As we’re all aware, Andrew Bynum has missed the last two Laker games due to suspension. He leveled an airborne player, that player crashed to the ground, Bynum was ejected and suspended two additional games as extra punishment. There are various ways to look at the foul and subsequent suspension but I’m not here to argue those points. I understand that some are, essentially, okay with what Bynum did (for a variety of reasons) but I am not one of those people. We can agree to disagree if you’re on the other side of this debate. I’m perfectly okay with that.
Again, though, I’m not here to discuss Bynum as tough guy/dirty player/enforcer. There are bigger things to focus on, like how the Lakers played in his absence and why it’s now more clear than ever that the Lakers need him playing well to achieve their ultimate goal this season.
Earlier in the year when Bynum was missing games while recovering from his knee injury, the Lakers suffered for it. That said, they suffered not from any contributions he was providing but rather because the Lakers needed bodies. I feel entirely comfortable in saying that during Bynum’s absence early in the year the team suffered more because it forced heavy minutes onto Pau and his play dipped because of it. The fact that Theo Ratliff was injured and Phil didn’t trust rookie Derrick Caracter to perform in spot duty meant that Gasol carried an inordinate load on both sides of the ball and he started to play worse due to the increased wear.
Essentially, Bynum’s absence created a domino effect that the Lakers, and Pau specifically, had trouble dealing with.
However, in these last two games with Bynum out, the Lakers not only saw that same domino effect (Pau was inefficienct offensively in both games – shooting 15-40 while scoring 38 points – while still doing a good job in rebounding – totalling 26 in the two games) but we also saw how much the team really missed Bynum.
With the restructuring of the Lakers defensive sets to capitalize on Bynum’s sheer size and ability to block and alter shots, the fact that Bynum is out makes it so the Lakers clearly lose something on defense. Against both the Blazers and the Suns the Lakers found themselves scrambling on D and switching big men onto guards/wings more often than in recent games with Bynum available. This switching led to more mismatches all over the court that the Lakers had difficulty dealing with. Just look at a lot of the open jumpers that Nic Batum got or how Gasol ended up switching onto Nash late in the Suns game. These are only two examples but they’re reflective of how the Lakers scheme was compromised in order to better cover for each other – something that we saw much less of with Bynum playing.
I understand two games is a small sample size and that what I’ve desribed could be chalked up to sample size or the opponent. After all, Phoenix with their uptempo P&R heavy offense and Portland with their slow down screen and post centric sets offer two of the more polarizing styles that a team could face in back to back games. That said, when the same trends pop up in both match ups, I think it’s fair to say that it may not be the opponent, but rather the Lakers style that’s dictating what’s seen. And what we saw was a team – despite some good defensive numbers against Portland – that wasn’t playing that same peak level D as it was with Bynum available. And since this team will go as far as their defense takes them, I think this is important to note.
At this point, I’m just happy that Bynum is coming back on Friday. Without him, the Lakers are an excellent team that has just as good a shot to win the title as the Bulls, Spurs, and Celtics. With him playing – especially at the level he was playing at before his suspension – I think the Lakers are the favorites. So while I’m happy for the wins that the Lakers got while Bynum sat out, I’m more excited about the wins they hope to get when he’s back in the fold. And based off some of the little things I saw with him out, his value may mean plenty of them.