The Black Hole?

Darius Soriano —  December 13, 2009

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Examining Andrew Bynum’s post play is a task with several layers to it. On one hand you have a highly efficient post player whose ability to score on the low block is a highly coveted trait that any team would love to have. On the other hand, you have a team that runs a read and react offensive system where passing to (and from) the post is one of the main (and most effective) ways to initiate and create offense for other players because the post entry dictates a myriad of cuts and screens off the ball designed to get those players good shots. So, evaluating Bynum on the low block can be a bit tricky. As Bynum’s touches in the post have increased, he’s become more of a focal point in our offense. However, with that focus there is also the question of how he can be most effective when he has the ball and how he can most help the team.

First, let’s explore Andrew Bynum’s post game and how effective he truly is at scoring the ball. As you can see from the statistics, Andrew Bynum is a traditional (and quite effective) low post player. He takes 50% of his shots right at the rim with 86% of his shots coming from within ten feet of the basket. He is shooting 57% from the field with a TS% of 61.3%. Bynum, by any statistical measure, is showing an offensive potency that only a handful of other post players currently are. Plus, he’s getting more refined and is showing a smoothness and polish with a diverse attack. He has shown the ability post up on either low block, finish with both hands on his jump hook, and has exhibited a variety of counter moves where he use his defender’s aggression against him to create any easy opportunity to finish. He’s developed a very nice face up game where (if given space) he can shoot his developing jumpshot or (if crowded) can power dribble to either hand to explode and finish at the rim. He’s showing better footwork and a greater ability to feint moves to get opponents off balance and throw off their timing so he can make his finishing move that much easier. When it comes to offensive basketball, the guy is a beast.

However, that ability to score effectively is really all Bynum is accomplishing when he has the ball in the post. Bynum averages 1.3 assists per game. His assist rate (% of possesions ending with an assist) is a paltry 7.5. Among Centers that play 25 minutes or more a night, that assist rate ranks Bynum 19th and places him right below Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard and right above Chris Kaman – not bad company as far as scorers go, but not really a great group of passing big men either. However, that 7.5 assist rate is quite poor when compared to other Centers on this list like Tim Duncan (15.93) and Marc Gasol (14.77). And Bynum’s rate is horrific when compared to teammate Pau Gasol (20.2, though listed as a PF). (On a side note, the player that leads the league in assist rate for PF’s that play 25+ minutes? Lamar Odom at 28.49)

And that comparison to Pau is the one that matters the most to Lakers fans and also what has earned ‘Drew the nickname of The Black Hole. As we all know, the Lakers run the Triangle offense. And as I stated earlier, this is a read and react system where motions, cuts, and screens off the ball lead to player movement. Then we expect to see the ball handler reading the option(s) in front of him and make the correct reads that lead to getting a high percentage shot. Obviously, like every other team, the Lakers have go to players that become the focal point of the offense. So, the Lakers are going to feature Kobe and Pau (and Bynum). But because this is an equal opportunity offense, even when those players are featured we want to see them to operate within the flow of the offense and execute all its options. This is explemplified by how Pau operates within the Triangle as he is the best player at evaluating all the options of the offense after he gets the ball in his hands. And when looking at how Pau contributes to this offense by both scoring and passing, we wonder why Bynum is not doing the same things. What is Pau doing that Bynum is not? The obvious answer is passing. But the truth is a bit more hidden than that.

The thing is, that even though Pau and Bynum are similar players within this offense, they are very different in terms of style. Yes, they both score on the low block. Yes, they both show a capable jumpshot. Yes, they both have a diversity of moves that make them effective offensive threats from multiple places on the floor. (It should be noted that Pau is better at all of these things, but Bynum is close to his level in all these aspects.) However, they operate much differently within these similar skill sets. Essentially, Pau is a more paitient player that likes to read the defense. Many times when Pau makes a catch, he likes to hold the ball. When he faces up, he loves to jab step and analyze what his next move will be. When he has his back to the basket, he’ll consistently look around the court to see what the defense is doing and then make a read as to what to do next (pass to a cutter, pass back out and re-post, shoot, etc). He wants to know “Is the double team coming? Where are the cutters moving from? How is my man playing me?” and then react with the appropriate move. But Drew is a different player.

When Bynum makes a catch, he’s thinking one thing – Where is my opening? He’s decisive and goes fast. Rarely does he wait. Rarely does he hold the ball (unless he’s waiting for the side to clear). He’s the type of player that has confidence and an understanding that can’t be stopped on a cosistent basis when he’s guarded one on one. So, as far as he’s concerned, Bynum knows that all he has to do is catch the ball and make a move and it’s likely that he’s either going to score or get fouled. And honestly, this is a good approach. When you teach a young big man to play post offense, there are certain concepts that you stress. Fundamental ideas like keeping the ball high, keeping a solid base, and using your defender’s leverage against him. But, you’re also stressing to be decisive. Often times, when on the low block, waiting can get you in trouble. Big men are notoriously slow developers when it comes to passing and reading defenses. Unlike guards who operate from the wing and have the defense in front of them the majority of the time, post players often find themselves in the eye of the storm. The ball goes into the post and that player is surrounded. He’s got a guard digging down. He’s got the player defending him on this back. He’s got the potential of a double team from the weakside middle. He’s got the potential for a double team from the weakside baseline. And those are only the defensive concerns that a post player is analyzing (and only some of them, to boot). But reading the defense is only one factor because after a post player makes the catch he’s also got to be concerned with where his teammates are – Where is my skip man? Is there someone diving? Is the post entry passer stationary or sliding? Is he sliding towards the top of the key or to the baseline? That is a lot of information to take in. So, you teach them to be decisive and to make their move when they see the opening. And that is what Bynum is doing.

And at this point in his career, it’s likely his best approach. Understand that by going quickly and decisively, Bynum elimates many of the defensive strategies that are used against post players. Many times Bynum’s move comes before a double team can be established. He’s already executing his move when guards try to dig down on him or when players try to come from the weakside to double team. Also, because of his counter moves, there are times when those late double teams don’t even come to side where Bynum is executing his shot. Going quickly also elimates some of the openings that are byproducts of our offense. Bynum rarely hits the dive man from the weakside because he’s already going into his move which then makes the cut of his teammate is inconsquential. Going quickly also means that you’re less likely to see Andrew kick the ball back out or skip the ball to the opposite corner (other staples of our offense) because the defense hasn’t dicated that pass nor have our offensive players actually established those positions on the court.

In the end, I think we all agree that Bynum is not using all aspects of our offense. And I too would like to see him pass more and utilize his teammates better. I think one of the reasons that our offense is not as efficient this season as it was last season is because Bynum has taken on a greater role within the offense and he’s not executing ther finer details with as much precision as Gasol/Odom. That said, Bynum is still young and still learning. As he continues to establish himself as an offensive force, the double teams will come faster and force him to pass more. As he gains experience he’ll read defenses better, understand what the opposition’s strategy is against him, and become more patient. But it all comes in stages. Our young Center is learning and getting better each season. The passing will come as his development and maturation continues. And if it doesn’t, then the monicker will stick. But, I think those skills will improve and we’ll all look back at the times that Bynum was single covered and not passing (because he was scoring so easily) as the good old days.

-Darius


Darius Soriano

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