NBA Playoffs 2011: If Andrew Bynum Doesn't Close Games, LA Lakers Won't Succeed

Nathan TannerContributor IIIApril 15, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 14:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts as he sits on the bench during their game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena on February 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Since the All-Star break, Andrew Bynum has been a beast for the Lakers.

The young center has averaged 11.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while shooting 60 percent from the field—the highest percentage of any player who averaged over 30 minutes per game.

Few defenders in the league can cover Bynum.

He is listed at 7’0”, but stands much taller than almost every other “seven-footer” he competes against.

For a player of his brute strength, he is agile and has a soft shooting touch.

Bynum is one of the best back-to-the-basket big men in the league and is unstoppable when he is on his game. Few teams in the league have a player of his size and skill.

Despite all of this, Bynum has not been closing games for the Lakers. He usually plays a good chunk of the fourth quarter before being asked to ride the bench during the last few minutes.

A recent example is when the Lakers played the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 10.

The Lakers were down by two points when Bynum subbed out of the game with 2:46 remaining. He never returned, as coach Phil Jackson made the executive decision to finish with a smaller lineup.

With Bynum on the bench, LA was outscored by 12 points and ended up losing, 106-120.

The loss to the Thunder was not an isolated event. The Lakers struggled at the end of the regular season and went on a five-game losing streak. This was the first time they had lost five straight since 2006-2007—the last year of the Smush Parker/Kwame Brown era.

Is it simply chance that the awful losing streak coincided with the team’s refusal to play Bynum at the end of games?

Coach Phil Jackson has elected to close games with the lineup of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.

Now Artest and Fisher are both good players, but neither of them are currently at the level of Bynum.

Fisher is a clutch shooter, but he has lost a step and can’t defend the way he once could. Artest is a solid on-ball defender, but he routinely struggles on offense.

Bynum is the best of both worlds—he controls the paint on defense and is skilled on offense. He is too good of an asset to ride the pine pony during crunch time with the likes of Luke Walton and Joe Smith.

Why is it so important to have Bynum play during the last few minutes?

At the end of games, especially playoff games, the pace of play slows down considerably. Teams run a half-court set, making Bynum’s ability to defend and rebound becomes even more crucial.

On offense, feeding the ball to Bynum forces teams to play him one-on-one or send a double-team.

If teams play Bynum one-on-one, he has the size and skill to take advantage of them in the post. If they send a double-team, the floor opens up and Kobe can take high-quality shots.

Either way, the Lakers win.

The Lakers have the best combination of big men in Gasol and Bynum, yet only one of them plays during crunch time.

Kobe remains the go-to guy when the game is on the line, but Bynum is the critical piece that separates Los Angeles from other contenders.

If the Lakers want to finish the three-peat and send Phil off with his 12th championship, Bynum must be in the game during crunch time.

He is too good of a player to ride the bench.