The Los Angeles Lakers have jumped out to a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets. Although the play of Kobe Bryant (leading all players so far this postseason with 28.3 points per game) has led the charge for the Lakers, the biggest X-factor for the team is Andrew Bynum.
After the Game 3 loss in Denver, Bynum said he wasn’t prepared to play and it showed. The Lakers’ big man went scoreless in the first half of the game on 0-for-3 shooting. Bynum finished with a respectable 18 points, but after a lackluster first half it wasn’t enough to salvage the game.
If the Lakers have any chance of beating a wicked-tough Thunder squad and making a championship run, Bynum will have to be mentally and physically prepared to play at his highest level.
Here are 10 reasons why Bynum is the key to the Lakers’ postseason.
A huge reason for the Lakers’ success this season has been their size advantage on opponents.
Opposing big men have a “pick your poison” decision to make every time they play against L.A.
Should teams choose to put their best post defender on Bynum, it opens up the court for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. If they choose to guard Gasol, Bynum has a field day against inadequate defenders (when he’s aggressive).
The Lakers’ size through Bynum and Gasol is one of the biggest threats they have against opponents. They need to utilize that weapon if they have hopes of making a deep playoff run.
For the first time in recent memory, Bynum has his legs underneath him.
After playing in all 82 regular season games during his sophomore season, Bynum has played in 35, 50, 65 and 54 games respectively afterward.
Remarkably, during the brutal lockout-shortened schedule this season, the Lakers’ center has been perhaps the healthiest of his entire career. He played in 60 of a possible 66 games.
Lakers fans have to be thrilled that Bynum has finally been able to stay out of street clothes come game-time. It’s about that time to knock on wood, but when healthy, Bynum is without question the best center playing in this year's postseason.
Unless the Lakers suffer a tragic collapse against Denver (unlikely), they’ll have to play the juggernaut Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 2.
If Kobe Bryant is able to play Kevin Durant to a stalemate each game (I’d take that bet), then Bynum truly becomes the major X-factor.
Unfortunately for Bynum, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are two of the best defensive big men in basketball. Those two bigs match up quite well against Bynum and Gasol.
So the performance of the Lakers really depends on him.
Is Bynum up to the challenge associated with playing in a huge series against arguably the best defensive big men he’ll face? That’s a story line worth watching.
If the Lakers manage to get past an extremely talented Thunder team, they’ll face one of three teams.
The Los Angeles Clippers hold a big advantage with a 3-1 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies, but both teams are still in the running. Then there are the San Antonio Spurs, who swept the Utah Jazz out of the playoffs last night, looking truly dominant in the process.
All three of these teams would be tough matchups for the Lakers, but I think the one they hope to avoid is a series against the Spurs.
Regardless of who they play, Bynum’s output on both ends of the court will need to be stellar.
Chances are high that Bynum will have to defend Tim Duncan/Blake Griffin/Marc Gasol because Pau Gasol doesn’t have the strength to match up with any of those players.
Kobe Bryant is going to get his points. Would Bynum be able to follow suit in a potential Western Conference Finals matchup? We’ll have to wait and see.
I honestly believe that the Eastern Conference is the Miami Heat’s for the taking.
The Chicago Bulls, after injuries to both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, may lose in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Orlando Magic lost the Heat’s kryptonite in Dwight Howard, so that leaves the Boston Celtics.
I’m not ready to write off the veteran Celtics, but for the sake of argument let’s say that the Heat will make the finals.
If that’s the case, Bynum would prove to be a huge matchup problem. Joel Anthony is 6’9” and Ronny Turiaf, though a good shot blocker, may not be able to hold his own against the size and strength of Bynum.
Stopping LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is certainly a tall task, but with the matchup problems Bynum poses on the offensive end, the Lakers may have a better chance than most at beating Miami.
In Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets, Bynum tied a playoff record by recording 10 blocked shots.
Bynum’s ability to alter shots and intimidate opponents when they drive the lane looking for easy baskets will be invaluable moving forward.
When he’s motivated, Bynum can be one of the most devastating defensive players in the league, but the “when he’s motivated” part is the real question mark.
Bynum was quoted after Game 1 saying, “They told me I needed two more, so I was jumping at everything trying to get it.”
So was Bynum going for blocks to help the team or to tie/break a record for individual success?
Someone ought to tell the youngster that if he gets 11 blocks, the record will be all his own.
It sounds elementary because it is. Rebounding, however, is a huge part of basketball.
Preventing second-chance points is one of the most underrated aspects of the game. If you can limit teams to one shot attempt every time down the floor, your chance of winning skyrockets.
Bynum gives the Lakers that luxury. He’s currently averaging 10.3 rebounds per game in the postseason (7.5 of which are on the defensive end of the floor).
If Bynum can assert his dominance rebounding the basketball, like he did with his shot blocking performance in Game 1 of the Denver series, the Lakers will have a better chance at making it past tough conference teams.
If teams decide to double-team Bynum in the post to limit his offensive effectiveness, it will only open up what the Lakers can do.
Bynum is an underrated passer for a big man and he does a good job at limiting his turnovers.
Should teams choose to double him more as the playoffs continue, he needs to recognize the matchups it creates by passing the ball out to perimeter shooters.
This is an aspect of Bynum’s game that could be improved. Bynum has shot just 22 free throws this postseason. He’s making them at a 77.8 percent clip, so he shouldn’t fear going to the charity stripe like Blake Griffin, who's shooting 55.6 percent from the free throw line in the playoffs.
If Bynum really asserts himself in the post and shows aggressiveness going to the basket (without being over-aggressive) those numbers could rise.
This would be huge in a series against the Thunder, who depend on their bigs for production on the defensive end.
If Bynum can get opposing big men in foul trouble through his post moves and aggressive nature, it will only help the Lakers moving forward.
Although Kobe would probably tell you otherwise, he needs help. At 33-years-old, Bryant has been playing like a man possessed this season, but he needs to recognize the peers he has around him.
Sometimes Bryant has a tendency to force the issue on offense when he doesn’t necessarily have to do so. Embracing Bynum, Gasol and the role players within their offensive system will help take pressure off of Bryant.
If he can improve his shot selection and avoid the 7-for-23 shooting nights like he had in the loss to Denver, the Lakers will provide a balanced attack that can beat any team in the NBA.
Trusting Bynum to put up steady numbers in the post needs to be a priority for the superstar guard as the Lakers make another championship run.