We all know that Kobe Bryant is the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Lakers. He does whatever is necessary to give his team the best chance to be victorious, and he’s really good at it. However, despite his stature as one of the greatest of all-time, the majority of his biggest feats have come with the help of a dominant big man.
In the early 2000s, Shaquille O’Neal was the behemoth in the paint who helped Bryant pave the way to three straight titles. In the late 2000s, Pau Gasol’s ability to create mismatches in the middle helped the Lakers take the title in back-to-back seasons. Point being: whenever Bryant earns himself another ring, he requires the help of a towering sidekick.
Now it’s 2012 and Pau Gasol is still an integral part of the Lakers’ lineup. Although he’s still the same dynamic seven-footer, it’s time for a new era to begin and a new sidekick to come to Bryant’s aid.
Enter Andrew Bynum.
It has become blatantly obvious that Bynum has spent the 2011-2012 season developing into an elite center. From his 30-rebound game to a triple-double that included blocks, Bynum has quickly made a name for himself as a thunderous force in the paint that seldom can be silenced.
When he plays to his potential, Bynum is arguably the best center in the NBA. Combining unparalleled size and strength with a natural, commanding presence in the post, Bynum has slowly begun to develop the offensive game that he had been missing for the first few years of his NBA career.
As Bynum began to demand more attention from opposing defenses, the rest of the Lakers’ offense started seeing more scoring opportunities. More specifically, Bynum became a magnet, attracting defense away from Bryant and allowing him more freedom to work his magic on offense.
The most intriguing part of Bynum’s development, though? His sudden sense of maturity.
For the past year, Bynum’s inability to control his temper tantrums was epitomized by the brutal blow that he delivered to J.J. Barea during the 2011 playoffs. The image of a jersey-less Bynum storming off the court in a childish fit was seared into Lakers fans’ brains. His ejection and ensuing suspension were symbols of the sweep that sent the Lakers on an early vacation. At that point, any hopes of Bynum growing up could only be found six feet under.
Things didn’t seem to be getting any better once the 2011-2012 season got under way. Bynum avoided new head coach Mike Brown’s huddles and wasn’t shy about it. Then, he skipped out on a meeting with Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak and was slapped with a fine. And then, something finally clicked.
As if an epiphany had finally smacked Bynum in the face, the youngster began to play with a never-before-seen sense of purpose. Bynum began running the floor with urgency and closing out on shooters as if he actually wanted them to miss. Whether he was trying to talk the Lakers out of trading him or he had finally decided to have some pride in his performance, the potential-laden center was playing like a seasoned veteran rather than a stubborn teenager.
After the Lakers’ win in Game 2 on Tuesday over the Denver Nuggets, Bynum relayed to the media that he felt he could have done better despite scoring a playoff career-high 27 points.
“I left a lot out there,” Bynum said. “I need to do better. I want to be perfect.”
To see that Bynum is beginning to demand as much of himself as Bryant does is a sign that the two have the determination to go far. How far, though, is still to be seen.
With the epiphany behind him and a blindingly-bright future lighting his road towards NBA stardom, Bynum finally appears to be on the path towards reaching his potential. He’s playing with purpose and learning to take advantage of his elite set of skills. What’s even better is that Bryant now has a new teammate who he can rely on to carry some of the load.
Since Bynum’s sudden maturation, we’ve witnessed an enhanced chemistry between him and Bryant that has boosted the Lakers’ offensive firepower. Instead of having to play one-man basketball, Bryant can depend on Bynum to pick up the scoring slack. They’ve turned into one of the NBA’s most dangerous duos overnight and are primed for a deep playoff run if Bynum can keep his cool.
So far this postseason, Bynum has averaged 18.5 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks per game. He has shot 63 percent from the field and is consistently getting himself into great scoring position. Not to mention his defense has been phenomenal (10 blocks in one game isn’t too bad).
If Bynum can keep up that type of production throughout the playoffs, there’s no telling how high he can help Bryant and the Lakers go.