LA Lakers: 5 Reasons Why Andrew Bynum Remains the Key to a Lakers Three-Peat
They're finally starting to figure it out—you can sense it, I can sense it, the rest of the league can sense it. Now that we've finally turned the page on the calendar to March 1, the Lakers can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
They know that things are going to start to matter really soon, and if the first four games after the All-Star break are any indication, they may actually consider these games to be important too.
Phil Jackson perhaps said it best in the very beginning of the season: "You know, it's hard to get these guys to care too much about a regular season game."
At the time, I didn't think much of it, but when you consider what this group has been through since the Gasol trade, it makes perfect sense.
Three straight NBA Finals appearances and two straight NBA titles would make it hard for any team to truly care about a game before mid-April, a point this Lakers team has continued to prove time and time again over the last four months.
However, with just 21 regular season games remaining, the Lakers have won four straight since the All-Star break, including two impressive road wins over Portland and Oklahoma City.
So who or what exactly has been the key to this sudden Lakers turnaround, you ask? The same person who we've said is the key to this team since they were blown out by the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals...Andrew Lee Bynum.
That's right, the 23-year-old, oft-injured, seven-foot, 285-lb. center himself. The Lakers won the title last year because of their defense, and the only way they will win the title again this season (much like Kobe Bryant has told us time and time again in his postgame interviews) will be the result of a renewed commitment on the defensive end.
And who is at the center of the new defensive scheme the Lakers implemented in January? You guessed it...
During the Lakers' current four-game winning streak, they've held their opponents to just 87.25 points per game during regulation as a result of Bynum's presence inside. Let's take a look at the five reasons why he remains the key to a Lakers three-peat.
5. Their New Defensive Scheme Revolves Around Him
In early January, once head coach Phil Jackson and Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person decided they had seen enough poor defensive performances for a lifetime, a new system was implemented.
In the past, the Lakers funneled everything towards the middle, often allowing opposing guards to get into the the lane while forcing Bynum to leave the basket unattended.
Now, they are trying to stress more importance on defending the perimeter, thus, influencing the ball down the sideline and then to the baseline. This allows Bynum to do what he does best, clog the middle, block shots, and generally contest every thing that comes his way.
Bynum had this to say to Mark Medina of the LA Times: "I'm close to the rim all the time now, we're switching off and I'm just guarding guys next to the block and next to the rim."
4. His Rebounding
In the Lakers' four games since the All-Star break, Bynum is averaging 10 rebounds per game in only 30 minutes of play. He's averaging 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes of play this season, which would be good for fifth in the league.
As Bynum's health continues to improve, look for his minutes to increase along with his rebounding numbers. The Lakers are currently third in the league in rebounding differential (first in the West) and will be relying heavily on Bynum in the postseason to maintain that advantage.
The Lakers out-rebounded the Celtics by a combined margin of 105 to 79 in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals last year in what turned out to be the difference in the series.
3. Another Inside Scoring Threat
As Bynum's minutes continue to increase, so does his production. He's played 31 minutes in each of the past two games, combining to shoot 11-for-18 from the field and 10-for-13 from the free throw line, resulting in back-to-back 16-point games.
He needs to remain right around that one-point-per-two-minutes-played average in order for the Lakers to be able to count on him as a legitimate second interior scoring option.
Sixteen may be the magic number for the Lakers—it's not a coincidence that they are 9-2 on the season when Bynum scores at least 16 points.
2. He Not Only Blocks a Lot of Shots, He Changes a Lot of Shots
Bynum has blocked 10 shots during the Lakers' four-game post-All-Star win streak and is averaging 1.8 blocks per game on the season. This translates to 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes, which would place him second in the league.
With a wingspan of 7'3", Bynum not only blocks a lot of shots, he changes a lot of shots. To have that kind of presence anchoring the back end of your defense is a luxury few teams possess when considering the lack of big men in today's game.
1. He Allows Gasol to Play His Natural Position at the 4
This is far and away the biggest reason why Bynum remains the key component to a Lakers three-peat.
When Pau Gasol is matched up with any opposing 4 in the league, the Lakers maintain a huge advantage, both offensively and defensively.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what has made the Lakers so successful over the past three seasons; it's the simplest, yet most important advantage in the game of basketball...size. Yes, size does matter folks, and it matters more in basketball than any other sport.
And when the Lakers can trot out a front line consisting of a healthy Andrew Bynum, Gasol and the versatile 6'10" Lamar Odom, they are nearly impossible to defeat.
They become vulnerable when they lose their height advantage (usually due to a Bynum injury) and are forced to play Gasol out of position at the 5 and insert Odom into the starting lineup, thus, weakening the bench. It's the textbook definition of a trickle-down effect.
I'll leave you with this: If Andrew Bynum is healthy for the duration of the playoffs, the Lakers will undoubtedly complete the three-peat. You can take this to the bank and bet your mortgage on it.
I don't care about the Spurs or their record, the Spurs will NOT beat LA in a seven-game series with a healthy Bynum. If he isn't healthy, they are beatable, and it's as simple as that.