2009-10 Season Preview: Centers
“One, two, three, RING!” The pregame chant led by Lamar Odom in the center of L.A.’s circle summed up the team’s mission last season, and nothing has changed on that front as L.A. braces to defend its title.
While solid team defense remains a major focus towards achieving that goal, buoyed by the unique length of the Lakers and the addition of Ron Artest, the following statement from assistant coach Jim Cleamons – who also offered his thoughts on each individual Lakers player for this preview – sums up how the team hopes to play offensively and in general:
“If we move the basketball from one side to the other, there’s no telling who’s going to score, because we are capable of moving the ball so freely and unselfishly that on any given night can see six or seven guys in double figures and making a good contribution to a winning effort. That’s going to cause havoc with defense, because they have to account for Kobe, for Ron, for Pau, for Andrew and Lamar … There are so many people there, that the defense can’t account for all of them if we move the ball and if we play together. That “if” word is the biggest hindrance to a lot of success, but we’ve been there. Having been there, let’s hope that the experience of repeating and going after another title will bear fruit, because we understand that together we can achieve the goal we’ve set out to achieve.”
Just before tearing his MCL in January, Andrew Bynum had exploded to the tune of 26.2 points, 13.8 boards and 3.2 blocks across a five-game stretch in dominating fashion. After 32 games on the pine, Bynum returned from injury with just four games left in the regular season, and while not approaching 100 percent health, played a key role in L.A.’s championship by shoring up the middle of the paint on both ends. A dominant preseason during which Bynum ranked third among all scorers with over 20 points a game showed his health to no longer be an issue, a scary though for opponents heading into the 2009-10 campaign.
In the regular season, Bynum averaged 14.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 56 percent from the field and 70.7 percent from the free throw line in 28.9 minutes. In the playoffs, his minutes decreased to 17.4 per game as he recovered from his knee injury, and he averaged 6.3 points, 3.7 boards and 0.91 blocks on 45.7 percent from the field.
312: Blocked shots in 213 career games for the young center.
42: Career-high points scored by Bynum against the Clippers on Jan. 21 last season, a game in which he also grabbed a career-high eight offensive rebounds.
18: Years, plus six days, of age when Bynum appeared in his first NBA game to become the youngest ever to do so. Also, his shoe size.
Coach Cleamons: “The guys have been looking for him, and his length certainly helps for the over-the-top passes. We know early in the game that’s where he gets off, and we like to get the ball inside early so he becomes the beneficiary. He has the energy now, and it’s a nice weapon to have. But his value will also come late in games back there as a detractor, sealing our lane for us, blocking shots and more importantly, putting bodies on people and getting crucial rebounds. We want to limit our opponents to one shot so that now we can get into transition mode, especially in close games, and close teams out late in the fourth quarter.”
Backup center D.J. Mbenga won the rights to L.A.’s third center position prior to the 2008-09 season, allowing the Lakers to send Chris Mihm to Memphis for a draft pick, yet still saw only 7.9 minutes per game in the regular season. In those few minutes, Mbenga certainly blocked his lion’s share of shots, averaging 1.04 per game and earning a lot of STAPLES Center love in the process.
Mbenga appeared in 23 games for a total of 181 minutes, scoring 61 points, blocking 24 shots, collective 10 steals, dishing nine assists, grabbing 31 rebounds and committing 33 personal fouls. He appeared in seven postseason games for a total of 16 minutes, blocking two shots, grabbing two rebounds and scoring a single basket.
7: Languages spoken by the Democratic Republic of the Congo native.
6: Times Mbenga led the Lakers in blocks in 2008-09.
1: Black belt in judo owned by the seven-footer.
Coach Cleamons: “We were talking about how his ability to score the ball may hurt him, because when he was trying to make the team last year, he made it through being physical in the paint at the offensive end rather than relying on turnaround jump shots and a finesse game. He brings a certain physicality to the game and that’s what we need from him.”