2011-12 Season Preview: Centers
Seven months ago, a Lakers’ team chasing a three-peat saw its title hopes end prematurely and abruptly, swept away in Round 2 at the hands of the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks.
Away from the hardwood, so much has happened since: Phil Jackson retired, soon replaced by former Cleveland coach Mike Brown; Kobe Bryant went to Germany for an innovative procedure; Pau Gasol led Spain to EuroBasket 2011 gold; union president Derek Fisher donned a suit as a key figure in the lockout that kept the team’s management and players from communicating up until the new CBA was ratified in December; the team thought they’d made a major trade, and days later moved Lamar Odom to Dallas.
But did all of that remove the sting of Dirk Nowitzki’s lofted jumpers? Did it take away the pain of failure for the first time in over two years for a prideful group of players? For the first time since early in 2008, the Lakers are not the title favorites. They aren’t even the favorites of many pundits in the West. Could that end up being a good thing for L.A. if the players prove as motivated and hungry as they say they are?
Bryant, of course, hasn’t forgotten last season. His right knee feels better than it has in years, and he feels morecapable of getting to the basket, though he did tear a wrist ligament in the team’s first preseason game that he vowed to play through (as always). Gasol has not misplaced the memory of a poor postseason performance that made some forget his rightful place on the All-NBA Second Team. He’s already shown his Catalan resolve in bouncing back so strong from the 2008 Finals defeat to the Celtics by keying back-to-back title runs, but having to do it again isn’t a bad thing.
Andrew Bynum wants to prove that he’s truly an elite NBA pivot man, an All-Star, and after a five-game suspension to open the season, he’ll have his chance particularly in Odom’s absence.
There are so many interesting NBA storylines heading into this season that writers of the best TV shows (like “Breaking Bad,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Parks and Recreation,” if you ask us) could take notes. This season preview is designed to offer as many of those angles surrounding the Lakers as possible.
To inform ourselves, we spent time with Mike Brown and his new assistants (lone Phil Jackson holdover Chuck Person took the former Lakers, Darvin Ham the new guys), looked inside the numbers for each player, debated how to abbreviate Metta World Peace and more.
Let’s take a look at the centers.
STAT STUFFER: Bynum averaged 11.3 points on 57.4 percent shooting, with 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 54 regular season games, missing the first 24 while recovering from offseason knee surgery. He was the defensive anchor of L.A.’s system, designed to funnel players his way, which worked particularly well in the team’s 17-1 burst out of the All-Star break.
- 5 – Players who blocked more shots per game than Bynum last season, though his ability to fill the paint with his massive frame deters many more shots than he might block.
- 6 – More minutes per game that Bynum could be playing this season if Mike Brown sticks to his stated plan of playing his young center around 34 mpg, after he averaged 27.8 in 2010-11. His numbers could skyrocket.
- 114 – Regular season games Bynum has missed due to injury in the past four seasons after playing in all 82 games in 2006-07.
“He’s a force in the middle defensively, up there with Dwight Howard in terms of intimidating opponents that penetrate. Physically he got his second and third jump back, which wasn’t there before due to injury, and he made a pact with the coaching staff that he’d do some of those additional things. There’s no question that on any other team, Andrew would be the focal guy. Fortunately for us, this game is about winning, not focal points, and we have the best trio of players anyone could ask for in Kobe, Pau and Andrew.”
Ask Kobe Bryant what Bynum needs to do to become the West’s best center and his answer takes two words: “Stay healthy.” That’s it. So big and so skilled is Bynum, that if he stays on the floor he almost can’t help but to be dominant. When players as skilled as Bryant and Gasol see how critical it is to get Bynum the ball on one end, and depend upon him as the anchor on the other, it speaks pretty loudly to ‘Drew’s impact. It’s always been a big man’s game, and how many players as big as Bynum are as skilled?
STAT STUFFER: Caracter saw some early-season minutes with Andrew Bynum recovering from injury, averaging 5.2 minutes per game towards 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds.
- 4-6 – Number of weeks Caracter will miss, at minimum, after tearing meniscus in his right knee in the preseason.
- 35 – Approximate number of pounds Caracter dropped from college in order to get in better shape for his professional career.
- 41 – Appearances for Caracter in 2010-11, not bad for the 58th overall pick in the second round.
“Derrick understands there is still plenty of work for him to do to be recognized as an everyday NBA player. He’s an undersized center who has to work on his feet to become quicker, he has to play with tremendous force like a Glen Davis or Carl Landry given that he’ll be smaller.”
Clearly, Caracter first needs to get his knee right, and then focus on getting back into the kind of shape that could render him back up big minutes in the NBA. He has a good low post game around the hoop, and pretty good touch with either hand at the rim, but struggles defensively against opposing centers inside and power forwards on the perimeter.