Top 50: Lamar Odom, no. 33
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
Initially, 50 players seems like a truckload of hoopers, doesn’t it? Like it’s not that exclusive of a group. So someone that we rank, say 33rd best, like Lamar Odom, almost seems like a slight, to me. It’s like, “Wait. There’s no way there are 33 players better than Lamar Odom! A do-it-all forward that’s a cross between Magic, Worthy and AC Green all the way down at No. 33?! Get real.”
But then again, some of you — maybe even most of you — may be reading this and blasting us for including Mar, at all. “”Wait. There’s no way that Odom is the XX best dude in the NBA. A do-it-all forward that’s a cross between Magic, Worthy and AC Green, but some games has about the same impact as Brian Cook?! Get real.”
That’s what’s most compelling about Odom’s current standing in the League. This season coming up is Odom’s 11th. After you ball for a whole decade in the League, your full career starts to congeal and Odom has basically cemented a rep. He’s no longer the youngster full of potential, he’s the versatile vet, a supreme X-Factor. But the term “X-Factor” isn’t necessarily a compliment when it’s handed to a 30-year-old ball player. Veiled in that moniker is the basic premise that no one knows what said player is gonna bring to the table each game.
So be it. That’s just how it goes for Odom. Over the years, he’s become one of the NBA’s more polarizing figures. Some love him, some can’t stand him. Even the cats that dig him a lot — like yours truly — can’t stand him sometimes. It’s not because he’s a bad dude. In fact, Odom is one of the most decent and thoughtful players in the League. Nah, Odom polarizes because, for some, he never lives up to their expectations; for others, it can be maddening to hear the constant frustrated barbs thrown his way. I tend to think that most of the Odom Hate is a lot of ridiculous projecting and sophomoric pettiness, but, I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t have, at least, some merit.
But then there’s idiocy, like the beginning of last season when fans and journalists insisted on calling Odom the fourth best Laker. That’s just the kind of unbelievably flawed thinking that you get from people bent on detracting from what Odom actually brings to the table. I mean, how could anyone seriously say that Bynum was a better ball player than Odom? In all honesty, there are some nights when Odom is L.A.’s second best player. Those nights when he’s subtly directing traffic, gobbling up almost any shot that caroms off the rim, bothering all types of shots from the weakside, scoring at just the right time. And that demeanor of his — what his detractors call being soft and passive — is what allowed him to blunt his game and ego for a larger goal, last season.
Toward the end of this past season, for one of my NBA.com columns, I fleshed out this term I like to use — Franchise Role Players. Here’s an excerpt germane to our inclusion of Odom in the SLAMonline Top 50…
“Last season, sometime in March [of '08] during one of Lamar Odom’s double-double strings, my boy and I came up with a term to describe a certain set of the League’s gifted performers. We call them Franchise Role Players (FRP). Odom, Tony Parker, Josh Smith and others are from the ilk that gave us the Dennis Rodmans and Dennis Johnsons of previous generations. They’re the complimentary players with very specific roles, assignments, responsibilities — whatever you want to call them — who perform these tasks with such impact that, on many nights, they are just as responsible for Ws as the stars that lead the teams. Don’t mistake them for the narrowly specialized, lower-impact “role players,” or the somewhat nondescript, low-consequence “get-in-where-they-fit-in” typical rotation players. Not even James Posey, a role-player poster boy, can claim inclusion in the FRP ranks.”
There may be 33, heck 43, other players that you’d rather start a team with, but there is not 33 better basketball players than Lamar Odom. There also isn’t 33 players of more value than Odom. Given that his double-doubles and facilitation is very responsible for making the Lakers favorites — and not just contenders — I’d have no problem with Odom cracking the Top 30. And if I really want to get crazy, I could go even more exclusive. Don’t tempt me.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN and writes the weekly “From The Floor” column for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.