|The X Factor|
|Written by Mark Grey|
by MARK GREY
In an algebraic equation, the letter X stands for an unknown value; determining the value of X is usually nothing more than simple arithmetic. In sports, every team has an X factor that is critical to the team’s success...a player who, depending on his play, on any given night can completely change the face of the team. We all know what superstars like Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant are going to give you every night, but it’s the X factors like James Posey and Manu Ginobili who are the difference between ending the season with a ring or with heartbreak. With finals MVPs like Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, and Chauncey Billups poised to lead their teams on title quests, no player's performance will affect this year's Playoffs more than Lamar Odom.Over the last couple of years there has been no bigger question mark in the NBA than Odom. Simply put, when the 6’10 forward brings his A-game, the Lakers are unstoppable. The problem is, no one ever knows when Odom is going to show up. On any given night, the star forward can give the Lakers 20 points and 15 boards or 4 points and 6 boards. The Lakers have proven that they can win without Odom at his best, but there is no question that if the Lakers want this season to end differently than last year they are going to need Odom to show up.
This season, Odom’s play has been up and down. He has had stretches where he has been unstoppable, like his 10 game stretch in February that saw him average 18 points and 14 rebounds a game on 59 percent shooting. Then there were times when he looked virtually unstartable (I know that’s not a word), like a 13 game stretch in November and December that saw him average 6 points and 7 rebounds a game, shooting only 35 percent. Earlier in the season Odom put together back to back off nights against the Magic and the Heat, totaling just 7 points on 2 for 12 shooting in the two games combined, which the Lakers lost by a total of 6 points. On the flip side, when Odom has shown up in big games this year the Lakers have put together blow out wins over elite teams such as the Cavs and the Spurs.
There is no question that Kobe makes the Lakers go, but no player on the team, and maybe in the league, is asked to do more than Odom on a nightly basis. Announcers and scouts love to say that a guy can defend four or five different positions, but most guys never do. Odom is the only guy in the NBA who actually does it every night. When you watch the Lakers play the Spurs, you will see Odom guarding everyone from Tony Parker to Tim Duncan. Odom is tall and strong enough to guard a big man, but has quick enough feet to defend guards. Thus, he has a skill set only a handful of players in the NBA have. On the offensive end, Odom is asked to fill just about every hole on the team. Throughout the course of a Laker game, you will see Odom bringing the ball up the court and handling point guard duties, just as you will see him down low banging with the big forwards and centers. When backup point guard Jordan Farmer went down, Odom picked up his duties in the backcourt, and when center Andrew Bynum went down, there was Odom for the second year in a row picking up his load. Since joining the Lakers in 2004, Lamar has worn many different hats. He has lead the team in everything from assists to blocks in various years, all while being the second scorer to Bryant prior to last season's trade for Gasol. Odom’s skill set is so versatile that he was the only player in the NBA this year to record 630 rebounds, 95 blocks, and hit 30 three pointers. Odom’s freaky skill set makes him the ideal small forward because of his ability to play and defend every position on the floor.
Throughout Odom’s career, the question has never been if he has the skills to be one of the best, it's been why he isn’t every night. As good as Odom can be one night, he can be just as bad on the next night. Despite doing so much for the Lakers in his five year tenure, no Laker has been more scrutinized nor been the subject of more trade rumors. Odom has been called out by teammates, coaches, and the media, and has taken it all in stride. Many Lakers fans have grown tired of Odom’s up and down play and have been calling for management to try and trade the small forward for a more consistent player. While Odom may not be the most popular man in town, there is no question that when he is on, the Lakers are the best team in the NBA. When it comes to X factors in this year's playoffs, there is no bigger question mark than the Lakers' talented forward. Odom can be the difference between the Lakers walking through the playoffs and getting blown out in the finals again. When the time comes to play, he potentially makes everyone on the court’s job that much easier: he frees up Gasol for easy put backs, allows Bynum to get one-on-one match ups, and opens the floor for Kobe. The biggest upside to having Odom on the floor is that it means less Luke Walton on the floor, who seems to gives you the same production whether he plays 10 minutes or 30. No one knows if Odom will ever reach his full potential in the NBA, but if he even plays at 75 percent of what he could be in these playoffs, the rest of the NBA is going to be in trouble.