Lamar Odom can give defenses fits, but Rick Carlisle will need to be strategic to consistently produce those frustrations for Mavs' opponents.
Tyson Chandler had just left town, and the Mavs were looking like aging rockers who had played the tour of their lives, only to lose one of the best drummers around to a youthful new band.
With Odom, they picked up the basketball equivalent of musician Dave Grohl, the former drummer of Nirvana and current guitarist and lead singer of the Foo Fighters. Like Grohl, Odom is a seasoned performer who is poised in various positions.
Odom has thus brought unexpected cheer to Dallas and a resurgence of repeat hope.
Odom’s versatility means he can fill multiple gaps for the Mavs, but they need to make sure they don’t try to squeeze Odom into Chandler’s empty shoes, especially during the stress of some of the inevitable losses that will come while experimenting with rotations and integrating new components into a cohesive squad.
Brendan Haywood will start at center; he is no Chandler. But neither is Lamar Odom. And that could be a good thing, as long as the team conceptualizes accordingly.
Rick Carlisle’s job of getting the most out of Odom will require focused vision at the level of X’s and O’s and attention to a broader philosophical outlook about who the Mavericks are this year: a versatile, aging team that needs to manage regular season playing time with precision to make another deep playoff run.
Odom played for a Buddhist in Phil Jackson, and like all good Buddhists, the Mavs will need to realize the illusory nature of the self; there is no single individual who can make up for the defensive losses represented by the departures of Chandler and DeShawn Stephenson. The Mavs are going to need to get used to perpetually saying “help” and giving it frenetically at the defensive end.
Let’s consider what the Mavs lost with Chandler’s significant departure: a strong low post defender who alters a lot of the shots that he doesn’t block (1.1 per game in the regular season last year and 0.9 in the playoffs), a prodigious offensive and defensive rebounder who refuses to be out-hustled at either end and an efficient but not flashy low-post scorer (except for rim-rocking put-backs) who consistently plays within himself.
Odom is a solid offensive and defensive rebounder as well. He averaged 8.7 rebounds per game in the regular season with the Lakers last year, just short of Chandler’s 9.4.
On the defensive end, Odom will challenge shots, but at 6’10”, he does not pose the same threat that the 7’1” Chandler does.
They also, of course, do not play the same position. Chandler is a natural 5 (center), while Odom can switch from the 4 (power forward) to 3 position (small forward), and, although less intuitively, he can play some 5 (center) as well. Odom should only occupy center in emergency situations.
On the offensive end, Carlisle can play mad scientist with Odom, seeing what sparks fly with different combinations.
Of the various potions, the most potent will be a Lamar Odom, Shawn Marion mix. With these two, the Mavs have one of the most versatile (and underrated) duos in the league (granted, it is a 65-year-old duo). Add the prolific scoring of Nowitzki for a trio, and you have a potential explosion.
Rick Carlisle is not sure whether that combustible mix will explode with offense or implode Mav cohesion, but he is willing to try it.
"Dirk, Shawn Marion and Lamar were all out there for one stretch and that is a lineup we felt we had to look at. We are going to be playing it some here and there, not sure how much, but the only way to get everybody more acclimated is to play them through some of these struggles. I’m going to remain upbeat, but realistic about it. We have work to do."
The Mavs may not be sure how much they will try the trio during the regular season, but it will need to be their game-changing combination at both ends of the floor come playoff time because, well, to be frank, it is one of their only hopes.
Carlisle needs to try everything with Odom because Odom brings so many things to the court. His three-point shooting improves every year, so he can stretch the floor. His handle for a big guy is solid, and as long as he is hitting his jumpers, he will be able to blow by a lot of forward-leaning defenders who have to challenge his shot.
He can also play in the post.
In a shortened season, there is less room for regular season error. Experiment can devolve quickly into the kind of negative momentum that slides otherwise good teams out of playoff contention, or into unenviable first-round matchups.
It will be tempting, then, for Carlisle to lock Odom into a fixed role at a relatively early stage.
Carlisle needs, though, to be able to take early losses without panicking and without stretching Odom too far. That means monitoring his minutes and not making him a temporary stop gap, but rather, priming him for the playoffs.
Let Lamar flourish and work out kinks in diverse rotations; release his creativity and versatility, even if the adjustment period for the Mavs has some awkward moments.
Lamar Odom is not Tyson Chandler with a Kardashian accessory.
The 2010-11 Mavs are gone. But that doesn't mean the 2011-12 Mavs can't win it all again. If they want to consecutively reach those lofty NBA heights, they need to take chances and experiment on the fly.
That is something that the versatile Lamar Odom does quite well.