Since the Mavs' last game against the Lakers, a fair amount has been written about the mystery of Lamar Odom. Kobe has expressed something to the effect of hoping the Mavs never solve the mystery. But after Friday night's win in Orlando, Rick Carlisle stated something that in retrospect seems obvious and for me makes the mystery much less mysterious...
One of the challenging things for Lamar is he's going to be replacing Dirk most of the time he comes in the game. In that case he doesn't get to play with him. Playing with Dirk is one of the things that make players better players.
In a comment beneath merko's post on Saturday, What happened to Lamar Odom?, ck4 says
My opinion about Lamar is that he's not a star and never has been. He needs to play with a star so he can get open. When he was on the floor in LA, it was usually with Kobe or Pau. Here he replaces our star, which leads to him being the best player on the court among our bench (ideally, other than Terry, who isn't good enough to command THAT much attention).
These two quotes, I think, pretty much sum up the problem, except that I would add a third factor: when Lamar was on the court with Kobe and/or Pau, he was most often playing at the 4. When he has played with Dirk this year, he has almost always been playing at the 3, for seemingly obvious reasons. Early this season, it was noted by some that Odom would have the challenge in Dallas of having to become more comfortable playing the 3.
It seems clear that he has not been especially effective at the 4 without a star to draw attention away from him, nor at the 3 in his limited minutes on the court with the Mavs' only all-star. If this holds true going forward, is there any solution to it? I don't see a continuous solution, but I do wonder if there might not be an occasional one, which any who might be reading this may have already considered....
When the Mavs acquired Odom, there were some -- among both Maverick and non-Maverick commenters -- who foresaw an occasional small-ball lineup with Odom at the 4 and Nowitzki playing the 5. The GSWarriors blogger Feltbot predicted in his preseason 2012 Western Conference Rankings that the Mavs' struggles with adjusting to the loss of Chandler and Barea would be primarily because of pace. However...
...Odom may help them through that adjustment just fine. One of the smartest players in the league, as well as one of the most versatile, Odom could allow the Mavs to go to a small ball front line of himself and Nowitzki. Pace returns.
I remember the Mavericks using this lineup only rarely, mostly in the first few games (though I admit to seeing a lower percentage of games this year than last year due to some health issues). Was it decided early on that it just wouldn't work? Was it never seriously considered? Many Mavericks fans can remember negative experiences with Dirk at center such as some times in the Nellie era and, most infamously, when Avery Johnson was thoroughly outcoached during the playoff loss to the Warriors. Is it possible that Dirk himself rejected this concept? Those of you who are most adept at statistically analyzing which combinations of players have been most productive in various ways -- e.g., point differential -- may have some answers as to how this tactic has performed this season, if at all. My guess would be that it has been quite ineffective, but I'd be curious to know if it received enough minutes to truly judge it -- especially as the players and coaches have begun to grow more accustomed to each other.
I also think that Feltbot's point about pace is an excellent one. The Mavs have impressed many -- at least when Haywood and Marion are both on the floor -- with the strength of their defense this season. It has conversely impressed me all season long how much the loss of Chandler has negatively affected the offense. While Chandler was no major scorer, he was athletic, ran the floor well, has much better hands than Haywood, could receive the ball on the break without travelling, and was downright amazing at times in his execution of Carlisle's half-court offense. I remember a sequence in the finals against the Heat in which he set picks against three different Miami players in one play, leading to Dirk finally getting the lethal open shot.
Another reason we may not have seen much of the tactic proposed above is that the Mavericks of course do have a small-ball lineup. It's called Brandan Wright at the 5. Wright's effectiveness has been a pleasant surprise to Mavs fans, and he is certainly capable of playing in a lineup that pushes the pace. One thing he does not do is consistantly hit shots from mid-range, much less long range. Odom at the 4 and Dirk at the 5, together with those at the other positions would make the team much more of a shooting threat -- which of course they were in last year's playoffs. In the few minutes I saw this lineup early in the season, my conclusion was that they needed much more practice time to make it work. Significant practice time, of course, hasn't been there. But, in retrospect, given the struggles after the all-star break, and the extended period of Haywood's unavailability, might it not have been a good idea to practice this tactic during the break and then continue to work on it? With the Mavs' schedule now providing at least a bit more practice time, is it now too late to do so?
To those averse to seriously considering a tactic most commonly attributed to a certain identity about to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame: please know that I'm not thinking of this as the starting lineup or the lineup that usually gets the most minutes. I imagine its usage determined according to situation and opposing lineup. It would give Lamar the occasional opportunity to play his favored position with Nowitzki simultaneously on the floor. Given the Odom-dynamics cited at the top of this post, I wonder if there is really any other way for the Mavericks to get the most out of him since he prefers to play the same position as that played by Dirk. The Mavericks brain trust as well as analysts on this site may know of reasons why this hasn't been and shouldn't be used more than it has, in which case I'm happy to be enlightened. But again I ask: has it been used enough to be discarded out of hand? If so, we may have little chance of ever seeing Lamar Odom the Maverick display the level of productivity displayed by Lamar Odom the Laker.