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Vanderbilt Men's Basketball Season Preview: Small Forward

Vanderbilt has senior leadership at small forward, but Rod Odom will have to log big minutes for an undermanned Commodore team. Can he and James Siakam provide a tough inside-out duo at the 3?

Rod Odom: Just keep shooting threes.
Rod Odom: Just keep shooting threes.
Frederick Breedon

Rod Odom has played more minutes for this team than anyone else on the roster, but he's still a mystery for Commodore fans.

The enigmatic small forward will lead Vanderbilt into battle this season, but it's tough to figure out which Odom will show up when the season tips off November 12th. Will Kevin Stallings unlock the player who dropped 38 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks on Arkansas and South Carolina in back-to-back games towards the end of last season? Or will he get the guy who shot 20 percent from the field and had more turnovers than assists in the three games that preceded his hot streak?

That's a question that Vanderbilt's postseason chances could hinge on. Odom is the Commodores's leading returning scorer, and he'll be called on to guide this team along with fellow senior Kyle Fuller. His game log from 2012-2013 is filled with some beauties - a 19-point, seven-rebound, four-assist night in a win over Texas A&M and a 5-9 showing from three-point range in the aforementioned Arkansas game, for example - but also some stinkers too. He scored five points or fewer seven times and Vanderbilt went 1-6 in those contests.

He'll be the man for a thin team this winter. Odom is Vandy's only true small forward for 2013-2014 since James Siakam is more of an undersized power forward and wing players Kevin Bright and Sheldon Jeter are no longer with the team. He will be counted on to provide offense from the three, and that means not only shooting well but proving that he can get inside and finish drives at the rim.

The senior has great character and can excel as a role player. Now he'll audition for a starring spot on this team's roster. If Odom can shine, he can lead the 'Dores back to the postseason. If not, he'll have to cede time to Vanderbilt's younger players as the second year of Kevin Stallings's rebuilding process moves on.

Rod Odom: The 6'9" forward is an inefficient scorer. He shot a career-low 36.5 percent from the field last year when Kevin Stallings put a greater share of the team's scoring burden on his shoulders. This is distressing when you compare that figure to his relative proficiency as a three-point shooter. He connected on 35.3 percent of his shots from long range in 2012-2013. The fact that he's hardly better as a scorer inside the arc highlights his struggles to score around the rim.

Indeed, the lithe forward has had trouble identifying defensive shifts, often dribbling into the lane only to be turned back by help defenders. Without great passing vision - he had less than one assist per game despite playing more than 30 minutes a night - he often gets forced into bad shots that get swept away by opposing big men. That often pushes him back out to the perimeter, where he took nearly five shots per game last season. Given the small difference between his two-point and three-point FG% (37.7 to 35.3), that was a winning bet for the 'Dores last year.

Odom has also been plagued by a lack of rebounding despite his height. He added muscle in the offseason last year to help address that, but his propensity to stay out of the lane if he's not shooting helped lead to a disappointing rebound rate. Odom pulls down one rebound for every 6:43 of court time. For comparison, 6'5" Kevin Bright had one every 5:20 last year. Though he'll have some more support on the glass with freshmen Damian Jones and Luke Kornet adding bulk up front, he still needs to improve that aspect of his game.

Defensively, Odom has great length and can pester opposing small forwards all game. He isn't lightning quick, but he has the ability to stay in front of his man and is a solid help defender.

James Siakam: Siakam is a power forward in a small forward's body, and while his rebounding is proficient, his lack of an offensive game has kept him from logging significant minutes for this team. At 6'7" and 215 pounds, he has good size and strength to cover opposing wings, but he's not as quick laterally as Odom and could run into trouble when pulled out to the perimeter to cover the SEC's more athletic forwards.

Siakam had an impressive double-double on Vandy's preseason tour of Europe, and he could slide over to the team's designated forward spot in a three-guard lineup (alongside Fuller, Dai-Jon Parker, and Eric McClellan). He'll face competition from Shelby Moats there, but he has the tenacity to make it work. He needs to prove that he can do more than dunk on the offensive end, but three years of practice in Nashville should have helped expand his midrange game to a usable level.

The Cameroonian brings toughness to the Vanderbilt frontcourt, and he could develop into a Tchiengang-ian presence despite being smaller and without a reliable three-point shot. He doesn't shy from contact and won't back down when challenged. He'll get pressed into more action than he's ever seen for this Commodore team thanks to a thin roster, but his time on the court could lead to a bigger boost than his stats would suggest.

Overall: Vanderbilt needs Odom to step up and lead this team, and the rangy senior is capable of doing that. However, consistency is going to remain a big question mark at small forward. Siakam can contribute if he continues to grow, but he will have plenty to prove this winter in terms of developing an offensive game that won't take anything off the table for the 'Dores in SEC play.