Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Lakers could use Bynum now more than ever
Let me start off by saying that I fully appreciate what Pau Gasol has done for the Lakers since his arrival here on February 1st. Simply put, he saved the Lakers season. He's a gifted offensive player with a versatile low-post game and excellent passing skills, and the ease with which he picked up the triangle is a testament to his uniquely high basketball IQ (seriously, how many guys could have picked up that famoulsy difficult offense on the fly like that, like they had been playing in it their whole lives?) And even when he plays poorly, he's still making a huge impact, his presence alone allowing the Lakers to function at a championship-level capacity. Without a legitimate low-post presence, someone who shoots a high percentage and gives Kobe a big target down low, these Lakers have proven to be very mediocre. The proof is in the pudding. So whatever you do, don't consider this to be a Pau Gasol diss-article. I'm no ingrate.
It's just that the more Gasol gets roughed up by the Celtics, the more I wonder whether or not the Lakers would be better off right now with Andrew Bynum occupying the pivot instead. In the first three rounds, I didn't think about it as much; Pau played just as flimsily, but the Lakers glided past Denver, Utah, and San Antonio with relative ease, so as much as his sissy play irritated me, I didn't hypothesize. But this Boston team is clearly a bad matchup for the Lakers - Kobe is the only guy that can guard Pierce, the Celtics defend Kobe as well as anyone, and Lamar Odom does NOT present a matchup problem for KG. Now more than ever, the Lakers need Gasol to stand up and be a MAN. And it just ain't in him. He's a finesse player through and through.
Now lets say, just for kicks, that Bynum is in the lineup instead of Gasol, which he would be if he had never gotten hurt. Pau is actually an underrated shotblocker - 2.1 a game this postseason, the same as Andrew was averaging before he came down on Odom's foot that fateful January night. But is Pau Gasol really gonna stop anyone from driving to the basket? Of course not. In Game 2, Leon Powe got the ball at three quarters court and drove right through the Lakers defense, Gasol swiping passively at the ball before watching Powe dunk ferociously. It reminded me of one time when I was in the fifth grade, and I took the ball and went the length of the floor and scored, and my little buddy Deonce said, "You guys just let Anthony Wilson take the ball, go the full court, go left to right, keep his dribble, split the defense, and make a layup." Just like I shouldn't have been able to do that as a 5'4", 125 lb 10 year-old, Leon Powe should not be allowed to look like LeBron James. Even if it meant getting impaled into the padding on the pole of the basket, Pau has got to step in there and at least attempt to stop the play.
No way Bynumite doesn't put a body on Leon Powe on that play. Gasol can't stand physical contact; Bynum, on the other hand, is clearly a little bit crazy and confrontational. He initiated an altercation with Shaq as an 18 year-old rookie, and there's a YouTube clip of a Lakers telecast where he's seen snapping back at Kobe during a timeout. And I mean angrily. He wasn't afraid.
Singlehandedly, Bynum would've shifted the battle in the paint in this series in the Lakers favor. Bynum imposes his size and athleticism on opponents; he dunks everything, and makes them feel hopeless. To paraphrase Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, he executes their souls! He's the kind of real big man that makes other real big men proud. The only person in the league with the mixture of size, athleticism, and attitude to match Andrew down low is Dwight Howard. Kendrick Perkins is a big boy, but he doesn't have the height to stop the long right arm of Bynum from dunking on his head. Kevin is still a beast, but he's not the extra-terrestrial creature he was when he was Da Kid. Bynum, like Howard, is not afraid to bang around and exert his physical superiority. If the Lakers had him right now instead of Gasol, they'd be in a better place.