Player of the Week: Andrew Bynum

LOS ANGELES CA - JANUARY 7: Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Emeka Okafor #50 of the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center on January 7 2011 in Los Angeles California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This is actually Andrew Bynum's second win. He was my pick last week. The post was never written though. It was New Year's Day. Instead, you were treated to a highlight of Kobe's posterization of Andres Nocioni.

Only 13 games into his return from knee surgery, Andrew Bynum is starting to feel comfortable. It couldn't come at a better time for the Lakers. Fatigue for Pau Gasol and declining defensive intensity, especially at the rim, have been problems that were slowly growing while Bynum worked his way back to form.

During that time, Andrew was playing no more than 18 minutes. The Lakers beat four chumps before having the butts handed to them in three straight home games by Milwaukee, Miami, and San Antonio. Although he saw a slight increase in floor time against the Spurs, any plans of keeping him on the bench, or limiting his minutes - as was previously planned - went out the window. Phil decided that it was time to let his young big fella play. He's responded beautifully and the Lakers are 5-1 since. (Ehh, well... they should have been anyway. They didn't exactly play the cream of the crop, but that doesn't help my point out. Does it?)

One of the major differences with Bynum starting center as opposed to Pau, is protecting the rim. Pau's never been the kind of guy that will deny access to penetrating opponents, nor does he go out of his way to stop easy lay-ups. Both he and Lamar Odom tend to jump out of the way to block a shot without committing a foul. I can't recall how many times I've yelled at the television begging LO, and especially Pau, to step up and put someone on their ass just to prove a point: No. Easy. Buckets. Tonight. Bynum? He does that. Opponents know it. He's proactive in his shot block attempts. Rather than wait until a player is at his peak in his jump or with the shot, Bynum does a much better job at deterring the shot from going up before it even needs to be blocked.

My opinion of Andrew's effect on the defense is really more gut observations based on what I see, rather than backed up by statistical data. Defensive efficiency ratings haven't shown improvement with Andrew starting, nor does there seem to be any real difference in opponents' shot attempts at the rim, nor team blocks. One slight improvement that seems to show so far is that  opponents' offensive rebounds seemed to have decreased, and the Lakers have only allowed over 100 points twice since his return. As his knee gets stronger and his comfort level increases, I expect his defensive impact will make the Lakers defense return to last season's elite level.  

Bynum's defensive presence is most important to the Lakers, but his offense has been quite good as of late. His un-blockable turn around hook shot seems to have come back to form, and he's looking at ease getting the shot any time he wants it. He's still not reacting as quickly as he used to.  Like after receiving a quick feed on open looks that should be dunks, but that will improve with time and increased confidence. He's been determined to establish good position, and instead of forcing a shot as he used to, he's been passing the ball back out so that he can reestablish better position. His size and strength are almost impossible to match by most teams. As his confidence in his knee returns, his fluidity in his footwork and reaction are starting to devastate overmatched defenders. It's leading to very easy shots for him. Though, he needs to pay attention to his bad habit of picking up three second violations.  

Overall, it's been a great two weeks for big Drew. Normally, Andrew would take 25-30 games to really get rolling, even without injury. I'm impressed with how he's playing right now. He's far ahead of what I could have hoped for. He's slowly improving the team defense, allowing a rested Pau to return to form and putting an All-Star worthy Lamar back on an already improved bench. I'm sure he's also putting fear back into the hearts of the rest of the NBA.

Check out his stats for the past two weeks:

Week of 12/26/10 - 12/1/11:

12.0 points, 9.3 Rebs, 1.0 blocks per game in 27.66 minutes per game.  He shot 15 of 22 FGA for 68.2% from the field.

Week of 1/2/11 - 1/8/11:

13.25 points, 7.25 rebs, 2.75 blocks per game in 26.75 minutes per game.  He shot 23 of 37 FGA for 62.2% fromthe field.

You can follow me on Twitter: @wondahbap

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