Why Lamar Odom Should Win The NBA's Sixth Man Of The Year Award

ORLANDO FL - FEBRUARY 13: Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a shot over Brandon Bass #30 of the Orlando Magic during the game at Amway Arena on February 13 2011 in Orlando Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this Photograph user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

The Forgotten Laker is having the best season of his pro career and is blowing away every other bench player in the league.

For a guy who's incredibly famous, Lamar Odom goes unnoticed an awful lot. There are at least five Lakers -- Kobe Bryant (franchise warrior-god), Pau Gasol (cerebral second banana), Derek Fisher (tribal elder), Ron Artest (resident eccentric) and Andrew Bynum (tantalizing wunderkind) -- whose storylines provide more press- and blog-friendly material. Despite an accomplished NBA career that's now in its 12th season, Lamar's never been to the All-Star Game. He doesn't even start for his own squad. On his Basketball Reference page, the only honors listed are McDonald's All-American in 1997, NBA Rookie of the Month for November 1999, first team All-Rookie in 2000 and Eastern Conference Player of the Month for March 2004. A real injustice, this.

And it's time for it to end. At age 31, Lamar is having the best season of his pro career. He began the year in the starting lineup, shifted smoothly to a bench role when Bynum returned from injury and throughout has supplied the champs with robust, frequently spectacular play at both ends of the floor. Though on a team bursting with offensive options, he's averaging over 14 points a game on very efficient shooting (57 percent on two-point shots and 38 percent on threes) while collecting almost nine rebounds and three assists a night. His offensive roles include post threat, spot-up shooter, transition finisher and point forward. His versatility makes him a matchup migraine for opposing teams. And he's probably been the Lakers' most consistently influential defender. Bynum and Artest are more capable of dramatically affecting any individual game, but night in, night out, Odom has been the team's most reliable defensive presence over the long course of the season.

These credentials make him the most deserving candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.

To qualify for the Sixth Man Award, a player must come off the bench in more games than he starts. Lamar has started 32 times and come off the bench 36 times, so unless an injury forces him back into the starting lineup, he'll meet the basic eligibility requirement. And by virtually any measure, his performance has blown away the rest of the field.

Aside from Lamar, there are six minimally credible candidates for this year's Sixth Man Award: Jamal Crawford of the Hawks, Glen Davis of the Celtics, James Harden of the Thunder, George Hill of the Spurs, Ty Lawson of the Nuggets and Jason Terry of the Mavericks. Crawford won the award last season, and Terry won it in 2009. Manu Ginobili, who won it in 2008 and has historically been a strong contender, is now a fixture in the Spurs' starting lineup and therefore ineligible.

Here's how the seven main candidates have performed so far this season across a wide sample of metrics.        

 

MPG

PER

OR

DR

WS/48

+/-

PPG

RPG

APG

Odom

32.1

19.8

119

103

0.190

+3.8

14.3

8.7

2.9

Crawford

30.5

15.0

106

109

0.086

-1.0

15.0

1.8

3.1

Davis

29.2

12.6

101

100

0.103

-8.3

11.6

5.3

1.2

Harden

26.5

16.2

119

108

0.152

-1.2

11.5

3.2

2.1

Hill

28.1

14.5

116

106

0.141

+4.2

11.3

2.9

2.4

Lawson

25.1

17.2

116

110

0.135

-1.8

10.8

2.4

4.2

Terry

31.9

16.2

107

109

0.097

+3.7

16.3

1.9

4.2

OK, bear with me a second as I nerdily walk through the meaning of the column headings:

  • "MPG" is minutes played per game.
  • "PER" is Player Efficiency Rating, a measure of a player's per-minute statistical production developed by ESPN's John Hollinger. A PER of 15.0 represents a league-average player.
  • "OR" is Offensive Rating, a measure of a player's offensive performance expressed as points produced per 100 possessions.
  • "DR" is Defensive Rating, the converse of Offensive Rating. It measures a player's defensive performance expressed as points allowed per 100 possessions. (Lower, in other words, is better.)
  • "WS/48" is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes played. The formula is complicated but tries to account for all aspects of a player's performance. If you're curious or just really into formulas, you can read more about it here.
  • "+/-" is the number of points per 100 possessions that a player's team has been better (+) or worse (-) with him on the court.

All of these performance measures have their methodological strengths and weaknesses, which I won't bore you with. Looking at them in tandem gives us a pretty well-rounded picture of how these guys have played this season. For those who prefer stats of the more old-school persuasion, I've also included points, rebounds and assists per game in the last three columns.

The table shows two important things. First, Odom's production has been substantially better than any of his competitors. In every one of the five advanced metrics, he ranks either first or second. None of the other contenders ranks first or second in more than one category. In PER and WS/48, Odom is far ahead of the field.

Second, he's doing all this while playing more minutes a night than anyone else. He's the only contender averaging more than 32 minutes a game. Four of the seven aren't even clearing 30 MPG.

And if you wanted instead to focus on per-game "triple crown" stats, they do nothing to dent the case for Lamar. His scoring average of 14.3 points a game is just barely behind Terry and Crawford, no one comes close in terms of rebounding, and even his assists compare respectably to the guards in the field. Basically, Odom has lapped the competition.

This shouldn't be a close call. It's not quite so obvious as, say, Blake Griffin for Rookie of the Year, but it's not far off. To screw this up, the voters will have to suffer an unconscionable failure of critical reasoning.

Let's not do that, people. Let's make the correct and easy decision. It's time to give Lamar some well-deserved personal hardware to go with his championship rings.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore. Numbers are courtesy of Basketball Reference and 82games.com and are through the games of Sunday, March 13.

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