- Kevin Pelton
Just days away from the start of the NBA's postseason, the league's biggest wild card might be the health of Andrew Bynum. The big center was supposed to be the difference for the Los Angeles Lakers this June; he missed last year's NBA Finals after midseason knee surgery. Bynum, as you know, then sprained the MCL in his right knee back in January but finally returned to the lineup Thursday. The lingering question is this: Can Bynum return to form in time to anchor the Lakers' defense and help L.A. win a 15th title?
To get a better idea of how long it takes players to shake off the rust, we compiled a list of 12 comebacks over the last decade that met two key criteria:
1) An absence of at least a month.
2) A return no more than five games before the start of the playoffs. (Bynum has played three games in his return, with one more left on the schedule.)
The best measure of how well these players rounded into shape is to compare their playoff numbers to their healthy, regular-season stats, and determine by what percentage their production increased or decreased. Of note, most players (injured or otherwise) tend to see their numbers decline in the playoffs because of tougher competition. So, we've also included a control group -- the change in players' statistics from last year's regular season to the playoffs -- for comparison.
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Andrew Bynum is supposed to help the Lakers get over the championship hump. But few players have even attempted to return from a major injury so late in the season, let alone on a title-contending squad.