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July 10, 2012
Projecting Odom
What the Clippers Can Expect

by Kevin Pelton

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Because it fell on the same day as the NBA Draft, the three-team trade between the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz never got a full-on Transaction Analysis treatment. For two of the three teams, the logic is fairly obvious. Shedding the $2.4 million Lamar Odom was guaranteed for 2012-13 was a no-brainer for the Mavericks, who planned to cut him anyway. Meanwhile, the Jazz used a trade exception to add a new starting point guard in Mo Williams, whose $8.5 million salary for next season is fair and comes with no long-term risk.

That leaves the Clippers, the most interesting participant in the deal. By swapping Williams for Odom, coming off a disastrous 2011-12 season, the Clippers have taken an intriguing gamble that could help define their upcoming campaign.

In April, when Dallas deactivated Odom, I looked at the historic nature of his decline from one year to the next. Because so few players have gone through similar drop-offs, it was difficult to use past precedent to project Odom's future. Now, with the opportunity to use SCHOENE projections, we have a better idea of what to expect. Let's compare Odom's projected range of possible performance with Williams, based on the development of the 50 most similar comparables to both players at the same age.

While both graphs jump around a bit, they suggest that Williams is likely to be better than Odom next season. Doing the math, SCHOENE projects Williams as the better player some 60.8 percent of the time. His average projected winning percentage is .474, as compared to .454 for Odom.

Now, overall performance is not the only reason the Clippers made this move. It balances their talent much better. With Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe at the point, the Clippers were resigned to using Williams at shooting guard, where he is undersized. They were weakest last season in the frontcourt, with Kenyon Martin and Bobby Simmons backing up at forward in the postseason. Odom should be an upgrade on both players, though he doesn't solve the Clippers' lack of shot blocking and size behind starting center DeAndre Jordan.

Surely, the Clippers also looked at free agency and felt more confident in their ability to sign perimeter players. They have reportedly agreed to bring back Chauncey Billups on a one-year contract, and signed Jamal Crawford to replace Williams' perimeter punch off the bench.

Still, this trade is fundamentally predicated on the notion that the Clippers are getting something closer to prime Odom than the shadow version that played for the Mavericks last season. It's worth noting that the most optimistic projection for Odom (a .564 winning percentage) is still below what he posted in his Sixth Man Award campaign (.604) and closer to where he was the previous two seasons with the Lakers (.559 and .569). Even if Odom had never suffered through his terrible campaign in Dallas, his age would still be a concern as he heads toward age 33.

That being said, the interesting thing about Odom's 2011-12 performance is that his decline did not necessarily show up in the statistics that most closely reflect athleticism. Odom's steal rate was up a tick from 2010-11, and while his blocks were down, his rate was still similar to his numbers during multiple prime seasons.

Instead, Odom's numbers seem to reflect the time he spent at small forward after nearly exclusively playing the four spot with the Lakers. His rebound rate plummeted, especially on offense, and Odom attempted threes at a career-high rate despite shooting just 25.2 percent from beyond the arc. That makes it all the more mystifying that, per 82games.com, Odom was more effective as a small forward (13.2 PER) than as a power forward (7.2).

Ultimately, Odom's success or failure will depend largely on his shooting returning to form. While Hoopdata.com shows that his shot selection was much less efficient in 2011-12--and that his finishing at the rim the previous season was a fluke that helped fuel his strong numbers--even if Odom took the same shots as 2011-12 with his 2009-10 accuracy, he would have had an effective field-goal percentage of .482 rather than his actual .392 mark. Other than the 10- to 15-foot range, a limited part of his arsenal, Odom was significantly less accurate from everywhere else on the court.

How much of that was age, how much noise, how much being traded to Dallas? SCHOENE can't possibly answer that question, but I think the range of possibilities it produces provides a guide that allows us to factor in subjective elements. In this case, the Clippers are hoping both that Odom will be in better shape than he was after the lockout and that he is more comfortable back in Los Angeles, which should push him toward the left end of the distribution.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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