When the Los Angeles Lakers took Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in the 2005 NBA draft, they probably didn't know how high his value would be in 2011.
On Nov. 2, 2005, Bynum became the youngest player to ever play in a NBA game at 18 years, six days old. His progression was not steady, as it was filled with blatant ups and downs.
After watching the Boston Celtics rout the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Bynum knew he didn't want to be a spectator again. He went on to play a significant role in both the 2009 and 2010 NBA Finals the Lakers captured.
In 2010, Bynum played the entire postseason with a torn meniscus and a strained Achilles tendon. He was still able to log over 24 minutes a game, grabbing nearly seven boards and registering 1.6 blocks per contest. Bynum proved not only his worth, but also his toughness.
As Kobe Bryant ages, he's become more vocal about his need for help. Bynum and company can no longer stand around and watch Kobe shred the defense. The Lakers are becoming more of a balanced attack—something they are benefiting greatly from.
Los Angeles is 16-1 since the All-Star break, far and away the best record of anyone in the NBA since the brief time off. Bynum missed two of the games due to a suspension for a hard foul, but has been extremely efficient on the floor.
He's averaging 12.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the 14 games he's played in, significantly higher than his season averages of 8.9 and 1.9 in those respective categories.
Here are eight reasons why Bynum's play has an indicative affect on the Lakers' results and chances in the playoffs.
The Lakers have won 17 championships in their decorated history—one of which was an NBL, not an NBA title.
Year in and year out, the Lakers are expected to contend for the Larry O'Brien trophy. In their 31 NBA Finals appearances, they have brought the hardware home on 16 occasions—more than half the time.
What is the similar factor between all the great Laker units?
Each squad had a center to be reckoned with.
In all 17 of their championships, the Lakers have always had a center that played a noteworthy role in the title bid.
It all started with George Mikan, who was a five-time champion when the team was in Minneapolis. Wilt Chamberlain joined the Lakers late in his career after they'd moved to LA and led them to the 1972 NBA Championship, beating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the way.
Abdul-Jabbar was the featured big man in LA in the 1980's. He won titles in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988. Shaquille O'Neal was the next great acquisition for the Lakers, front-manning a three-peat from 2000 to 2002.
Bynum is the latest addition to the list of Lakers centers. His titles in 2009 and 2010 complete the list of 17 championships, all won with a formidable (center)piece.
When Kobe gave the infamous "Black Swan" quote to the media, he was referring to Pau Gasol. Little did he know, Bynum would be the one that caught wind of the message.
Bynum's defensive skills are already well-known. Players around the NBA understand that they have to approach the paint with care when they're up against the Lakers. Bynum and Gasol keep the low post on lock.
On offense, Bynum is applying Kobe's teaching point and looking to score the basketball. He has posted 16 or more points in four games during the 14-game stretch. Bynum no longer looks around for someone else to pass the ball off to. Instead, he catches and looks to make his move to beat his defender.
The beautiful thing about Bynum is his length. Even if he can't beat a defender, he can shoot over the top of them with a delicate baby hook. He's also been an absolute animal on the offensive glass. Bynum is averaging 4.4 offensive rebounds per game since the break, which is a number that would tie for second in the NBA this season.
Kobe may be a legitimate MVP candidate, but true Lakers fans know that Bynum and Lamar Odom are the key players that push the Lakers over the top in close battles.
When talking about a big man in the NBA with an impressive wingspan, Joakim Noah needs to be in the conversation.
The Chicago Bulls currently hold the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose has been sensational all season, but Noah is to Rose as Bynum is to Kobe. Noah does a lot of the dirty work.
Noah has a complete stat line: 12.1 points, 11 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game don't lie. Noah can do it all.
The Bulls have played the Lakers two times this season, splitting the season series. Noah played in both games, while Bynum had to sit because he was still rehabbing his meniscus and Achilles. In the first game, the Lakers won despite 19 points, 13 boards, three blocks and four steals from Noah.
In the second matchup, the Bulls were more defensive. They held the Lakers to 84 points in a four-point triumph. Noah wasn't as impressive in this game, as Rose basically put on a one-man show.
When Bynum isn't in the lineup, Gasol is forced to cover Noah. This means that Odom has to step up and defend Carlos Boozer. If Bynum is playing, Odom can slide down and have a more favorable matchup against Deng.
Bynum being active for games will be huge if the two teams square off in the NBA Finals.
The Lakers have only seen Kendrick Perkins sporting a green and white uniform this season. Both times the Lakers played the Celtics, Perkins was a member of the arch-rival.
Neither Bynum nor Perkins was able to go off against each other, holding each other at bay for the most part in the two contests. The best performance was Bynum's 16 points and nine boards in a Lakers win.
In the other game, Boston came out on top. Bynum was held to six rebounds in the game. Neither player has managed to record double-digit rebounds against the other.
Perkins has since been moved to Oklahoma City. The Thunder will finally get to show of their new toy to the Lakers on April 10, the third-to-last game for Los Angeles. Perkins, along with Nazr Mohammed, was added to allow the Thunder to compete with the frontcourts of the Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.
If these two teams meet in the playoffs, this will be one of the many featured matchups to keep a keen eye on. Whichever big man rises to the challenge could carry his team out of the West and into the Finals.
The Lakers are not asking Bynum to outplay Dwight Howard—not yet at least.
Bynum is on the short list of NBA players that can body up Dwight Howard for a full game. When the two teams first met this season, Bynum led the Lakers in scoring with 17 points. Howard, however, scored 31 points and out-rebounded Bynum, 13-9. The Magic subsequently won by 14.
About two weeks ago, the two teams played again.
Bynum went 3-of-10 from the field and only scored 10 points. Howard had 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. The big difference was the battle on the boards. Bynum snagged 18 missed shots compared to only 15 for Howard. Nine of Bynum's rebounds came on offense and extended possessions for the Lakers.
Bynum's nine offensive rebounds against Howard are the most anyone has had against the Magic all year. In some games, entire teams fall short of that mark against Howard and the Magic.
Bynum is the only person in the league that can go toe-to-toe with Howard on a nightly basis. Even NBA rebounding leader Kevin Love only collected six offensive rebounds against the Magic in two games.
Bynum had six offensive boards in the first game, but rose his game to a new level in the second meeting.
Kobe is notorious for running Shaquille O'Neal out of town so he could be the lone star in LA.
Whether or not that's true, he's been behind Bynum 100 percent since the Lakers drafted him. Bryant is known as one of the smartest players in the league. He's the first one to go to Bynum and offer up advice to the 23-year-old center.
Kobe knows what it's like to be a prep-to-pro player in the NBA. He knows all about the high expectations, and what it's like to take criticism and be in the public light before you're an adult. Bryant has stood by Bynum every step of the way.
When Bynum committed the hard foul on Michael Beasley earlier this month that drew the two-game suspension, Kobe said he was proud of the Bynum. Kobe said that Bynum was making a statement and proving the toughness of the Lakers. Whether or not he believes that does not matter—it's the support that Bynum will remember.
In last night's blowout win over the Mavericks, Bynum bobbled the ball a bit before gathering it and then turning a broken play into a drop-step dunk. Kobe—on the bench at the time—stood and applauded. The announcers pointed out how atypical that is of Kobe, who has seen every type of dunk the NBA talent pool has to offer.
It's obvious to many that Kobe's ecstatic to see Bynum succeed. More Bynum means less weight on Kobe's shoulders with the playoffs looming.
If you're still not sold on Bynum's contributions as a player, just look at the Finals results against the Boston Celtics.
In 2008, the Lakers made it all the way to the NBA Finals without Bynum. When the Celtics confronted them in the final series, the Lakers looked weak, falling in six games. Outstanding post play by Kevin Garnett was at the forefront of the Celtics' success.
Virtually the same Celtics team, with a much-improved Rajon Rondo, stood in the way of the Lakers in 2010. The Lakers had won the previous year, but it was the Magic who knocked Boston out of the postseason.
Despite a serious knee injury, Bynum wouldn't miss the Finals against the Celtics for the world. Bynum gave it his all in the first two games of the series, scoring a combined 31 points, and registering seven blocks in a tough Game 2 loss.
He wasn't as statistically effective in the remainder of the series, but still played serious minutes for the Lakers, who took home the title in seven games.
To put it simply, I watched the whole series and couldn't have told you that Bynum was injured.
Pau Gasol was quoted in the USA Today as saying, "He gave his best. He sacrificed himself in order to help the team and have a better chance to win the championship."
The Lakers are on a tear for multiple reasons. By far the biggest factor is Bynum's commitment to the art of rebounding and blocking shots.
Bynum didn't play his first game this season until Dec. 14. The Lakers were 20-7 without Bynum, but that was after a 13-2 start. The Lakers were 7-5 in the last 12 games before Bynum came back, and Bynum's return led to four straight wins. They are 34-13 since his return.
Without Bynum, the Lakers allowed 100 points or more in 11 of 27 games. With Bynum, only 12 of 47 opponents have made it to triple digits. Since the All-Star break, only the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers have topped the century mark. The Lakers still won all three games.
While the Lakers were waiting for Bynum to heal, they allowed 42.93 boards per game which would be good enough for 25th in the NBA. Since his return, they've only given up 39.96 per contest—good for sixth in the league. Their season-to-date differential of almost three more rebounds per game than their opponents is good for third in the NBA.
With Bynum in the lineup, only three players have grabbed 15 boards in one night. Without him, five players did it in just 27 games. The Lakers allowed Kevin Love to come down with 24 boards and Andrew Bogut tallied 18 rebounds in one contest.
Breaking away from the statistics to finish up, the Lakers are visibly a stronger team with Bynum wearing a uniform rather than a suit.
How important do you think Bynum is to Los Angeles and its chances for a three-peat?