is not.
If there's one image that should stick in your mind as the singular reason for why Odom is a no-brainer for the Clippers, it's that graph. The disparity is just too striking.
Then again, it would be pretty telling if we could provide a visual representation of passing skills, because Odom would blow the other two out of the water in that area as well.
Basically, Odom is everything that Hollins and Mullens are not, and that's what makes him so vital to the team's aspirations.
The Big Picture
Even without Odom, the Clippers are true championship contenders. The offseason moves that they made were that effective.
Upgrading from Vinny Del Negro to Doc Rivers will do wonderful things for the offensive continuity, particularly when they're running plays outside of the transition game. Downgrading from Eric Bledsoe to Darren Collison was completely mitigated by the addition of Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, who will provide outside shooting in spades.
Then, of course, there's Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
These Clippers are talented at the top, balanced across the board and deep at the three smallest positions on the court. That's a recipe for success, even in the remarkably tough Western Conference. Prior to any Odom signing, LAC is up there with the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the realm of elites.
Of course, Odom will help tremendously with the team's biggest flaw: frontcourt depth.
Is he enough to push the Clippers over the top and make them the unquestioned favorites in the West? No, of course not. But he doesn't hurt the team whatsoever, even in his declined state.
Odom will strengthen the Clippers' entry into the realm of elites. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.