The 23-year-old 7'0" center finally appears to be almost 100 percent recovered and rehabilitated from knee surgery last summer. He’s become “the energy guy” for the Lakers' starting five, an absolute beast on the boards and the spark that’s led Los Angeles to 10 wins in their last 11 games since the All-Star break in mid-February.
Along the way, Los Angles has defeated top-tier teams on the road, including San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Portland and Atlanta. Their defense has stiffened and much of the credit must go to Bynum.
He’s averaging close to 16 rebounds in his last six games and is blocking shots like a man possessed. Since the All-Star break, Bynum is averaging 11.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. He dominated with 15 boards and 22 points in the win over the Mavs, before meeting up with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic on Monday.
I think most diehard Lakers fans would be lying through their anxiety-ridden, nerve chattering teeth if they felt certain that Bynum would make this sort of recovery, turning himself into a sudden force in the middle and playing at a level that puts him among the elite centers in the game.
‘Drew seemed to play with a very large, productive chip on his shoulder Monday night when Orlando came to Staples Center. There’s been an abundance of talk this season about shipping Bynum elsewhere and even more conversation about the possibilities of signing Magic center Dwight Howard to a big Lakers contract when his current one expires in Orlando in 2012.
Bynum took control early and often against Howard and the Magic. His first quarter performance of 11 rebounds, six points and three blocks (two of them were Howard shots) kept the poor shooting Lakers in the game and allowed them to establish some rhythm in the second period. They trailed by five at the half, but limited Orlando to just 38 points in the second half en route to a convincing 97-84 payback win and reminder to the visitors from Florida that the NBA Championship goes through Los Angeles.
Bynum has been playing as if he has something to prove. And that’s a good thing. He’s worked hard to get his knee back in shape, allowing him to push off and elevate, something he didn’t have two months ago.
Some critics are quick to forget that Bynum made a difference in the Lakers' deep run last year. With a badly injured knee, he could have opted out and sat down, but chose to tough it out. He started all 23 games, averaging seven rebounds in 24 minutes of play. His presence was a factor in a number of key Lakers' series wins, including the seven game finals against Boston.
A healthy, focused, driven Andrew Bynum is going to pay huge dividends as the Lakers' move towards the playoffs. He THINKS he can be one of the best centers in the league, a defensive powerhouse intent on cleaning up the backboards on both ends of the court.
At practice on Wednesday, Kobe Bryant commented on Bynum’s defensive prowess. He told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: “He's (Bynum) motivated. He doesn't want his man to score. When Pau [Gasol] is in the game and Dwight scores on him, he's upset. So he's kind of got that motor going for him. It's been in him. He's always kind of had that edge to him. Everybody finds challenges. For me, it's always scoring. For him, it's rebounding and blocking shots.”
For the players, coaches and fans, it’s all about staying healthy. Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio said on air Tuesday that the Lakers should look to deal Bynum now because he’s playing at his peak and that’s when you should trade your most valuable commodity.
His point is well taken and makes sense...if you’re talking about an automobile.
But Andrew Bynum is not a high performance sports car. Rather, he’s a big piece of the Lakers, and if that piece remains intact, there’s no telling how far this particular team will go come playoff time.
Probably as far as another trip down Figueroa, with a third consecutive NBA trophy held high above their heads.