by Marcel Mutoni

You could legitimately argue that few players faced as much pressure coming into this season as the Lakers’ 20-year old big man, Andrew Bynum.

As soon as his megastar teammate Kobe Bryant threw him under the bus (because the Lakers refused to part with the youngster in a proposed trade for Jason Kidd) in a bizarre, expletive-laced tirade during the offseason, it became painfully clear that Bryant’s future with the Lakers was directly tied to Bynum’s performance on the hardwood.

To his credit, Bynum has played admirably and has helped the Lakers get off to a reasonably strong start (recent mini-slump notwithstanding.).

In his first 12 games of this season, even including a complete dud in the Lakers’ 107-94 loss to the Celtics on Friday, the 20-year-old Bynum is averaging a virtual double-double with 10.9 points and 9.9 rebounds, along with 1.4 blocks in just under 25 minutes per game.

“It usually takes big kids four or five years to mature, and that’s usually after college,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “Can this guy be good at 22? That was the question we had to sit and think about this summer. With his attitude, and the training he’s doing, he’s got a very good chance.”

In other words: If Kobe leaves, it won’t be Andrew’s fault. That’s gotta make him feel good.

Speaking of leaving, Phil Jackson is being curiously mum regarding his future in L.A.