Since Lamar Odom can count Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and now Theo Ratliff as teammates in Los Angeles, it’s not too often that he will have to guard a 7-2 center in the NBA.
But a game after containing Brazil and San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter, Odom spent the majority of his 16 minutes checking Iranian giant Hamed Haddadi, a backup big man for the Memphis Grizzlies, in a breezy 88-51 USA win.
Odom is, after all, the starting center for the smallish Team USA, which improved to 4-0 in group play in the American’s first ever meeting with Iran.
Content to defend Iran’s pick and roll sets that featured Haddadi, pick up the first Iranian NBA player far away from the hoop to disrupt court position and stay locked down on isolations, Odom didn’t even attempt a shot until halfway through the third quarter. He spent most of his time on offense setting picks on or off the ball for scorers Kevin Durant (12 points) and Derrick Rose (11), deferring from the scoring role that Lakers coach Phil Jackson occasionally demands from Odom off L.A.’s bench.
Odom’s first and only bucket came with 4:34 to play in the third quarter on a driving lefty layup, and he left the contest for good with his American squad up 59-34 late in the period. This was no accident, as Odom trailed only Kevin Durant in minutes played (37-30) in the previous 70-68 win over Brazil.
As soon as Odom went to the bench, however, Haddadi became much more aggressive on offense, attempting 10 shots in the fourth quarter (making three) to score nine of his 19 points.
While Haddadi averaged only 6.7 minutes per game last season for the Grizz, Odom has shown the ability to play effective, physical defense for the Lakers against bigger or taller players.
You can rewind back to L.A.’s psychologically important 2008-09 regular season win in Boston – their first trip to the Garden since the blowout 2008 Game 6 Finals loss – for a turning point of sorts. Odom, after exchanging blows with Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins en route to 20 points with six boards, three assists, two steals and some rugged defense, had this to say:
“I’m not the strongest guy in the league … But I’m far from the weakest.”
With his play for the USA, Odom has shown that statement to be true internationally as well.
He and his American teammates have now won group B, locking up the top seed in the knockout round, and will meet the fourth-place team in Group A in the round of 16 after a final (yet meaningless) group game against Tunisia on Thursday.