DRESSED IN street
clothes and parked at the end of the bench, injured center Andrew Bynum could
barely sit still during the Lakers' flameout against the Celtics in the Finals.
"I saw those Boston guys just driving the lane, getting whatever shots they
wanted," he says. "I think my presence would have made a difference. I
could have been in there altering shots and making guys think twice."
believe that a healthy Bynum is the missing piece of their championship puzzle.
The 7-foot 285-pounder was in the middle of a breakout year, averaging a double
double and leading the league in field goal percentage, when he dislocated his
left kneecap last January, ending his second pro season after 35 games. If
Bynum, who turns 21 on Oct. 27, can pick up where he left off, L.A. will get a
much-needed boost to its Charmin-soft interior. His return also enables 7-foot
Pau Gasol to slide back to his more natural power-forward position and, with
Vladimir Radmanovic or Lamar Odom (both are 6'10") at small forward, gives
the Lakers the league's tallest front line.
Bynum is ready
for the challenge. He spent the summer in Atlanta with a personal trainer
rehabbing his knee and says that it now feels 100%. He also worked on his game
with former NBA swingman Gerald Wilkins, hoisting from 500 to 1,500 shots a
day. "I picked up a nice 10- to 15-foot jump shot," he says.
"That's really going to help me out."
But although the
Lakers will make a post-season run, even a consistent jumper won't turn Bynum
into the secondary star (to Kobe Bryant) that L.A. needs to win it all.
A rival scout on
the LAKERS: I still question whether Kobe Bryant has enough support to win it
all this year. The Lakers are still young, and their style is more finesse than
physical; just look at Kobe's top teammates: Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. I don't
see anyone else who has the tough, buck-stops-with-me demeanor that Kobe
has.... Odom totally disappeared in the Finals. He's extremely good in games
that don't matter much, but when it's crunch time, he doesn't know how to raise
his game.... Last year Sasha Vujacic was a deadeye catch-and-shoot guy who
showed teams he needs to be guarded. Now, when defenders rush out at him, he
has to prove he can take one or two dribbles, then knock down the shot.... L.A.
would be best served by starting Trevor Ariza at small forward because he
doesn't need the ball. Otherwise, there aren't enough shots to go around. When
defenses sag on Gasol or Andrew Bynum in the post, the best response would be
to have a good cutter like Ariza going backdoor for layups.
As Kobe goes, so go the Lakers: Bryant shot 48.0% from the floor last season in
L.A. wins but only 41.8% in losses. However, he scored more when the Lakers
lost (29.9 points per game) than when they won (27.6).
STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics