Something interesting has occurred the last two games. Lamar Odom has made his yearly renaissance. This season marks the third in a row where LO is making his mid-season push as one of the indispensable Lakers. However, there is a catch that comes with this improved play. In all these seasons that LO has turned up his game, it’s been because one specific Laker has missed extended time with injuries. That Laker is Andrew Bynum.
Over the past few seasons, some Lakers fans (myself included) have had a “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” mentality about Bynum. On the one hand, we all see that he’s a fantastic young Center with an incredible skill set – he’s a giant of a (young) man with pterodactyl arms and soft hands attached, he’s got a myriad of post moves that allow him to score with elite level efficiency, he’s a capable rebounder, and he’s a presence in the paint on defense that alters and blocks shots. Every time I see ‘Drew give Tim Duncan the business or when I see him body up big men and make guys like Kendrick Perkins look small, I can’t imagine not having this guy around. On the other hand, despite his offensive efficiency he has not yet developed a “feel” for passing that would take his game to the next level, he doesn’t always seem engaged in the game, his in-game effort is seemingly completely dependent on how he’s doing on offense, and for all his size he’s still not the rebounder/defender that he could be (though he is effective at both of those things). So when I see missed opportunities to make the extra pass or see big ‘Drew hang his head because a play didn’t go his way, I wonder what his future on this team really is. It’s these thoughts and this quasi pro’s/con’s list that goes through my mind whenever I think about Bynum and what is best for the Lakers’ future. And I’m not alone.
After the last couple of games, the discussion of what to do with Bynum is heating up (on this site). Again, we love him, we love him not. Here’s what we’re saying about our immensely talented, but sometimes mismatched big man:
T.Rogers - “I hope people aren’t starting to think Bynum is expendable. No doubt there are spacing issues when him and Pau are on the floor together. It is up to the coaching staff to figure that out. But let’s not get too hasty here. The Lakers will need Bynum’s big body if they are to complete their title defense. Every front court is not as undersized as San Antonio’s.
There will nights and teams where the Lakers front court will have to out-muscle the opposing front court. And there is nothing about a Gasol+Odom combination that says “muscle.” And that’s okay. The Lakers won last year because of versatility. There will be nights were they need Pau and Lamar to run circles around the opposition.
But dismissing Bynum+Gasol is like getting rid of your uppercut to fight solely with the jab. It’s the combination of punches that ultimately KO’s the opponent. And for that reason the Lakers still very much need Andrew Bynum.”
Don - “I would rather put Gasol and Bynum out there together at the cost of a few games so that they can play better off one another in time for the playoffs. To bench Bynum and say that they’ve plateaued in terms of their chemistry together is underestimating these professionals and PJ. Besides, the first quarters of NBA games don’t matter anyway. How many times have you seen teams dominate the first quarter and lose?”
Craig W. - “In American football there is an adage that the quarterback gets to much credit in a win and too much blame in a loss, despite being the key component of almost all teams. We may be coming to the same conclusion with the Lakers. I too am beginning to think it is not the loss of Kobe that is revealing what the other players can do in the triangle, but the loss of both Bryant and Bynum. It’s the combination that seems to point the way. This is a hard conclusion because I have been in the Bynum camp almost from the beginning.”
Bynumite – “It seems pretty evident to me at least, that the offense is less stagnant with Bynum out. Mostly because of the two-man game of Lamar and Pau. While the idea of bringing Bynum off the bench is tantalizing (he would wreck shop on 95% of backup centers in the NBA), I don’t think PJ is looking to do that. There is a way of integrating Bynum into this offense with Pau out there as well. These players are too smart and too skilled to for the Lakers to be average by our standards offensively. Maybe it has to do with Bynum being a more willing passer or reading the play better, I am not entirely sure.”
Rudy – “Eventhough Phil Jackson would never do this, I am of the feeling that we would be better off making Bynum come off the bench. In watching these 2 games it is obvious Odom has looked much more energetic in starting alongside Gasol. Although I do think Bynum is needed to play against the powerhouses of the east, there does seem to be more space for our offense to operate more effectively with him out.”
The Dude Abides - “Hmm…do people remember a huge factor in our win over Boston nine days ago? Bynum was a beast who pwned Perkins on offense, grabbed a ton of rebounds, and contested seemingly every Celtic shot from 12 feet and in. All this happened as the Celtics played much better for the first 39 minutes than they had been doing in their recent stretch of games, and then the Lakers overcame an 11-point deficit with nine minutes to go. Pau was on the bench while Drew was on the court for most of this fourth quarter comeback.
We all know that Pau is Option #1A along with Kobe on offense, as the offense frequently runs best through Pau. However, a healthy Bynum is another huge factor in the team’s success and versatility. Let’s not forget that.”
And on and on we go. Let me state this now and in no uncertain terms: I love Andrew Bynum. I think his combination of size and skill is a rarity in this league and you don’t just give that away – you foster it and develop it in order to unleash it on the rest of the NBA. That said, Bynum is not the only capable player on this team and he is only one part of its success. Bynum is flanked by all-stars and all NBA performers. He’s teamed with talents with all around game(s) and players who do whatever it takes to win. And that is the rub. I have no doubts that if Bynum had been drafted onto a team that didn’t have the leagues premier perimeter talent of this generation, but still given the same level of coaching and time to develop he’d be spoken of in the same manner that we speak of Dwight Howard or (pre-injury) Greg Oden. He’d be one of the players that we thought was the future of this league. However, just like in real estate, location matters in the NBA. You are shaped by your environment and have to deal with the circumstances that you are brought into. And right now, Bynum is on a contender that needs certain things from him – things that may change from night to night. One night we may need the offensive beast that shoots a high percentage and can be an anchor on offense in the post. While on other nights, we may need fifteen rebounds and 5 blocks with only a handful of points to go along with all that defensive impact. Can Bynum play this way? I’m not sure if he’s mature enough at this point in his career.
There are also X’s and O’s to consider. As I mentioned at the top of this post, Lamar Odom is a key player for this team. Much of our success over the past two seasons is at least partly attributed to the versatility of Odom’s game and how he meshes so well into what we hope to get out of the Triangle offense and our help schemes on defense. Offensively, Odom opens up space for every other player on the court. The fact that he can play on the perimeter and slash/cut like a SF while finishing in the lane and rebounding on both ends like a PF is priceless to this team. His ability to be an offensive initiator means that our guards (including Kobe) are forced into more strict roles on offense where they are put into a position where they must to play off the ball more and use the motions of the offense to receive the ball and take shots. Odom is also a player that is one of our better post-entry passers and can run the elbow P&R that more times that not forces switches on defense and enables our Center to get matched up with a PF on the block or allows LO to use his speed to penetrate against a slow footed defender. And since Odom has a pass first mentality he’s not only looking for his own offense on any given play, but looking to set up one of his mates for an easy look. Meanwhile, Bynum is strictly a post player. While he’s flashing an improved jumpshot, he still lives on the low block and that means whenever he is on the floor, at least one side of the floor will not be penetrable by the dribble. And when Bynum and Pau share the floor, we will always have at least one of our bigs not in their comfort zone as one of them will almost always be parked at the high post where his offensive efficiency suffers. And until these two bigs develop more chemistry in playing two man game through either high low or block to block passing, our overall offensive efficiency will suffer.
There is no easy answer here. Bynum is a young player that needs to be nurtured and given more and more responsibility if we expect him to grow and develop into the player we think he can be. That means more post touches, more shot attempts, more crunch time minutes, and more understanding when he doesn’t play up to expectations. However, the Lakers are a team that is built to win now. And since that is the case, we also need clearly defined roles or players with the ability to play a variety of styles that compliment each other in order to create a balance and generate wins. Right now, I think it’s clear that Bynum is a player that needs touches while our team seems to perform its best when touches don’t come into the equation. Bynum is a player that doesn’t compliment Pau in the same way that a perimeter oriented, slashing, passing big man does – but Bynum is a player that can supplant Gasol as a post up weapon that can get us easy points when others are struggling to score the ball. In the end, I think it’s a nice problem to have. I’d rather have too much talent, than not enough. But in order to win as a team, that talent needs to mesh. These last two games with Bynum and Kobe sitting have shown that to be true more than ever. Like I said, there is no easy answer here but one must still be figured out anyway if we hope to get the most out of this team.