LOS ANGELES -- We get so caught up in the most obvious attribute Andrew Bynum -- his height -- that we forget his youth can be just as valuable.
When he starts ahead of Lamar Odom, the 23-year-old Bynum singlehandedly drops the average age of the starting lineup from 32 to 30.4. More than the numeric benefit that makes the Lakers seem less geezer-ish, there’s still that desire to make a full-fledged contribution after he limped his way through the past two postseasons. And on nights such as Tuesday, when the Lakers dominated the Jazz 120-91 he showed just how essential he is to Lakers’ chances of winning their third consecutive championship.
Bynum was the biggest difference maker Tuesday. He had a plus-minus of plus-27 in his first 16 minutes. He played only 27 minutes the whole night and scored 19 points, right in the thick of four Laker double-digit scorers, and he posted game-highs with 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“Pretty good example,” Phil Jackson said of Bynum’s role on the team. “A lot of interior shots that Utah gets, he disrupted or changed the shots and made them miss and helped us out a lot inside, and obviously had a lot of opportunities himself.”
Lately I’ve been keeping my own stat: SOBOA, or Shots Over Bynum’s Outstretched Arms, to get a sense of how opponents fare when Bynum contests their shots. Tuesday night the SOBOA percentage when Bynum played in the first three quarters was .273 (3 for 11), showing just how difficult Bynum can make things when he’s challenging shots.
Bynum said he’s focused on making a difference on defense.
“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “We have a lot of scorers on this team. You get a play run for you, you better be successful with it. Defensively I can be active and challenge a lot of shots, change a lot of shots.”
He can also change the perception -- voiced most notably by Jerry West -- that the Lakers are an old, worn-down team.
The only thing old about the Lakers on Tuesday night was the same old results against the Jazz in Staples Center, as in their 17th consecutive homecourt victory over Utah.
It was interesting to hear Jackson keep mentioning Bynum -- unprompted -- when assessing the Lakers’ prospects.
“I think we’re coming into our own as a team,” Jackson said. “The addition of Andrew, watching the process of him coming in and playing basketball at a level that’s going to continue to improve. I think we’re playing better basketball right now than we played even in the last three or four weeks.
“I think we’re capable of being a very good team. … Our defense has picked up a little bit. I think we’re getting more identity as far as a defensive team with the addition of Bynum back it really helps us out in the middle as far as rebounding, challenging shots, those things are helping us.”
It’s easy to forget everything Bynum can bring to the team because we don’t always see it.
Kobe Bryant insists the Lakers know “exactly what he can do.”
He then took a shot at a questioner (OK, me) who wondered if it might be otherwise with a player who has missed at least 96 games over the past three seasons and sat out the first 24 this season while recovering from his latest knee surgery.
“I don’t want to insult the weak-minded … but I shall anyway,” Bryant said. “We know very well what he can give us on the defensive end, on the offensive end. It’s pretty elementary for us intelligent folks.”
Bynum still isn’t all the way back. He said he doesn’t have his explosive leaping back yet.
“I’m not able to go dunk balls like I used to,” he said.
Lately opponents aren't dunking balls like they used to against the Lakers. That's because of Bynum.