For a while now the Lakers’ biggest strength has been their length. For a few seasons, the length was created by Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. So when Odom was traded away to Dallas this past December, the team’s biggest advantage over opponents was jeopardized and the fans were rightfully concerned that this would create an unrepairable hole in the team.
Of course, the absence of Lamar Odom has been felt in Laker Land. His presence and contributions off the bench have been sorely missed, as the Lakers bench was statistically the worst offensive bench in the league. The Lakers’ depth has also shrunken with an Odom-less roster.
However, the Lakers were still able to position themselves as the number three seed in the Western Conference and captured their fifth straight and twenty-third overall Pacific Division title. Yes, it wasn’t perfect by any means, but they got the job done. So, for so many critics counting the Lakers out as contenders, how was the team able to have success during the season?
Yes, the Lakers have arguably the best player in the league in Kobe Bryant, who is still putting up amazing numbers and performances despite his age. The real answer to the question is the frontcourt of Bynum and Gasol. The frontcourt of the Lakers remains the strongest in the league and the biggest strength for the team, despite no longer having Odom.
Bynum has had a terrific season, hands down his best yet. This cannot be argued, even though he displayed a few too many immaturity problems on and off the court. The key to Bynum’s season has been his health and the fact that he has remained healthy. This season he averaged career highs of 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 35.2 minutes per game.
Bynum has become the Lakers second-option, due to the call to give him an increased amount of touches by Mike Brown. This was recognized by the league and the fans, as Bynum was voted as the starting center for this season’s All-Star game.
Bynum has quickly emerged as the second best center in the league, and many argue that he might be the best. Regardless, of how you rank Drew among the other centers in the league, the fact is that he is years away from reaching his peak. This is wonderful news for the Lakers, and bad news for the rest of the league.
Pau Gasol has been as consistent as you can ask for since he joined the Lakers. Despite criticisms that Gasol is too soft and lacks intensity at times, the truth is the Lakers would have not been able to raise two more championship banners to the rafters in Staples Center without Gasol on the roster.
I wrote awhile ago about Gasol’s professional approach and demeanor through any situation that surrounds him. He took the professional path in dealing with constant trade rumors and pressures that would certainly impact anyone’s mentality. He has dealt with being reassigned to the high post by Mike Brown extremely well.
Gasol’s numbers this season were 17.4 points and 11.4 rebounds in 37.4 minutes per game. Not too shabby for a third option player who was overlooked as an All-Star this year, right? Gasol continues to be one of the most versatile big men in the game with his passing ability, his outside shot and his overall game IQ.
The fact that Bynum and Gasol are at their best when they are playing together, yet are still strong individually is the greatest threat to opposing teams. When they are both on, they are simply unstoppable. The concept of guarding two seven-footers who can can dominate the low post, the entire paint and the perimeter is too much for a team to grasp.
Yet, if one is off or is getting double or even triple-teamed, the other one can pick up the slack. Bynum and Gasol frustrate the defense, which only helps Bryant and the rest of the team on the offensive end.
Now, let’s talk about Bynum and Gasol on the defensive end. The idea of facing two seven-footers who can block and rebound in great fashion can be enough for some teams to consistently rely on jumpers and force the outside game instead of taking it into a clogged lane.
Game 1 and Game 2 proved the versatility and the advantage of the Lakers’ frontcourt. Stellar defense from Bynum and solid offense from Gasol will make the ultimate difference in any game. The unique thing about their frontcourt is that Bynum and Gasol’s roles can be interchanged at will.
If Game 1 and 2 was any predictor to how the frontcourt can dominate, then the Finals is the certain destination for the Lakers. As long as Bynum plays with focus and Gasol plays with passion, their frontcourt will remain unstoppable.