Andrew Bynum's Maturity Key to Lakers' NBA Finals Hopes

Ethan NorofCorrespondent IApril 13, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 04:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after his dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 113-108.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Andrew Bynum's breakout season for the Los Angeles Lakers has finally arrived.

However, he continues to find his name in the headlines for reasons that only partially pertain to his play on the basketball court.

If the Lakers have sights set on advancing to the NBA Finals and possibly getting Kobe Bryant his very sought-after sixth championship ring, it's going to have to come with Bynum on the court.

No silly ejections, no further team-imposed fines and more monster efforts on the hardwood every single night.

Bynum, a first-time All-Star this season, turned in an impressive first half of the year with averages of 16.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game on 54.4 percent shooting.

But he's gotten even better in the second half of the campaign.

Bynum has been a monster beneath the basket with gaudy averages: 21.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks on ridiculous 58.4 percent shooting.

The best part? He is playing more minutes since the All-Star break, a strong indication that he's feeling healthy and poised for a deep playoff push.

Prior to this season, Bynum had played a full slate of regular-season games just once in his career, during the 2006-07 season.

This year, the big fella has started all but five games—he missed the first four of the year due to a suspension from the 2011 postseason and the fifth earlier in April when he suffered an ankle sprain.

The numbers he's posting really speak for themselves, but it's blatantly obvious that Bynum has evolved into a top-tier center in a league that doesn't have enough of them.

There were a plethora of Lakers fans who would have gladly shipped him out before the season began in a package for Dwight Howard, but that sentiment is getting harder and harder to find among those same fans nowadays.

If there has been one negative to Bynum's season, it's been the attention he's received for his perceived immaturity.

The team fined him an undisclosed amount in early April for "numerous infractions," and when asked about why he didn't join a team huddle on the bench during a game, Bynum joked that he was "getting my Zen on."

Although many have focused on the perceived problems with Bynum, it's really a much smaller "issue" than many have made it out to be.

Some media members love to stir the pot when it comes to any sort of controversy in Los Angeles, and the Lakers are always one of the biggest storylines in the NBA regardless of what else is happening around the league.

Former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson recently chimed in on Bynum's maturation process (via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times).

"Bynum is not quite mature, but everyone should relax and watch him grow up," Jackson said via email.

Despite being in his seventh season in the league, we should all remember that Bynum is still just 24 years old.

There is plenty of time for him to grow up, and we're seeing him mature with each passing day and every impressive effort on the court.

For the Lakers, Bynum's blossoming at exactly the right time, even if it comes with a few bumps in the road along the way.