It's not that he's never been good before, nor that he hasn't shown toughness or commitment to his teammates. Certainly last season's playoff run, one which he finished basically on one leg, proved a lot to a lot of people.
Still, since the Lakers again rose to the top of the Western Conference, on a team generally loaded with scoring options, the coaching staff has tried to impart to Andrew Bynum the impact he could have as a rebounder and defensive presence. Phil Jackson said following Sunday's lambasting of the Spurs they spoke to him again on the subject during the All-Star break. Clearly something clicked.
In the seven games since -- all wins for the Lakers -- Bynum has been an interior force, positively changing games for L.A. whether he is scoring points on the offensive end or not. Against Atlanta (15 rebounds, three blocks), Charlotte (17 rebounds, six blocks) and San Antonio (17 rebounds, including six offensive, and three blocks), Bynum was often the best player on the floor. His 16 point, 10 rebound, five block afternoon last week in Oklahoma City was arguably Bynum's best two-way game of the year.
He appears to have embraced his role, perhaps emboldened by the tangible nature of his impact. It's impossible not to notice, whether by his teammates or the assembled media. "This team is going to win regardless of if I get 15 points or if I get four points. That's the kind of team we are," Bynum said following Sunday's win. "But this team won't win if we don't have defensive toughness on the inside. I just think that's the biggest thing I can bring."
While he's had big defensive moments before, they've come in fits and starts and often have been about his literal presence (he's really big) than sustained runs of shot-blocking, shot-altering, athletic dominance. Whatever the reason, whether due to improved health (it certainly looks like he's moving better as he gets further away from offseason surgery), outlook, or understanding, in an albeit non-scientific examination of Bynum's career it feels like this is the best stretch he's had on that side of the floor.
So here's the question, as it relates to one of the great flashpoint figures the Lakers have to offer: Does this seven-game run change how you feel about Andrew Bynum?