Positional Breakdown: Center
Other Positions: Point Guard | Small Forward | Power Forward
The fierce battle for minutes at the center spot for the Lakers should prove to be one of the team’s more interesting plotlines as the season develops. With three starting-caliber centers in Andrew Bynum, Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown, the Lakers enter the 2007-2008 season in arguably their best shape at the position since Shaquille O’Neal left in 2004.
What We Already Know: Bynum’s progress has been one of the most consistently discussed topics for over two years. The towering center—now entering his third season with the Lakers after becoming the youngest player ever taken in the NBA Draft—will look to build upon the valuable playing time he was entrusted with last season. While working with Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bynum spent the summer honing his touch and footwork around the basket and improving his defensive skills. While the center still appears raw at times, he has shown great promise in his first two years.
Last Season: Last season was a Jekyll and Hyde-like affair for Bynum as he spent much of the first half as the Lakers primary weapon at the five spot, averaging almost ten points a game. However, Bynum’s inconsistency resulted in a demotion from his starting role for much of the second half of the season. Although his final averages of eight points and six rebounds are respectable, Bynum showed an inability to stay out of foul trouble and thwart opponents’ penetration into the lane.
Moving Forward: Year three in the league is an important one for Bynum as he hopes to shake off a summer of rumors and solidify his status as one of the foremost centers in the NBA. However, the center must answer immediate questions pertaining to his fitness and strength, his level of aggression around the basket and whether or not he can successfully shore up the lane defensively. Bynum landed in Hawaii brimming with confidence and in the best shape of his life, a critical advantage he will need to maintain if he hopes to secure the starting center position over Mihm and Brown.
What We Already Know: Two seasons ago, Mihm was arguably the Lakers third most reliable scorer behind Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom. With a soft touch around the basket and surprising athleticism for a man of his stature, Mihm has earned the respect of teammates and fans for his hard-nosed, impassioned approach to the game. Unfortunately, at times, Mihm’s level of aggression leads to early foul trouble—a bad habit the center must avoid if he hopes to become a staple of Phil Jackson’s rotation this season.
Last Season: Mihm was forced to the bench for the duration of last season due to a serious foot injury—a contract year no less. Although Mihm was similarly unable to participate in the Lakers near upset of the Phoenix Suns in the 2005-2006 playoffs, the team still had enough faith in the center’s ability to sign him to a new contract this past offseason.
Moving Forward: How well Mihm recovers from injury is one of the more intriguing questions for the Lakers as they open up the 2007-2008 season. When healthy, the center was arguably a top fifteen center in the league, averaging nearly a double-double for the Lakers during his last full season on the court. Once Mihm shakes off early season rust, he should recapture his touch and ability to move in the triangle. But, his real test is whether or not he has enough explosiveness to play solid defense and maneuver out of cheap foul situations. If he is successful, Mihm could form one prong of a deep three-headed attack at the center spot for the team.
What We Already Know: Six seasons removed from being the first high-school player selected number one in the NBA Draft (2001 by the Washington Wizards), Brown has yet to fulfill his massive potential. Despite being a physical specimen at 6’11” and 270 lbs, Brown has not met expectations in two injury-plagued seasons with the Lakers. However, Brown has emerged as a stellar man-on-man defender, helping to disguise his limitations on the offensive end.
Last Season: After a promising performance in the Lakers seven-game loss to the Phoenix Suns in the 2005-2006 NBA Playoffs, Brown entered last season with a renewed sense of confidence and a desire to finally put to rest dissenters who claimed he was not worthy of his number one overall draft selection. Unfortunately for the center, recurring injuries and inconsistency on both ends of the floor decimated a large part of Brown’s season resulting in very pedestrian averages of eight points and six rebounds per game.
Moving Forward: For the second year in a row, Brown teased the Lakers with a 19-point outburst in game three of last year’s playoffs. With a fierce battle for the starting center position ahead of him, Brown will need to build on his playoff effort if he hopes to garner Coach Jackson’s trust in clutch situations. In the immediate future, Brown must make a quick recovery from lingering off-season injuries that have rendered the center unable to participate in any full-contact drills during the Lakers training camp. Like many players on the roster, Brown is a wildcard whose progress could prove pivotal if the Lakers hope to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.