Andrew Bynum’s progress during his first five seasons in the league has been a tale of two cities for the Lakers. The 2009-10 season was no different as the center once again showed promising flashes of his enormous potential, while also disappearing for long stretches. At this point in his career, that is essentially become Andrew’s M.O.—tease fans with moments of brilliance when he’s been able to stay on the floor, then miraculously find a way to become invisible or at best, irrelevant, at other times.
On the season, Bynum’s averages were virtually equal to 2008-09 as he boosted his scoring average a point to 15, while pulling down 8.3 boards a night. The big difference for Andrew was in games played, where he managed to play in and start 65 games, despite giving Lakers fans a gigantic scare when he missed a series of games in March due to a strained achilles tendon. The 65 games was a dramatic improvement over the 35 he played in 2007-08 and 50 in the following season. In fact, for Andrew, his most significant area of growth last season was arguably his relative ability to stay on the floor. Regular playing time breeds consistency and that has been one of Andrew’s largest problem areas the past few seasons.
Health issues aside, Bynum surprised many fans and critics by unveiling a newfound attitude and sense of maturity last season. Even after suffering debilitating season-changing injuries each of the past two seasons, Andrew maintained a positive outlook when he hurt his achilles tendon—a devastating injury for many athletes—just as the team was gearing up for another playoff run. Not only that, once he did return just in time for Game 1 against the Thunder, he showed little drop-off, putting in a reassuring 13 points and 12 rebounds in that first game back from injury. The excitement was short-lived though as Andrew suffered a slight tear of his meniscus in Game 6 of the same series, dramatically decreasing is mobility for the rest of the title run. However, like a true champion, Bynum persevered, throwing together a timely 17 point, 14 rebound performance in Game 2 against Utah and an even bigger 21 point, seven block outing in Game 2 against the Celtics. Through it all, the center showed a level of passion and grit that was previously absent from his game and earned a lot of respect from teammates, critics and fans.
PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:
Andrew certainly posted higher totals during the regular season (especially during the first month of last season when he looked like a sure-fire All-Star), but his gutsy (and underrated) 39 minute, 21 point, seven block, six rebound effort in Game 2 of the Finals was by far his impressive, revealing performance to date.
Measuring Andrew’s success five years into the league is still a somewhat difficult, not to mention, divisive task. On one hand, the still incredibly young 22-year-old continues to provide sneak peaks of the type of dominance that has entered his name into the discussion of the league’s top centers. On the other, he’s neither completed an entire NBA season, nor shown the ability to maintain his performances night in and night out. Luckily for the Lakers and Andrew, they still have time to figure those kinks out. Without much roster turnaround expected until at least the season after next, the Lakers still won’t need to rely as heavily on Andrew as an option A or B on offense, though he has certainly shown that he has the potential to be that type of force.
Looking ahead to next season, one of the largest contributions Bynum can make is simply staying on the floor. Andrew was a difference-maker on defense in the playoffs, even when limited by injury. His size and length are invaluable to the Lakers as a last line of defense and when he’s at the top of his game, the forum blue and gold are virtually unbeatable. With Kobe, Gasol, Artest and Odom in tow, the Lakers have shown that they can surive—and still flourish—without a monster scoring night from Bynum. However, they need every bit of the seven footer’s still evolving defensive game against presumed NBA powers like Oklahoma City, Boston, Orlando and Miami.