Los Angeles Lakers: Why Andrew Bynum Is the Key to the Team's Turnaround

Josh HoffmanCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2011

Andrew Bynum is averaging 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game since being inserted into the Lakers' starting lineup.
Andrew Bynum is averaging 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game since being inserted into the Lakers' starting lineup.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

When my editor assigned a new article to me, he proposed this story idea: "Why is/isn't Andrew Bynum the key to the Lakers’ turnaround?"

He might as well have asked me to write about why smoking cigarettes is/isn't bad for the lungs.

It is hard to say one player is the "key" to a "turnaround" because basketball is such a team-oriented sport. Ultimately, you need all five guys on the floor to play cohesively and complementary. After all, players win awards, while teams win championships.

But if there is one player on L.A.'s roster that would fit the "key to a turnaround" mold, it's Bynum.

Since he returned on Dec. 14 from offseason knee surgery, the Lakers are 8-4 overall and 4-1 when he is in the starting lineup. In those 12 games Bynum has logged 20-plus minutes six times, notched double-digits in scoring on five occasions and posted two double-doubles. But those numbers are as important as chocolate chips are to a sugar cookie recipe.

Rather, Bynum's presence on the court is like that of Derek Fisher in the locker room: It requires attention and demands respect.

With Bynum on the bench, opposing teams are far more inclined to pound the ball inside, which creates higher-percentage shots, open looks at the basket for perimeter shooters due to the potential need for a double-team, and more fouls and free throw attempts—all against the Lakers. Higher percentage shots and open looks lead to more made baskets, which in turn limits the Lakers to playing a halfcourt, methodical, predictable offense.

When Bynum is in the lineup, the opposition is far less likely to attack the interior because he is a legitimate shot-blocking threat. Accordingly, players—more often than not—settle for outside, lower-percentage shots. This allows for more missed shots, which give the Lakers the opportunity to get easy buckets in transition, which in turn builds confidence.

Even if the Lakers are not able to cash in on missed shots with fastbreak points, or if their shot attempts aren't falling, they don't have the burden of having to score on every possession because they can rely on their defense with Bynum as the backbone.

Bynum's presence also increases Pau Gasol's productivity because, without Bynum in the lineup, Gasol is forced out of his natural power forward position to fill the void at the center spot.

As a power forward, Gasol doesn't take the beating that he does at center, because most of today's power forwards don't predominantly play with their backs to the basket. Sure, Gasol can play inside and outside, but he is most effective when he dictates how and where he wants to operate.

With Bynum as the starting center and Gasol the starting power forward, Lamar Odom instantly becomes one of the better—if not the best—sixth men in the league. How many teams can say their sixth man is playing at an All-Star level?

Bynum may never pan out to be one of the greats in the lineage of Laker centers. He may be hobbled with injuries for the rest of his career. But with a healthy Bynum on board, the Lakers are at their best.

You can contact Josh Hoffman at jhoffmedia@gmail.com.