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Andrew Bynum Effect: Why Bynum Can Still Be the NBA's Next Great Center

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMarch 15, 2011

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Center Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers gets the slam dunk against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Sometimes it's easy to forget how good Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum could really be.

Last night's 97-84聽win over the Orlando Magic served as a reminder of Bynum's enormous potential, and his performance demonstrated what type of player he can be when he聽approaches a contest focused and motivated.

And healthy of course.

Bynum is a lot closer to 100 percent than he was last month when Orlando beat the Lakers down right before the All-Star break, and from the outset of Monday night's game Bynum looked determined to prove that his name deserves to be mentioned with Dwight Howard's.

In the Lakers' earlier loss to Orlando, Howard dominated the interior scoring 31 points and collecting 13 rebounds, easily winning his individual matchups with Bynum and forward Pau Gasol.

On Monday night Bynum had 14 rebounds in the first half alone, but the most impressive part of his game was his defense against Howard.

Lakers' coach Phil Jackson says he is sometimes amazed at how big, strong and coordinated Bynum is, and that if he ever found a way to stay healthy and put it all together, then he could be one of the best true centers the league has seen in years.

Bynum's strong physical play against Howard in the post may mean that he is finally grasping the meaning of Jackson's words, and the fact that Bynum recently defined his own role with the team shows that he is maturing.

Bynum has said that his main focus down the stretch run will be defense and rebounding, and he understands that his offense comes secondary to the Lakers' goal of a third consecutive NBA championship.

Bynum finished last night's game with 10 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks and he more than held his own against Howard who finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

I am hesitant to call this a statement game for Bynum but it does continue an impressive string of performances that have coincided with Bynum regaining his physical health.

Bynum has always showed the talent and potential to be a dominant NBA center, but knee injuries have robbed him of the opportunity to build on his promise.

Each time Bynum has been injured in the past it has been during a visible period of growth in his development.

The lack of consistency has prevented Bynum from realizing his true talent, and each of his comebacks have been plagued by poor conditioning.

But maybe this time it's different.

Bynum chose to play through his most recent injury last postseason and opted to have surgery during the offseason instead.

I don't think Bynum turned into a weight room junkie during his down time, but he did make a more concerted effort to return in better shape than after previous injuries.

Bynum has missed 25 games this season due to injury, but if his recent performances are any indication, then he's rounding into shape at just the right time.

The Lakers will not accomplish their goal of a three-peat without a healthy and focused Bynum, and for the first time in his career he seems to understand this.

The threat of injury will always be the elephant in the room for Bynum, but it's hard to deny how much better the Lakers are when he is on the floor.

Bynum makes the game easier for Gasol and when paired with Lamar Odom's versatility it gives the Lakers an edge in the interior聽that no other team in the league can equal.

There have been some observers who are quick to criticize Bynum and others who think he will never live up to his promise and potential.

Bynum may never be the best center in the NBA, but if he manages to stay healthy for an extended period of time and continues to play at a high level, it will be nearly impossible to exclude him from the conversation.

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