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The Lakers With(out) Bynum : Respect Kobe

The Lakers With(out) Bynum

We take a break from our regular Kobe Bryant-related scheduling to provide you with some analysis of the current Lakers team, and how the absence (and hopeful return) of Andrew Bynum affects their championship hopes.

Over at TrueHoop, Henry Abbott quotes Nuggets Coach George Karl, who suggests that the Lakers have been even better without Bynum than they were with him. Here is what Coach Karl had to say:

“Don’t you have to make the statement that maybe they’re better without Bynum?” he asked reporters in Denver on Thursday. “Why do we always say Bynum? How many games has he played for this team? I like Bynum. I think he’s a great player. But sometimes you can have too much talent out there and it can kind of be confusing.”

As Abbott points out, it is “a question to be pondered, and one many worried about before the season: Do Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol stifle each other?”

The Lakers have indeed been very good without Bynum — arguably even better than they were with him. What is the reason for this? It could be a case of Pau Gasol being freed up by Bynum’s absence in the post… but while Gasol has joined Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom in upping his production since Bynum’s absence, I think the difference has little to do with The Spaniard.

So what has been the difference? Lakers fans would be quick to point to Kobe, who has a well established history of stepping up his game to carry his team when they suffer from injuries. But if you thought that Kobe Bryant has been the biggest difference for this team in Bynum’s absence, you’d be wrong.

This is what Odom does when he plays with Kobe and PauIn fact, the biggest factor in the Lakers’ smashing success without Bynum has not been Bryant or Gasol (though both have been absolutely brilliant), but Lamar Odom.

Before the season started, many questioned whether Bynum and Gasol would get in each other’s way on the court. As it turns out, they did not. Gasol much prefers the face-up, mid-range game; he’s deadly from both elbows, very good from the mid-range baseline, and lights out from the free throw line. He is capable of facing the basket and driving past his defender, and he’s a fantastic finisher — and playing with Bynum and Kobe Bryant gives him plenty of opportunities to catch and finish.

Bynum, meanwhile, installs himself in that low post area that makes Gasol uncomfortable. He’s developing a short jumpshot that may one day make him very difficult to defend, but his bread and butter is his back-to-the-basket game, where his size, strength, and physicality are quickly becoming lethal. He is most comfortable in those aspects of the game that Gasol struggles with, and vice versa. As such, they are the perfect complement to each other.

What has changed the most in the last 13 games has been Lamar Odom. Since Bynum went down, Odom has been absolutely dominant. But this is not simply a case of Odom “rising to the challenge” and “stepping it up” in the Lakers’ time of need, as Kobe has been known to do in the past. In fact, Odom is just picking up from where he left off last year (not counting the Finals).

The Kobe-Gasol-Bynum-Fisher lineup has been so good this year, and Odom’s role so reduced, that we had kind of forgotten how good Odom had been while playing off of Kobe and Gasol. In particular, Gasol and Odom form the best passing front line in the NBA, bar none. Last year, we discovered how good Odom could be when he wasn’t expected to be a primary scoring option. He is most effective playing on the weak side, diving to the hoop, crashing the boards, and generally taking advantage of all of the attention given to Bryant and Gasol on a nightly basis.

While this was also true to an extent with Kobe and Bynum early last year, Gasol’s passing ability in the post is what maximizes Odom’s potential in that role. Playing off of two fantastic passers in Kobe and Gasol who can always find him, Odom punishes teams for paying too much attention to the other two, cashing in on easy dunks and layups, and creating second-chance opportunities.

Odom has been the difference since Bynum went down. It’s possible that what Odom provides, when he’s put in a position that maximizes his potential, is more valuable to the Lakers on many nights than what Bynum brings. And it’s when he’s playing off of Kobe and Gasol that that Odom shows up.

Of course, there’s always the issue of last year’s Finals, where both Gasol and Odom struggled, and the two-man game that had been so effective for them for half a season was greatly limited. And that is why the Lakers need Bynum back — because with him, they can go to either style. The options are there for Phil Jackson to exploit, based on the matchup of the moment.

There may come a time, in the near future, when Bynum realizes his full potential, becoming so dominant in the low post that having him on the floor is almost always the best option. For now, however, Kobe-Gasol-Odom could very well be the Lakers’ best lineup. In that scenario, Bynum’s truest value may be that he makes it much harder for teams like the Celtics to bully the Lakers’ frontline and take them out of the game.

Filed Under Andrew Bynum, Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol | 7 Comments

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7 Comments so far
  1. LakerFan says...February 27, 2009 6:38 pm

    I totally agree with you Josh!
    LO has been playing amazing and he plays far better WITH Kobe and Pau than the second unit or even parts or both units.
    It is interesting to note to that the combo of Pau and LO at the bigs compared to Pau and Drew is and has been a far better rebounding and defensive team according to 82games.
    Which is interesting since everyone claims Drew is needed for his inside D.
    All said and done even though LAL has played better than I thought they would without Andrew I am looking forward to having him back, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  2. Brittney says...February 28, 2009 12:11 am

    Josh after seeing tonights game vs. Denver I think we really really really need Bynum back Gasol and Odam both have been outstanding but they both do not protect the basket so great. The bench was a non factor scoring 5 points, that is just ridiculous, this game was just ridiculous. I think Shannon Brown should take Farmer’s spot coming off the bench because they are so soft and slow and they dont attack the basket and I’m really hating this triangle system because it takes too much time to get to the open shot and all that posting up the Lakers run can be stopped because Lakers don’t go to the hole strong, their finnesse play is killling me. Another loss the Lakers could of put in the W column with little help from the bench. I hope some changes come soon with the PG play. 

  3. Willie says...March 7, 2009 1:08 am

    I have never liked the “triangle offense”. I know Phil, the Bulls and Lakers have won rings while using it, but was it really because of the triangle? Or was it more because the Bulls had the best player in the game along with one of the most versatile players ever in Pippen (along with the demise of the Celtics and Show-time Lakers).

    The Lakers had one of the best duo’s ever surrouded by solid veterans and won 3 rings more so because of that than the triangle. I think the triangle is out dated and predictable, too controlling, takes away from a player like Kobe’s creativity. I hate seeing other great players (Lebron and Wade) having the “green light” while Kobe, the most creative one, has to fit into a “system”.

    For me it’s a personal preference, so I might be wrong from a “whats best for the team” perspective. I’ve always liked and followed certain players before the team. I like to see what these guys can do next and Kobe’s best, most athletic and creative years have been stifled in the triangle offense.  I also believe with the right “horses” around him Kobe could have won rings in a more up-tempo, less controlling offense. I’ve always wanted to see Kobe “unchained”. If he was I think he would clearly be the best of all time.

  4. Anonymous says...March 10, 2009 12:01 am

    By Brittney(forgot to add my name)

    The most terrible unwatchable game I have ever seen from the lakers tonight and this game goes to show all who say Kobe has such a superior supporting cast, well his cast tonight disappeared, brick after brick, open shot after open shot and people wonder why Kobe’s assist aint high. Well when you watch the lakers play everytime Kobe passes to an open man he either misses the shot or fumbles the ball and aint no way Kobe can get assist like that. And gasol well we all know he isn’t tough and his defense sucks he is the reason why we need bynum. Gasol doesn’t know how to protect the paint at all and I have had enough with the Lakers offense and defense. I really really want to see someone blame Kobe for this loss tonight. Unbelievable, Portland came out hot and the Lakers just rely on Kobe to bail them out all the time, I want the Lakers to win badly but they all have to bring it everynight not just Kobe. Kobe’s supporting cast sucks I had enough of them and I don’t care if they have the best record Phil should be ripping them right now because this is not the way you start your road trip. You can lose but not lose ugly.

  5. Brittney says...March 13, 2009 12:46 pm


    Just a link about the MVP debate that I wanted to get everyone on this site’s opinion on because I don’t like the arguement they make. They say Kobe is the better player but Lebron is the better team mate but isn’t that unfair. Yes Kobe is a spectacular indiviual player and everyone views him that way, why don’t they view him as a team player? And Lebron plays on a team of shooters, which Kobe doesn’t and nobody takes into account the differences in both teams. Everyone says Kobe has a better cast of teammates, I really disagree with that. Everyone seems to have their mind made up that this MVP award goes to Lebron but Kobe stats are better then last year, his team record is going to be better then last year, again Lakers are playing without Bynum. That should count as another MVP for Kobe but I guess not.

  6. Brittney says...March 13, 2009 2:19 pm


    Heres a link about Stephen A Smith speaking the truth about the Lakers and Kobe.

  7. Willie says...March 16, 2009 9:05 am

    Brittney, Stephen A is right,  Kobe needs teammates to at least aproach his intensity level, desire and to hate losing as much. I’m really not sure if the Lakers have the mental toughnes even to get out of the West. The Portland game is a good example. After losing 6 straight in Portland the Lakers should have collectively wanted to crush the life out of them and got it done, but the opposite happens!.

    I started a new thread on gamespot to discuss Kobe/Lebron/Wade, MVP etc. I just want to league to be consistent. If Wade gets it, it wouldn’t bother me, but if he does they owe Kobe because he’s been the best all-round players for years. The league needs to clearly define the criteria for MVP.

    The Kobe/Laker watch is still going on bye the way on gamespot, usually before/during a game.


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