Andrew Bynum Is A Beast

The wait is over. Andrew Bynum is here.

This is the Andrew Bynum everyone has been waiting for.

For years the buzz about the young Lakers center has been, basically, “Watch out if he ever figures it out.” Well, he figured it out — he is playing like the All Star he wants to be. And he is the main reason the Lakers are 7-1 heading into a big test in Denver Friday night. (Well, I guess that Kobe guy should get some credit, too.)

Bynum is averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds a game so far this season. That is seven more points per game than he averaged last year — in part because he is getting more minutes (almost 40 a game) and five more shots per game with Pau Gasol out, but he is also shooting 58.4%, the highest percentage of his career.

However, it’s more than numbers, it’s an air of confidence that is different this year. Last night the Lakers were counting on Bynum to go at the very athletic but smaller Amar’e Stoudemire, and Bynum did and dominated him. Bynum scored in the paint seemingly at will and finished with 26 points, while Stoudemire was 2 of 15 shooting. Bynum is protecting the rim so that the other team’s speedy little guards are not racing in for uncontested lay-ups. He is rebounding as well as he ever has.

It’s been a long road to get here for Bynum. When he was first drafted at 17 straight out of Saint Joseph High School in New Jersey, he was raw as could be. Like a lion’s lunch on the Serengeti raw. His footwork was horrible, he was not strong enough to hold his position in the post, and the game seemed to move way too fast for him.

Mentor Kareem Abdul Jabbar helped him with the footwork and the mentality of being a center. Bynum hired a trainer and hit the weights to get stronger. Phil Jackson found ways to use Bynum that helped get him experience and build his confidence.

Then came the injuries. One major one to each knee in back-to-back years. That meant a lot more rehab, more time in the weight room than on the court. Bynum came back for last year’s NBA Finals to help body up Dwight Howard, but he was basically playing on one leg.

Now Bynum is healthy, and it is all coming together. Combine Bynum with Kobe’s newfound post game, and suddenly the Lakers are an unstoppable force in close to the basket — Bynum leads the NBA in points in the paint, Kobe is second. And all of this without Gasol yet.

Andrew Bynum has become the special player that the Lakers have been waiting for. And that could make this year’s Lakers team even more special.

Kurt Helin lives in Los Angeles where he is runs the NBA/Lakers blog Forum Blue & Gold (which you can also follow in twitter).

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