LA Lakers: Why Andrew Bynum Is the NBA's Most Important Player

Jonathan TjarksSpecial to Bleacher ReportDecember 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Playing basketball on a regular basis affects how you view the sport.

It's good to be reminded of the game's simplicity.  It involves players operating in a group setting, yet five random guys with any kind of basketball IQ can instantly play and perform in a functional offensive system.  

** When you have "your five" everyone stretches and shoots for a few minutes then the game is on. No one's diagramming plays before-hand.  Try and imagine a similar scenario involving 22 guys playing an impromptu 11-on-11 game of "pick-up football."

On a related note, if you are a prospective college student who enjoys playing basketball, going to a big state school like UT is really quite something.  Gregory Gym has fairly high-level games going from 3-10 p.m. from Monday-Thursday **

So what's happening on the floor really can't be that complicated.  That's why basketball coaches with inferior tactical skills are irritating. This is not hard! You are deploying your personnel incorrectly! I could be watching a much more enjoyable game and your incompetence is robbing me of this.

** Here's a fun "what if": what if Mike Brown knew what he was doing? Playing LeBron James at the power forward position would have been a game-changer for the Cavaliers last season. The man weighs upwards of 260 pounds, has a 7'0 wingspan and a near 40-inch vertical jump; he could have easily guarded KG.

This would have sped up the game, absolutely vital since Cleveland never had a chance in a match-up of set defenses.  In the half-court, all the match-ups (besides LeBron/Pierce) were in the Celtics' favor.  No coincidence: The Cavs won every time they scored over 100 points in the series, and lost every time they didn't. **

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I recently joined a regular game where I am consistently the tallest player by two or three inches without giving up much athleticism to the other players.  My height is a very isolated variable. It is hard to overemphasize how valuable height is in a game involving throwing something at a goal 10 feet in the air.  

Since I am a reasonably competent dribbler, I can go wherever I want on the court whenever I feel like it and use my height to get a good shot.  And because I can see the entire floor, it is very easy to create passing angles.  That's the main reason why LeBron James is such an amazing player, he does this against the best athletes in the world!  

It’s also why he can be frustrating. If he added a Tony Parker-type floater and a rudimentary low-post game, he would probably average over 40 points a game.  He’s not nearly as polished offensively as Kobe.  How good he would be if he was is hard to contemplate.

** It’s rather amazing that he still has so much room to grow as a player despite already being the best player in the world.  John Hollinger’s computer system projects the Cavs to win 21 games this season.  That means LeBron was worth 40 wins (more than quite a few teams) … by himself! **

It’s fairly easy for a good offensive player to score over a smaller defender.  For a good example of this, see Dirk Nowitzki scoring basically at will over David Lee when the Mavericks played Golden State earlier this week. At a certain point, it became almost sad to watch.  If I was Lee, I would have been mildly perturbed at my coach. I obviously cannot guard him, how about you go ahead and switch me with Biedrins on defense?

** Defensive matchups are much more fluid in a pick-up game.  A good NBA coach isn’t afraid to try seemingly unconventional defensive alignments … Don Nelson. **

That’s why Andrew Bynum’s health is the biggest shatterpoint of the NBA season.  A healthy Bynum changes everything.

He is 7’0 tall and has a 7’6 wingspan.  He weighs 280 pounds.  He has a very soft touch up to 8-10 feet from the basket.

There is almost no conceivable way that the vast majority of NBA centers can guard him in the low post, especially considering how dramatically undersized the position has become, mostly because so few guys Bynum’s size have his kind of post game.

** Greg Oden and Yao Ming are two of the only guys who can match-up with him.  I’m curious as to whether their shared fragility is a coincidence. I suspect it is not: they are all at the very edge of the spectrum in terms of how big and tall you can be while still retaining NBA-level athleticism. **

The average NBA team is lucky to have one seven-footer capable of playing effective low-post defense while not being a liability offensively.  The Celtics are the only team with two (KG and Shaq).  

** This is why I thought the Suns were insane to let Amare leave in the off-season.  When you let a 6'10" guy who can dunk at will walk, you are choosing to rebuild, which doesn't make an awful lot of sense when your best player is 37-years-old. **  

Bynum in the low post and Gasol in the high post is the most unstoppable combination in the league.  

Then there’s Lamar Odom.  Bynum lets the Lakers bring a 6’10", 230-pound forward with a 7’4" wingspan who can effectively guard all three front-court positions defensively and run the point on offense off their bench.  And he’s their fourth most talented player! It’s absolutely preposterous.

When LA has all three rolling, there’s never a point when they aren’t playing a huge line-up.  Even very good teams struggle to have a good big man on their bench.  The first big man off the Spurs bench is Matt Bonner, for the Hornets it’s Jason Smith.  Neither has much business being in the same discussion as Lamar Odom.

** This is why I find the coverage of the NBA so ridiculous at times.  The Phoenix Suns were forced to play a 2-3 zone against the Lakers for large portions of last year’s WCF.  That’s a move usually seen at the college level, where there is an extraordinary difference in ability between an All-American big man and the average D1 post player.

Yet, from what I remember, somehow most of the media coverage revolved around Kobe’s ability to scowl and how important his “will to win” was for the Lakers.  Do people not understand how easy it is for someone as skilled as Kobe to score against a 2-3 zone when playing with big men who can pass the ball?

Look how at how ridiculous his stat-line was (33/7/8 on 52% shooting) in comparison with his career averages – 25/5/5.  It’s not because he “raised his game”; it’s because he was literally stealing candy from babies! That’s how easy the game was for him in that series. **

There really isn’t a team that can handle the trio of Bynum/Gasol/Odom.  

The Spurs have a 19-3 record and a +9.3 point differential, but I would be comfortable betting many thousands of dollars that a team that starts DeJuan Blair (at 6’7") at the power forward position won’t be beating the Lakers.  

Until San Antonio addresses this, they are not a legitimate threat to win an NBA championship.  What's funny is how the roles change. In 2003, Maverick fans were sure they could beat the Spurs.  After all, they had two future MVP's (Dirk and Nash) and two All-Stars (Finley and Van Exel) along the perimeter, while San Antonio played a haphazard combination of Speedy Claxton, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen and a (still callow) Tony Parker (who shot 40.3 percent in the playoffs) and Manu (who shot 38.6 percent).

Problem was, Dallas had Shawn Bradley and Raef LaFrentz guarding Tim Duncan.  So San Antonio controlled the four feet around the basket.  If you give me those four feet, you can have the other 90, I will win nine out of 10 times.  It didn't really matter all that much who was on the perimeter!

If I were the Spurs I’d be willing to move Tony Parker, since George Hill can effectively play his role in their system, to get another big.  

** If Brent Barry was still on the Spurs, someone would have to be traded.  I would not play with someone who caused my divorce.  I would try to fight him all the time. **

The problem is, of course, that teams are fairly reluctant to trade athletic big men.  But I think moving Parker for Sacramento’s Jason Thompson would be great for both the Spurs and the Kings.

Thompson is an athletic 6'11" player who can defend multiple front-court positions and it would clear up the big-man rotation in Sacramento where they have four guys (Cousins, Dalembert, Thompson and Landry) and only three spots.  George Hill can provide 80 percent of Tony Parker's contributions, and I can't imagine TP is too popular in the Spurs' locker room right now anyway.

For the Kings, Parker would give them a point guard who would push Tyreke Evans off the ball but would not need to dominate the rock either.

The Celtics are the only team in the NBA that can match-up with LA, but their big men are a lot older and slower than the Lakers’.  

The Heat are running out Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony at the center position.

** If I were one of the other teams in the running for LeBron, my meeting with him would have lasted about :30 seconds.  Me: Joel Anthony will be your starting center.  Joel Anthony.  Starting center.  Joel Anthony! Starting center! You and I both know that's ridiculous, you cannot play in Miami. **

The Mavericks offense relies entirely on Dirk Nowitzki’s ability to dominate his match-up.  In Dallas’ two games against the Lakers at Staples Center last year, he shot 5-14 and 7-18.  Odom is, by a wide margin, the best Dirk-defender in the NBA.

He is absolute murder on perimeter-oriented big men in general, which is why the Orlando Magic (Rashard Lewis) aren't a great threat to LA either.

Long story short, the eyes of the NBA should be squarely on the Lakers’ game against the Wizards tonight.  If Bynum looks healthy, we might as well call it a season.

** Facing him will be a front-court of Javale McGee and Andray Blatche.  You could not have constructed a better scenario to test John Wall’s point guard skills – if he can maximize the talent of those two knuckle-heads, which might not be possible, that’s a dynasty. **

For more, check out the FanTake Blog: Get Buckets. Follow on Twitter at:    GetBucketsFT. Follow on Facebook: Get Buckets

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