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April 11, 2012
Cloudy Future
Where Odom Goes from Here

by Kevin Pelton

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When the Dallas Mavericks and forward Lamar Odom agreed to deactivate Odom and send him home earlier this week, it essentially wrapped up Odom's Dallas career. Even when the Mavericks acquired Odom, back when he looked like a key factor in how the Mavericks would defend last year's championship, it was always clear that he was nothing more than a rental. In order to clear cap space this summer, Dallas planned to either trade Odom on again or waive him by June 29, paying him only the $2.4 million portion that is guaranteed during the last season of his contract.

As it turned out, Odom and the Mavericks never got that far. I don't believe that result was in any sense predictable last fall. One thing my SCHOENE projection system is designed to do is give us a sense for the range of possibilities for a player's performance. Here's a look at the graph of outcomes for Odom based on how the 50 most similar players at the same age fared the following season:

The way this works is by applying the percentage change in each comparable player's Win% to Odom's weighted rating over the last three seasons (.575). At the same age, 70 percent of similar players saw their Win% decline. Still, the vast majority of cases--78 percent, to be exact--suggested Odom would rate better than average (.500) on a per-minute basis. Only one of the 50 players declined by so much as to put Odom's projection below replacement level--the '90s Reggie Williams, who saw his scoring average decline from 13.4 points per game in 1994-95 to 4.6 in 1995-96 and lasted just one more season in the league. Odom did Williams one better, finishing with a .366 winning percentage that is below the lowest percentile of SCHOENE's projected range.

Viewed another way, Odom's decline is historic. His winning percentage dropped by an astounding 238 points from last year's .604 mark to .366. (Odom's weighted average was lower because last season was an improvement on his previous two campaigns.) That's the single largest decrease ever for a player who played at least 2,000 minutes in year N and 1,000 in year N+1, surpassing an All-Star who returned from the last lockout out of shape:

Player              Year1   Win%1  Win%2   Diff
-----------------------------------------------
Vin Baker            1998   .581   .369   -.211
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf   1996   .584   .396   -.188
Kevin Johnson        1997   .690   .502   -.188
Larry Hughes         2005   .640   .454   -.186
Andre Miller         2002   .667   .487   -.180
Brandon Roy          2010   .603   .432   -.170
Speedy Claxton       2006   .504   .335   -.169
Marcus Camby         2001   .676   .510   -.166
Tony Parker          2009   .618   .452   -.166
Rony Seikaly         1994   .561   .396   -.165

Lamar Odom           2011   .604   .366   -.238

Naturally, this group is generally at or near All-Star level. Lesser players simply don't have the room to drop off so substantially and stay in the lineup. Even some of these players probably should not have played so much based on their performance.

That Odom has the largest decline of any player of his ilk is notable, certainly, but the more interesting question for teams evaluating Odom is whether they can expect him to bounce back in the future. Now let's take a different look at the same group, focusing on whether the players ever regained their original form.

Player                Yr1    Yr2    Yr3    Yr4    Yr5
-----------------------------------------------------
Vin Baker            .581   .369   .416   .386   .399
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf   .584   .396   .308     -      -
Kevin Johnson        .690   .502     -    .542     -
Larry Hughes         .640   .454   .425   .403   .470
Andre Miller         .667   .487   .571   .541   .516
Brandon Roy          .603   .432     -      -      -
Speedy Claxton       .504   .335     -    .216     -
Marcus Camby         .676   .510   .600   .608   .629
Tony Parker          .618   .452   .555   .575     -
Rony Seikaly         .561   .396   .436   .525   .444

We can generally sort these players into a few groups.

Career Over
Speedy Claxton, Kevin Johnson and Brandon Roy were all essentially finished after declining. Johnson, who dealt with a serious injuries, retired at age 32 before returning for the last six games of the 1999-00 season and the playoffs. Roy's troublesome knees forced him into medical retirement at the start of this season, though he's still young enough to potentially return. Claxton dealt with similar knee troubles and was able to manage just two games after age 28. These situations don't really compare to Claxton.

Temporary Injury
Marcus Camby dealt with plantar fasciitis and a season-ending hip injury, which limited him to 29 games in 2001-02 before he emerged as a reliable starter. Tony Parker is unlikely to ever match his great 2008-09 season, but he's returned to an All-Star level of play the last two years after battling injury in 2009-10. Again, Odom's situation is different.

Coming Down from Fluke Year
The 2004-05 season stands out from the rest of Larry Hughes' career. It's no surprise he declined thereafter. Odom's 2010-11 was a career year, but even when we adjust for that his performance this season was still unexpected. Not similar.

The Rest
Here are the most interesting cases--players that, like Odom, dropped off for unexpected reasons. Abdul-Rauf and Seikaly were traded to less favorable situations. Miller, too, was traded, and he inexplicably stopped playing hard during his single frustrating season with his hometown Clippers. Baker is the closest match of all to Odom. He let his conditioning slip during the lockout, clashed with a new coach (Paul Westphal) and never got on track.

The results from this group were mixed. Miller settled in at a slightly lower level of production than in Cleveland and was a useful starter for nearly a decade. Seikaly bounced up and down, but had solid campaigns later in his career. Abdul-Rauf never recovered from his decline and was out of the league a year later. For Baker, the post-lockout season established a new level of performance he would maintain before washing out of the NBA.

There simply isn't enough precedent to create reasonable expectations for Odom going forward. Teams considering acquiring him this summer can look at the optimistic example of Miller, who moved on with little damage from his one down season, while considering Baker's career arc a worst-case scenario. Each situation is so unique that in this case we may have to defer to how front offices assess Odom's chances of finding a comfortable home somewhere outside Los Angeles.

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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