Andrew Bynum is no longer a kid.
The Lakers’ 22-year-old center has been hobbled by injuries and immaturity the past three years.
Well, he is still bothered by injuries, but he has matured to the point where he is sucking it up and playing through them.
Should the Lakers win the NBA Title, one of their superstars, Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol, will no doubt be named the Finals MVP.
But make no mistake, no one has been more valuable to the Lakers than Andrew Bynum.
Even without scoring, just having him on the court has been invaluable for the Purple and Gold. Just the problems that his length creates for opponents are staggering.
With Bynum in the post, teams have to modify their game to the point that it throws their entire offense off balance and inhibits their flow.
It changes the Lakers’ game as well.
With Bynum at the five-spot, it allows Pau Gasol to play the four, which is his natural position and has allowed him to breakout in this year’s playoffs.
It also frees up Ron Artest to defend the opponent’s strongest offensive threat, and that allows Kobe Bryant to save some energy on the defensive end so he can spend it at the other end.
If that isn’t enough, Bynum has had key rebounds and blocks in this Finals series with the Celtics and has always been a dependable foul shooter.
He also gets fouled as there is little else smaller defenders can do with his length and power.
But up until this year, when he suffered a torn meniscus, Bynum has been criticized for being slow to recover and learning how to play the post in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense.
Some have even called him unmotivated.
You may have even found a couple of Lakers’ teammates who would have agreed
But that has all changed once this year’s playoffs began.
Instead of opting to have surgery and a long reconditioning period, Bynum decided to play with pain, no matter how severe.
Maybe he was inspired with the likes of Bryant, Odom, Artest and Gasol all playing through pain and fatigue.
Whatever the case, Bynum, who won’t be 23-years-old until October, has finally grown up.
He may not yet be the man... that is still Kobe Bryant.
But Bynum has certainly become a man, and the Lakers are better for it.