In less than a weeks time, the Lakers expect to have Andrew Bynum back in uniform and playing in actual NBA games. This is a big deal for a variety of reasons. For one, it allows Pau Gasol the rest that he needs. Playing over 40 minutes a night isn’t ideal for any player, much less the wiry Spaniard who has to be the do it all big man for the Lakers for every minute that he’s on the court. As commenter VoR pointed out:
Pau can’t give away fouls because he has to stay on the court (got to be careful on aggressive D and rebounding), he has to D up the opposition’s big man, cover for Laker guards getting beat, box out and rebound, bang down low on offense (who else is there?), be a play maker and focal point for the offense and not sit down for more than a minute or two.
Bynum being back allows the Lakers’ front court rotation to normalize. Players get slotted in their more natural positions and take on a minute allotment that makes more sense over the course of a long season.
But where Bynum really helps is in the Lakers defense. Allow me to quote some Kelly Dwyer knowledge on the subject:
(Bynum) also turns the Lakers into a terrifying defensive team, though. Los Angeles is 13th in defensive efficiency right now, and while current center Pau Gasol(notes) is light years ahead of where he was in terms of strength and foot movement four years ago, he’s still Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom(notes) may clear the defensive glass with gusto, but he’s still Lamar Odom. Andrew Bynum, a legitimate helping center, changes all that.
And more from KD:
The only chinks in Los Angeles’ armor this year come in the form of those close six losses in 21 tries (each of those games could have been won in the fourth quarter) and the team’s mediocre defense. This isn’t to say that something’s gone wrong so far — it hasn’t. It’s to tell you that there is nothing wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers that can’t be fixed by the Los Angeles Lakers. And it starts with the bigs cutting hard to the pinch post to receive a pass, and Kobe Bryant giving up the ball and letting the offense work for him. Because the defense, with Bynum back, will take care of itself. (empashis mine)
I know it’s difficult to rely too much on one player, especially one that misses games and has had focus issues during his time with the Lakers. But make no mistake, Andrew Bynum is going to help the Lakers. And he’s going to do it on defense.
When Lakers’ opponents run pick and rolls with Pau and ‘Drew in the game, that back line defender won’t be Lamar Odom or an undersized Ron Artest contesting the shot. It will be a seven footer. When the opposing offense tries to run cross screens and pin downs for guards and wings against a defensive group that includes Bynum, his big body will disrupt screen angles and his long arms can reach out and deter easy passes. When Lakers guards get beat off the dribble, they’ll have to contend with Bynum stepping up and altering shots. Trust me, the number of uncontested lay ins that the Lakers allow will go down significantly when Bynum returns. And some of those point blank shots will become floaters from 10 feet out, rather than finishes right at the cup.
Bynum’s not the perfect defender. He can be slow of foot when hedging on the P&R. He will, at times, avoid fouling for the sake of preserving his time on the court. But the one thing that can’t be denied is that he’s a massive man that can control the paint. His sheer size makes posting up more difficult and his tremendous wingspan changes shots’ trajectories. When coupled with the Lakers improved (in recent games) ball pressure on wing ball handlers, we’re likely to see an uptick in forced turnovers and in out of control shots by penetrating wings who are being pressured on the front end and contested on the back end.
So, get your efficient offensive nights on the Lakers now. Get ’em while the Lakers big man depth is depleted and when Pau and Lamar won’t commit fouls due to their need to stay on the court. Get them while the back line defense doesn’t have a capable shot blocker (or one worried about fouling) coming to help. Because in about a weeks time, reinforcements are coming. And while it won’t be picture perfect right away, things are going to improve. Remember, the Lakers were a top 5 defensive team for most of last season and that was without Matt Barnes’ tenacity in the mix. And while Artest and Kobe haven’t yet played up to that standard, the Lakers also haven’t had their eraser on the back line for a single minute this season.