Over the course of their 60-year history, the Los Angeles Lakers have been home to some of the most dominant big men the league has ever seen, from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal. However, there’s one player that’s often lost in the team’s rich history of big men, and that’s Andrew Bynum.
Bynum obviously wasn’t as skilled as Kareem or physically imposing as Shaq during the prime of his career, but there was a five-year stretch where he was one of the most dominant young centers in the NBA, starting with his junior campaign in 2007. Through 30 games in the 2007-08 season, a 20-year-old Bynum averaged 13.1 points per game on 63.6% shooting from the field in addition to the 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game he contributed on the defensive end. That season, Bynum was the only player to average at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while averaging less than 30 minutes per game.
Bynum’s breakout junior season was one of the main reasons the Lakers were able to exceed expectations in the 2007-08 season. Then, in the midst of the Lakers’ longest winning streak since O’Neal left, Bynum suffered a knee injury after he landed awkwardly on his teammate Lamar Odom’s foot during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. They didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last game he’d play that season.
Bynum’s injury put pressure on the Lakers to trade for front court help before the trade deadline, and, a few weeks after Bynum got injured, Mitch Kupchak pulled off the blockbuster trade for Pau Gasol. Obviously Gasol did a tremendous job of filling in for Bynum and added a different element to the team that lifted them to new heights, but Gasol wasn’t as physical as Bynum, and they missed Bynum’s toughness in their Finals series against the Boston Celtics in 2008.
Injuries were a huge part of Bynum’s career, but the 2007-08 season was the only season his injuries were detrimental to the Lakers’ success. For example, the following season, Bynum appeared in just 50 regular season games, but he was available for the postseason, when the Lakers needed him the most. Bynum never looked 100% because of how close his return from a two-month absence was to the start of the playoffs, but just having a big body was beneficial for the team, especially in their Finals series against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
Bynum found himself in a similar situation during the 2009-10 season, when he missed the final 12 games of the regular season because of issues with the same knee. Bynum decided to play through the injury in the postseason, and for a moment, it looked like he was going to be a difference maker for Los Angeles. In the first round, Bynum averaged 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
However, with each game that passed, it was clear that Bynum Lakers fans were hoping for wasn’t the Bynum they were going to get later in a Finals series. In fact, when the Finals finally came around, Bynum was viewed as a liability on the defensive end because of his lack of mobility.
Still, even with one bad leg, Bynum was able to give the Lakers short spurts of rebounding and shot-blocking against the Celtics — and without his activity on the defensive end, it’s hard to imagine the Lakers winning that physical series.
Bynum may have not had a long career, but he was a key player on a championship-contending team at the age of 20, a two-time NBA champion at the age off 22 and an NBA All-Star at the age 24. For those reasons, Bynum is a Laker worth appreciating.