Taking the Rough With the Smooth

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Andrew Bynum is a nightmare match-up for any team in the NBA. The 24 year-old Lakers’ centre has size and strength, possesses great length, and is developing one of the best low-post arsenals in the game. After enduring an injury-plagued start to his career, Bynum is finally fulfilling his immense potential.
His coach Mike Brown echoed those sentiments, calling Bynum “an absolute monster” after his 23 and 16 performance against the Mavericks a week ago. Indeed, many of Bynum’s displays this season could be described as monstrous. Bynum recently obliterated the San Antonio Spurs’ frontline, snaring an incredible 30 rebounds (The Spurs had 33 boards in total!), and he’s been giving teams fits in the paint all year.

In-fact, sometimes he’s even given his own coach fits.

Bynum Being Bynum

In his more candid moments, coach Brown might also describe Bynum as a monstrous pain in the ass. Coupled with his fantastic play on the court, Bynum has displayed a lack of maturity and a real petulant streak that has hurt his team at times this year. Bynum has been ejected in two recent games against the Rockets, incurring stupid technical fouls in games that the Lakers were in a position to win.

Perhaps Bynum’s most idiotic moment of the season, however, was his ill-timed 3-point shot against the Warriors. Jacking it up at the beginning of the shot clock, against the flow of the game, Bynum infuriated his coach and was sat for the rest of the quarter.

More worrying than his decision to take the 3 was Bynum’s reaction to being benched. Bynum kept his distance from the team during time-outs and said after the game, “I guess, don’t take 3s is the message, but I’m going to take another one and I’m going to take some more”. Cue the Mike Brown face-palm.

For most of the year, it’s been a case of the Lakers’ accepting Bynum’s indiscretions and shortcoming, while reaping the benefits of the huge upside he brings to the table. It’s obvious to all that Bynum is still in the process of maturing: finding out how far he can push the patience of officials and his coaching staff along the way.

Franchise players have undergone that process before. Wilt took his time figuring out how to be a productive teammate, and Shaq didn’t take the game seriously for years.

There is no doubt, however, that Bynum’s actual basketball game has matured by leaps and bounds. This season he has finally made the jump, from a promising raw talent, to a dominant big man with franchise leading potential.

Basketball Maturation

This has been a break out year for Bynum in every sense. He has increased his points per game total from 11.3 last season, to 18.9 this year: a massive jump that has seen him overtake Pau Gasol as the number 2 scoring option on the Lakers. Just as impressive have been his rebounding numbers. Bynum is 3rd in rebounding this year, averaging 12 boards a game, trailing only Kevin Love and Dwight Howard in that category. Bynum was rewarded for those statistical jumps with his first all-star appearance this year. It should be the first of many.

Watching Bynum in action, it’s easy to see why he has made such huge statistical progress. Those numbers reflect a game that has drastically improved. Drafted in 2005, at the tender age of 17, Bynum was raw talent and not much else. Still a boy in a man’s body, (Bynum could barely bench 135 pounds, according to Kurt Rambis) Bynum spent the next few seasons struggling to stay healthy (not an issue this year), and working to develop a game that could survive the rigours of playing in the paint.

Those efforts have paid off nicely.

The 2012 Andrew Bynum, like a young Tim Duncan, has great fundamentals. He possesses quick hands, always keeping the ball high to avoid being stripped, and is surprisingly agile for someone who weighs 285 pounds.

With all the constant talk of Dwight Howard working on his post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon every off-season, it is Bynum that has become the best low-post centre in the league. He can finish with either hand and has quietly gone about developing a nice array of spin moves and hook shots around the basket, all complimented by great footwork.

Unlike Dwight, Bynum has also developed some decent range to his shooting. He has become comfortable knocking down the 8-10 foot jump shot, an incredibly useful weapon for a centre. A less talked about aspect of his game, but equally important, is Bynum’s free throw shooting. Bynum is shooting 68% from the charity stripe this year, surprisingly good for a big man. Crucially, this means that the Lakers can afford to keep Bynum on the floor at the end of tight games. He doesn’t become a liability in that respect (Unlike Dwight).

In fact, Bynum isn’t even close to being a liability in crunch-time. He is a key weapon.

According to 82games.com, Bynum is one of the best ‘clutch time’ players in the NBA—‘clutch’ being defined as the last 5 minutes of a game where the teams are separated by five points or less. Bynum shoots an incredible 82% in clutch time, leading the league in that statistic. Those are eye-opening numbers. Recently the Lakers have begun to use Bynum more frequently as a scoring option down the stretch. Whether that continues to be the case during the playoffs, especially as Kobe returns from injury, remains to be seen.

Still Playing Second Fiddle…For Now

Of course Los Angeles is Kobe’s world, and Bynum’s just living in it. The Black Mamba has earned the right to demand the ball, take 25 shots a game, and be The Man. He is still the Lakers’ best scoring option, despite what some in the media have been saying since his recent injury layoff.

And yet, Bynum’s explosive development this season has presented Mike Brown and the Lakers with a tantalizing alternative to simply running isolation plays for Kobe in close games. Few teams have the size down low to deal with Bynum (not to mention Gasol as well), and his work on the boards and reliable scoring have given the Lakers another dimension offensively. Bynum now demands a double team, just as Kobe does down the stretch. That inevitably means there’s going to be a lot of open shooters in purple and yellow.

Given the nature of the playoffs, where games slow down and frontcourt size becomes a major factor, the Lakers have a legitimate shot at coming out of the West. A healthy Andrew Bynum is going to play a major part if the Lakers go deep. Kobe will get his 30-35 points a game, and will hit his game winning shots, but Bynum’s presence is crucial. He has become a legitimate second scoring option, the number one option if Kobe is on the bench, and a defensive anchor the Lakers can rely upon moving forward.

But if Bynum jacks up a 3 in a vital playoff game, Kobe might just kill him.

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