Coach Rick Carlisle is practically giddy about Lamar Odom's performance lately. Well, except for Odom’s problems putting the ball in the basket.
That’s been an issue all season, as evidenced by Odom’s scoring average (7.2) that is about half his career norm and a shooting percentage (.346) that is by far his career low. But Odom is mired in a shooting slump even by his Mavs standards.
Since Odom scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the March 8 loss to the Suns, he has a total of 16 points and six buckets in five games. He’s firing at a Mendoza Line clip (.200, 6-of-30) in those games, averaging 3.2 points.
Yet the coach offers unprompted praise for Odom.
“Odom is playing terrific even though he’s not shooting the ball well,” Carlisle said. “I’m really pleased with how he’s doing.”
That isn’t evident by any other lines in the box score, which are roughly the same as they’ve been all season. His rebounds (3.8) are a little down in the last five games; his assists (2.0) are a little up. Plus-minus? The Mavs have been outscored by 38 with Odom on the floor in the last five, including a 16-point deficit in the three wins.
So what is Carlisle seeing from Odom that makes him so happy?
“Activity,” Carlisle said. “He’s making plays. He has a presence on the court. His shots are going to fall.”
Translation: Odom is actually playing hard. Heck, he’s even hit the floor fighting for loose balls a few times.
Odom’s teammates have noticed, too.
“He’s focused and he’s trying to play some defense,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “As long as he’s engaged, that’s all you can ask for. We all have stretches where for some reason the ball can’t go in. I went through six weeks at the beginning of the season where the ball wouldn’t go in. You’ve just got to fight through it and try to help the team in other ways. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in, but he’s just got to keep working and hopefully find his rhythm in the last couple of games before the playoffs.”
Odom admits that effort was an issue for him in the first half of the season. He’s hinted before that his mysterious personal issues sapped his motivation. He also acknowledges that he simply couldn’t play hard because his conditioning was so poor.
“It’s a humbling game to play if you’re not in shape, not in basketball shape,” Odom said. “I’m in much better shape, so you can see second effort, first thrust, second thrust, third thrust, etc.”
At some point, it would be nice to see Odom resemble the guy who shot a career-best 53 percent from the floor while winning the Sixth Man of the Year award with the Lakers last season.
Odom is putting in the work to try to snap out of the funk – walking over from the W Hotel for morning shooting sessions in addition to his lengthy pregame shooting routine – but is trying not to sweat the slump.
“It’ll come. It’ll come,” Odom said. “Just focus on the game, play good basketball, play smart, don’t turn it over, take good shots and it’ll be all right.”
Carlisle, the coach who recently declared on the radio that patience had run thin with Odom, now seems willing to wait for the forward to find his way out of his funk.
But the true test for Carlisle's patience with Odom could come when Delonte West returns. Is the coach willing to stick with a struggling player when the rotation gets tweaked?