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Scott Howard-Cooper

Lamar Odom
The Lakers' Lamar Odom is averaging 14.3 points in around 32 minutes a game.
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Lakers' Odom shines as best sixth man, even when he's not


Posted Apr 7 2011 1:52PM

The problem for the rest of the candidates, or at least the one other true challenger, is that the biggest criticism of Lamar Odom for the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award isn't something that can be pinned on Lamar Odom.

He has been a reserve for just 43 of the 78 Lakers' games. That is enough to qualify for an award that requires only that a player come off the bench more than he starts. Odom has done that. He has met the minimum, while doing the maximum.

The counter from Jason Terry Election HQ is understandable: Even if Odom works the final four games as a sub, he will have spent just 57 percent of his time coming off the bench, a figure that the precincts in Dallas may contend does not make a true Sixth Man.

All very logical. Terry has been a reserve in 68 of 78 appearances for the Mavericks and has proven to be a crucial element of a team that could finish third in the Western Conference. He is one of the more dangerous fourth-quarter scorers in the league, regardless of role.

Stiill, it's not Odom's fault -- It's not even coach Phil Jackson's fault -- that Odom has been counted on to start once in a while. Jackson didn't want Odom to start. Jackson was so insistent on using him as a reserve, in fact, that Odom went back to the bench at Game 32 even though the Lakers had built a 21-10 record with Odom in the opening lineup at power forward alongside Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest.

The only reason Odom started was because Andrew Bynum hurt his right knee last season and delayed surgery from early summer to late enough in the summer that the recovery dragged into the first 24 games of 2010-11. Then Odom had to come off the bench to build his stamina and test the leg.

So, if there is no debate about the value of Odom's play on a team that has remained a championship favorite, it would be illogical for him to lose Sixth Man votes on the basis of Bynum having the equivalent of overcooked spaghetti in his knees.

And there is no debate about Odom's play. One coach said it would be a joke if Odom does not win. "A complete joke," actually. Another coach thought for several seconds, said he was a big fan of Terry's insta-offense, and decided the tie was too close to split, but that Odom should not be penalized for spending so much time outside the role. A third coach sold it best, though.

Odom should win, came the argument, because he beats you in more ways than Terry.

Scoring.

Rebounding.

Passing.

The versatility to play several positions.

It's not a knock on Terry. Odom is a unique weapon compared to most anyone in the league and not just compared to the Dallas guard. (Indeed, Odom's well-rounded game is so respected that USA Basketball wanted him on the roster for the world championships last summer in Turkey despite never having been an All-Star. He played a starring role for the gold-medal winners.)

"A big deal? I wouldn't like to word it like that," Odom said of the award in a career that has included very few individual accolades. "Something that I would enjoy, would like to win? Yeah. If not, it just doesn't happen."

He was asked if he deserves to win.

"It's hard to say," Odom responded. "I don't want to sound cocky. I wouldn't answer that. I would leave it up to the people who pick."

The voters still may be trying to decide whether someone who has spent 45 percent of the season as a non-reserve should win the award as the top reserve. But, really, it's not Odom's fault that he's good at whatever he does.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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