- Kevin Pelton
Each Monday throughout the NBA season, ESPN Insider will investigate the latest trends in the NBA. Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton is keeping an eye on all the numbers and will have a first look at how players, teams and the league as a whole are evolving.
Trending team: Los Angeles Lakers relying on Bynum
Despite Sunday's home loss to the Denver Nuggets, no contender is heading into the stretch run with more momentum than the Lakers. Los Angeles has won 17 of its 19 games since the All-Star break to get back into the race for the top spot in the Western Conference.
It's no secret that Lakers 7-footer Andrew Bynum has been key to the team's surge. The impact of a productive Bynum is evident throughout the team's numbers. For one, the Lakers have been playing at a slower pace lately. Before the break, they averaged 90.3 possessions per 48 minutes, a pace only slightly below league average. Since then, their possessions per 48 minutes have dropped to 87.4, which would tie them with the New Orleans Hornets as the league's second-slowest team. Only the Portland Trail Blazers (87.2) average fewer possessions per 48 minutes.
In terms of performance, Bynum's impact has come largely at the defensive end of the floor. While he's been highly efficient with his possessions (he's making 62.3 percent of his shot attempts and getting to the line regularly), the Lakers have weaker floor spacing with Bynum and Pau Gasol on the floor together, so their overall offense has been no better since the break -- exactly 4.0 points per 100 possessions better than league average before and after, when adjusted for opposition.
On defense, however, the Lakers have taken a huge step forward. They held opponents 1.8 points per 100 possessions below their usual efficiency before the All-Star break, but have improved to 8.0 points better since then. That would make them the NBA's best defense over the course of the season.
Bynum has been at the center of that stingy defense. He's grabbing 28.3 percent of available defensive rebounds, which would put him seventh in the league, and has blocked nearly as many shots as he's committed fouls. (Only one player in the NBA, San Antonio's Tim Duncan, has pulled off that feat this season.)
Basically, Bynum has played at an MVP-type level when on the floor over the past month and a half. His numbers during that span compare favorably with Dwight Howard's in every category save usage (Howard is a much bigger part of the Orlando Magic's offense). This is the type of dominant play from Bynum that has convinced the Lakers to hold on to him despite attractive trade offers. If he stays healthy (having missed the end of Sunday's game after tweaking his right knee) and plays at this level, it makes the Lakers favorites not only to win the West but to repeat as NBA champions.
Trending player: Anthony Randolph takes advantage
As a starter last week in place of the injured Kevin Love, Randolph had games with 31 points and 11 rebounds at Dallas and 24 points and 15 rebounds at Oklahoma City. Those kinds of performances are nothing new for Randolph, who has produced whenever he's gotten the opportunity to play. During his three-year NBA career, Randolph has played at least 30 minutes in 16 games. In those extended outings, he's averaged a double-double (16.5 points and 10.7 rebounds), with five total 20-10 performances.
On the surface, this isn't all that unusual. Many bench players have impressive averages in games in which they play heavy minutes because their coaches can spot them and give them extra run in favorable matchups. Here's the unique thing about Randolph: On a per-minute basis, his performance in games of 30-plus minutes is virtually identical to how he plays in a smaller role.
Kevin Pelton spotlights three NBA trends to watch. Anthony Randolph has improved his numbers, Andrew Bynum is second-half MVP and a look back at the best players from March.