While Bynum’s contributions on defense have certainly lifted the Lakers to another level of play, his health and ability to play extended minutes on the floor have made all the difference for Gasol and in turn, the rest of the team.
In fact, the status of Bynum’s health creates a domino effect that extends far beyond Gasol putting up slightly higher offensive numbers. While out on the floor and taking the grunt of the hard-hits by the opposing centers in the league, Gasol’s minutes per game drops to an average of about 36. It’s a far cry from the 40-plus minutes he was averaging while Bynum recovered from knee surgery. We know Gasol’s history with injury to his hamstrings and having to play extended minutes certainly didn’t help his jump shot or overall efficiency. Cutting back on minutes played, coupled with a sharper mental focus, has even rejuvenated Gasol’s jump-shot.
Aside from Gasol being the main benefactor of having Bynum playing at a high level, Lamar Odom benefits by not having to go back-and-forth between the bench and starting unit. Odom can gain confidence working with the second unit by establishing flow and chemistry that they just couldn’t get with Bynum not playing consistent minutes.
Consider the game against Dallas. In previous games, the bench hadn’t made any significant strides in producing consistent or even instant offense. Having played a few games as a unit enabled the bench to come in and contribute while Kobe Bryant checked into the locker room to get his ankle checked. We saw Steve Blake morph into the player everyone thought he was back when the Lakers signed him over the summer, accounting for three made baskets from behind the arc; 9 points and 5 assists. The Lakers are going to need the bench to come up big in games come playoff time.
What’s more is the Lakers have continued their stretch of wins despite Bryant not putting up his usual offensive numbers. It remains to be seen what becomes of Bryant’s sprained ankle he sustained during the game against Dallas. Knowing him, he’ll play regardless and probably still put up respectable numbers, but don’t be fooled the Lakers want Bryant at full strength come mid-April.
A healthy Bynum takes the load off Gasol, who can then fill the void while Bryant gets back to full strength.
It’s a win, win, win.