For Commodore fans, there hasn't been a lot to like about the 2013-2014 season. However, the play and leadership of seniors Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller have been a rare bright spot in a season filled with tough losses. In fact, Odom's growth in his final year at Vanderbilt may even be enough to find him a role in the NBA.
Odom has blossomed from a frustrating underclassman to become one of the SEC's best shooters. The 6'9" forwards has been vital in stretching the floor for the Commodores and allowing freshman big man Damian Jones (11.6 ppg, 54.6 FG%) to thrive inside. His 24-point, eight-rebound, four block performance against Missouri led the 'Dores to their biggest win of the season over a formerly-ranked Tiger team.
The key to Odom's turnaround has been his newfound proficiency behind the arc. The senior's shooting percentage from long range has shot up from a career average of around 36 percent to 45.7 this season. He's been able to do that despite playing ironman minutes in the frontcourt and handling most of the scoring duties for an undermanned Commodore team.
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Odom's development into one of the SEC's deadliest three-point shooters has made him an unlikely NBA candidate. While the senior isn't a classical power forward, his height and length make him a very valuable asset to teams that are looking for a floor-spacing big man. Though the lithe senior doesn't have the bulk to handle stronger forwards in the paint, he has the lateral speed to pester small forwards and has developed significantly in terms of help defense in his four years at Vanderbilt.
That combination - a 6'9" frame, the speed to keep up with opponents, and the ability to rise up and efficiently hit three-pointers - could give him a role in the pros. In fact, that path may already have been cut for him by a similar sweet-shooting big man - Marquette grad and eight-year NBA veteran Steve Novak. Here's how the two players stack up when you compare their senior seasons.
Novak ended up being an early second round draft pick of the Houston Rockets back in 2006. Since then, he's played for six different teams as a shooting specialist. His height has made him a key mismatch in NBA lineups, but Novak's career highlights have mostly come in New York, where he made more than two three-pointers per game in two seasons with the Knicks.
If Odom can maintain this pace, he can find a similar role amongst the professional ranks. Unfortunately for the senior, Vanderbilt's lack of media coverage in a second-straight rebuilding season is doing little to raise his profile. Novak had the attention of playing for a 20-win team that made it to the NCAA Tournament in his senior year. While the Commodores have fought to the end of every game, their depleted roster seems destined to fall short of the postseason in 2014. Odom has begun to earn some national attention for his shooting, but he's still a long ways away from dotting anyone's mock drafts.
The Vanderbilt forward will also have to deal with questions about whether or not he can sustain this breakthrough. Odom's 2013-2014 season represents a huge step forward in his game, and while his free throw shooting has also increased to a career-best 75 percent, there will be doubts that the streaky shooter can maintain his stroke if a cold front finds its way into his game. Though his play on the court suggests that he's a true shooter, his past may not give him the overall resume he needs to make a splash, even as a free agent, when he needs to compete with a draft class that is loaded with talent. Additionally, his struggles to score inside the arc - he's made just 43.5% of his two-point attempts this season - could make him too one-dimensional to find a roster spot.
Still, it's tough to fault a player for making the leap when his team has needed him the most. Odom's big 2014 has come in the face of adversity, and the fact that he's doing it as Vanderbilt's first option makes his growth even more impressive. With his length and athleticism, he could parlay those newfound shooting skills into a long NBA career. First, he'll have to prove that he can sustain this rush - and win some more games - as the leader of Vanderbilt basketball.