When the Lakers take to the hardwood this coming season, the play and health of Kobe and Gasol are obviously going to be important to the Lakers' hopes for winning a third championship in a row. Other factors that will be important are Ron Artest's defense, the play of the bench players, and the team's motivation to put up one of Phil Jackson's best seasons during his supposed farewell tour.
Yet, despite all of these variables that will need to work in LA's favor in order to succeed, the biggest key to the season is Andrew Bynum.
At first glance, it may be easy for one to gloss over him and the importance he brings to the team. During the 2010 playoffs, Bynum only put up averages of 8.6 ppg and 6.9 rpg. Additionally, the Lakers have won the past two championships with Gasol and Odom getting the majority of minutes at the center and power forward positions in the playoffs.
However, there are numerous reasons and some promising trends that indicate that Andrew Bynum is going to be highly effective in making the Lakers successful this year.
While Bynum’s playoff statistics were somewhat unimpressive this year due to his injuries, he put his mark on the game with the impact he brought to his team.
One thing that cannot be replaced is his size. At 7'0" and 285 pounds, there are few centers in the NBA that can match Bynum’s size and toughness. His sheer presence alone will help protect the rim by altering many shots.
And with the scorers on the Lakers squad, Phil Jackson does not need him to be a primary scorer. Rebounding and providing tough interior defense—something that Andrew Bynum has greatly improved on over the past couple of years—are what is needed most from him. The combined long arms of Gasol, Bynum, and Odom make a formidable defensive trio ready to stop dribble penetrators who make it past LA’s perimeter defenses.
His presence in the game helps the Lakers in getting favored matchups. In the 2008 Finals, his absence was definitely felt by LA, as the team had to match Pau Gasol with Kendrick Perkins and Lamar Odom with Kevin Garnett. These two poor matchups with Boston led to labels of the team being “too soft.”
Besides his defensive game, Andrew Bynum has an enormous potential on the offensive end. Last year as a third or fourth option on offense, Bynum averaged 15.0 ppg and 8.3 rpg on 57% FG and 74% FT. When Pau was out injured early in the year, Bynum put up averages of over 18 ppg, 10 rpg, and nearly 2 bpg in just about 35 minutes per contest.
His potential was also clearly seen in January of 2008, just before Bynum had his first major career injury. During that month Bynum averaged over 17 ppg, 12 rpg, and 2 bpg on 70% shooting. If it wasn’t for his dislocated knee injury, he would have led the league in shooting accuracy that season at 64 percent.
Under the past tutelage of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (only the greatest scorer in NBA history), Andrew Bynum also has the privilege of learning and practicing with Pau Gasol on a daily basis. With all of his talented gifts and hard work, Bynum has perhaps the best offensive arsenal of any NBA center in today’s game.
While it’s a shame that injuries have slowed his development, there is reason to believe that this coming season may see Bynum healthy for the first time since 2007. With a better conditioning regimen partly mirroring that of Kobe Bryant, Bynum has steadily increased the games he’s played in the past few years: 35, 50 and 65. In addition, he displayed a new mental toughness by playing through some painful injuries during the playoffs.
It’s great for NBA fans to see teams play healthy come playoff time. Should Bynum remain healthy through the coming year and playoffs, Lakers fans will probably be celebrating a three-peat in June.
Either without Bynum or an effective and healthy Bynum, LA has a greater potential to lose playoff series. Think of the difference a dominating Andrew Bynum would have had against Houston or Denver in 2009, or against Oklahoma City in the 2010 playoffs. Had he played in the 2008 Finals, it’s likely that the Lakers could have won that series.
Bynum’s best game of the playoffs this year was in Game two of the Finals where he put up 21 points and tallied seven blocks. If not for Ray Allen hitting an NBA-record of eight 3-pointers, and a poor out of bounds call off of Gasol (not to mention a non-call of going over-the-back that would have fouled out Kevin Garnett), the Lakers might have won that game. One can infer that a healthy Bynum would likely have meant LA winning in five or six games.
Now imagine a healthy Lakers team going up against top teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. Although these two teams have enormous potential and may end up winning the NBA title next June, their undersized frontlines will struggle against LA with a healthy twin towers comprised of seven-footers, Bynum and Gasol.
Simply put, a healthy and effective Bynum puts LA into a class of its own. Although he may never lead the Lakers until both Kobe and Pau Gasol retire, Andrew Bynum will be the key to the Lakers winning more titles over the next few years.