Andrew Bynum Is Realizing His Potential

Darius Soriano —  January 10, 2011

When discussing Andrew Bynum, Lakers fans have always had to speak in tentative terms.  The young big man has always shown flashes of what he could be, but when focusing on what he would be it’s never been a sure thing.  And to a certain extent, it’s still not as the thought of him being unavailable due to the next ailment is an all too common thought amongst fans.  That said, I’m going to ask people to forget the injuries for a second and focus on what we are actually seeing from the 23 year old behemoth, because what he’s showing us in his latest return from knee surgery is better than anything we’ve seen in the past.

Don’t get me wrong in what I’m saying here.  Since Bynum’s break out year in 2008, he’s steadily shown a progression to his game that made it obvious he was becoming one of the great young prospects.  The refinement of his offensive game was evident as he developed a number of very effective post moves and counters that often left defenders befuddled.  So, in a sense, the knack for scoring and the polish exhibited in doing so isn’t really new.  But, at the same time scoring is only one aspect of contributing to effective offense.  In the past he wasn’t consistently playing in a way that promoted the best outcomes for the team.  Like, for instance, he wasn’t always passing.  A little bit less than a year ago, I wrote the following when evaluating Andrew Bynum and his black hole tendencies:

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 the finer details with as much precision as Gasol/Odom.

At the same time, though, I was still pretty confident that one day he’d start to show us an even greater understanding of operating within the Lakers’ offense:

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.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the day I was talking about seems to be here.  Since Bynum’s return from knee injury he’s shown a patience and maturation to his game that really is a sight to see.  He’s reading defenses better than at any point in his career and is making excellent passes on many possessions.  Of the top of my head, I can count several plays he’s made in the past several games that he wouldn’t (couldn’t?) have made last year.  A brief example is a diagonal pass out of the hub of the Triangle to Derek Fisher on the weak-side of the court.  That pass immediately led to a Lamar Odom duck in where Fisher delivered the ball to LO for shot inside where he was fouled.  The court vision and understanding of teammate positioning that Bynum displayed in making that pass was light years ahead of the man many called a black hole just last February.

And this conceptual grasp of how he should play as an individual isn’t the only way that he’s showing growth.  When evaluating what went wrong in a loss, Bynum revealed a firm understanding of what was ailing the team:

We can’t turn the basketball over. Out of the triangle, we have three guys on the baseline, so when we turn the basketball over, it puts us at a super big disadvantage… Especially with that first unit that’s in there, with Pau and myself, kind of slow-footed getting back. It’s causing a lot of problems, so we’ve just got to take care of the basketball so that doesn’t happen. We have to sit these teams down and make them play 20 seconds of defense. Really work the ball, so that it fuels our defense.

This quote is just one example (he’s had plenty of others that show his evolution into a thinker of the game) but to listen to him so clearly articulate an issue that contributed a loss is refreshing.

What we’ve mostly focused on, though, is Bynum’s offense.  And while his continued ability to score the ball is a welcomed sight, I think we can all agree that where he can really impact the game is on defense.  His sheer size and length naturally create a disruptive force on defense when it’s channelled and used correctly.  Over at Land O’ Lakers, Dave McMenamin has some choice quotesand good nuggets of information explaining how the Lakers are now relying more and more on Bynum to be the team’s defensive anchor:

The system we’ve been working on in practice is starting to pick up a little bit,” Andrew Bynum said. “Guys are starting to understand the concept of funneling the wings to Pau and myself and trying to make them hit over the top of us.”   Said Bryant of Bynum, who impressed with 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks: “He’s our protector so we funnel a lot through him. He’s doing a great job changing shots.

Simply put, Bynum is now a major difference maker.  Rather than being the icing on the cake in the Lakers’ chances to win a title, he’s becoming a key ingredient in the team’s foundation to achieving the goal.  And while that’s sure to cause concern amongst fans that see the glass half empty of Bynum’s injury past, I’m happy that we’ve even gotten to this point.  Because more than anything else it shows his growth as a player and how that development has enabled the team to even think of him in this way.  I know that we’ll never be able to escape the the thoughts of another ‘Drew injury.  But on that subject, I’ll leave the last word to commenter The Dude Abides who offers some perspective on Bynum’s procedure and how it’s affected his play this year (and hopefully for years to come):

Drew is looking even better than the first part of last season, when he was supposedly healthy…The injury that he suffered when Kobe collided with his knee in Memphis two years ago not only was a torn MCL, but also a tiny tear of the meniscus. Coming back from that injury, he played the entire 2009 postseason with the same tiny meniscus tear, rehabbed some more over the summer, then played the entire 09-10 regular season with the same torn meniscus. He aggravated it in the first round against OKC.   The surgeon last July 28 decided to repair the meniscus instead of removing the injured portion, resulting in a longer recovery time but hopefully a more stable knee. Looks like it’s working, as this is the most athletic Drew has looked since that two-week stretch in January 2009 when he was the most dominant offensive center in the league.

Darius Soriano

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44 responses to Andrew Bynum Is Realizing His Potential

  1. I think we should start a petition to lobby the Lakers into getting Bynum to wear a second brace at all times.

    It still boggles me to think that a couple of games ago, someone fell onto his knee hard enough to bend the titanium. Good thing it did it’s job in protecting the knee.

  2. I think Andrew Bynum really matured in last season’s playoffs. His willingness to gut it out and play in pain for the benefit of the team showed a great level of mental growth and toughness.

    Another thing I notice is he and Pau Gasol seems to have a very good rapport with one another. I have no doubt he is soaking up as much as he can from Pau. That is the benefit of having such an intelligent and skilled player like Gasol on the roster. He can help Bynum with his mechanics and really show him how to polish his skill set.

  3. Thanks for the shout out Darius. I’m pretty optimistic about the team’s chances this season, despite that lousy month of December. Drew is getting stronger and more confident each game. Not only that, but I think Ron-Ron has his edge back :D

    This season is starting to remind me of 2000-01, when our guys didn’t have home court advantage in the West but destroyed everyone in the postseason. That team won their final eight games of the regular season, blew out Portland and Sacramento in the first two rounds of the playoffs, then went into San Antonio and took the first two games on the road. The San Antonio press and all their players talked about how much better they would play in LA because their starting SG Derek Anderson was going to play after sitting out two games due to injury. I still remember my buddy Jeff saying, “Yeah, the Lakers are really worried about an injured EX-CLIPPER.” Game 3 was 111-72 (my prediction before the game was 116-72 :D), and Game 4 was 111-82. I guess Derek Anderson wasn’t much help.

    This Laker team reminds me a lot of that other team. Mostly veterans, increasing comfort in the triangle, with rim protectors and rebounders (healthy) Bynum, Gasol, and Odom vs the 2001 team’s Shaq, Grant, and Horry. Fisher and Bryant were in the backcourt on both squads, Blake vs Shaw as the backup PGs, SF bulldogs Artest and Barnes vs 2001 bulldog Rick Fox. The one difference is that 2001 team didn’t have a scorer off the bench like Shannon Brown. Knock on wood, but IMO if this team stays healthy in the postseason, they are capable of another 2001-like run.

  4. Maybe it is time we give Andrew credit for the obvious intelligence he has shown.

    First: If you had any smarts at all, being tutored by KAJ would give you a leg up in the understanding department. I suspect a lot of his growth in understanding the game came from his conversations and instruction from Kareem.

    Second: His comments in the past may have seemed naive at times, but he has always presented himself as intellectual. This has actually been a criticism some fans have made – he wasn’t macho enough. Well, Kareem was often depicted as ‘not macho enough’ or ‘soft’ in his playing days and his career turned out quite well – even if he doesn’t get enough credit for the rebounds he did get.

    Third: Both he and Pau seem to be more thoughtful, than brutish. The difference is that Andrew is close to 290lbs (Wilt’s playing weight in his earlier days) and he has learned how to use this to his advantage. This makes for a tremendous combination around the key for both players.

  5. @#3 The Dude, don’t forget the SA series, Fisher also hit a ridiculous 75% from 3. And overall for the playoffs that year, he made 52% of his 3’s. This after coming back from his foot injury.

    If your parallel holds up (which I hope it does), then could Matt Barnes be the equivalent? If estimates are correct, Barnes comes back in March, just like Derek did. Approximately a month of regular season to get his timing and condition back. He provides the spark to go on the run.

  6. Hate to be the turd in your punch bowl, but I’d like to see Andrew play 40+ games in a row before I say he’s realizing his potential. No doubt he has been marvelous on the court since his return, but I don’t think anybody doubted his on-court production when healthy. I even said two years ago that he could be a 20-10 guy in this league before he was derailed by injuries. But a hobbled Bynum is like having Erick Dampier on a good day. Not bad, but nothing that resembles his potential production nor his contract value.

  7. It’s all about availability with Bynum.

    In the past, he seemed to let “not playing well on offense/not getting the ball as much as he would like” affect his rebounding and defense. That doesn’t seem to be the case so far this season.

    I think that was the biggest hurdle for him (other than health).

  8. #6. This has little to do with stats but how much more he’s doing on the court in terms of little things and understanding the game. We’ve all been aware that Bynum has 20/10 talent but so do a lot of players that never learn to how to really contribute to winning. Bynum, in his return, is doing things that contribute to wins. That’s the difference.

    And sure, I’d like to see him play uninterrupted by injury too. But again, I’m not going to sit here and worry about the next injury or act like because he may get injured that he isn’t playing well now or really helping the team.

  9. Physically, I think Bynum has benefited from doing squats with Playboy bunnies on his shoulders.

    Driving really fast in his Ferrari has also helped to clear his mind.

    :-)

  10. @5. Yes, Fish was ridiculously hot that postseason, but much like Ariza improved his long-range shooting while he was out with a broken foot, that 2001 season was where Fish really worked on his shot while he was out injured. He came back fresh, and came back confident. And those long threes he hit were wide open. Kobe and Shaq demanded so much attention from defenses that Fish could have groomed his beard while waiting for the defender to get to him on his spot-ups.

  11. #9. Don’t forget how going to the World Cup helped him appreciate the value of making the extra pass.

  12. Good read, Darius. I’ve been cautiously thinking a lot of these same thoughts lately. “Is this finally the time when we can see the emergence of Andrew Bynum and not just flashes.”

    And after his ejection, I guess it’s still safe to refer to him as “Young” Andrew Bynum.

  13. *Business Idea* Fitness training with Playboy bunny push ups. Think of all those unemployed bunnies.

  14. There was a very good point made over at Basketbawful in one of the comments about how Ron-Ron was permitted to stay in the game after putting his hand on the neck of one dude and clotheslining another dude, while Drew got ejected from the game for asking “Are you serious?” twice. Good stuff :D
    http://basketbawful.blogspot.com/2011/01/worst-of-sunday-night_10.html

  15. I agree with zephid. It’s a bit early. But Bynum bulking up certainly helps in creating space under the basket. He has a few areas of improvement. He doesn’t set screens well. He still can be a little slow coming up the court. But his growth and play as of late is very impressive. Certainly makes life a lot easier for Pau and kobe. And if you measure contracts in part by titles, then he’s certainly done that. We would not have won last year without bynum.

  16. I too have been impressed by bynum’s maturation this year but let’s remember Amare is not a good post defender and as a whole NY is at the bottom of the entire league. Amares only real value as a defender is as weak side shot blocker.
    That being said its great to see the lakers breaking out of their slump especially since their schedule to finish the month is challenging to say the least.

  17. Another thing I notice is he and Pau Gasol seems to have a very good rapport with one another. I have no doubt he is soaking up as much as he can from Pau. That is the benefit of having such an intelligent and skilled player like Gasol on the roster. He can help Bynum with his mechanics and really show him how to polish his skill set.

    ============
    I’m not sure if this will make any sense but they both seem to have a “European” personality. Bynum is definitely a bit tougher, and won’t back down at all, but he seems kind of similar to Pau in the way he acts. Also, he is a soccer lover so that increases his “European” status right off the bat.

  18. If Bynum could be a consistent (read: injury-free) 15 and 9 guy, this team will be a terror. His actual ceiling is a little higher than that, but with Gasol and Odom getting a lot of frontcourt touches it impacts his numbers a bit. I’d be content if he wanted to be an 8-pts, 14-rebounds guy–at his size he should be getting double-digit rebounds every single night, particularly against a game like last night in which the Lakers out-rebounded the Knicks by 19.

    Sure, his night was artificially short and 18 & 7 isn’t anything to sneeze at, but I’d have been happier to see more boards out of him–2.3 boards per quarter is well below his ability. Then again, Gasol and Odom combined for 32 (!) rebounds, so perhaps he was often clearing space for them to snag the loose balls.

    On a side note, how lucky are we to have a 6th man that can get 13/18/4 and no one really thinks it’s out of the ordinary enough to mention? Lamar’s playing out of his mind this year.

    But overall I’m pleased to see how quickly he’s re-integrated himself into the team dynamic. I was worried he’d have stiff hands due to slower reactions times from not having played, or slow to react to passing out of doubles, but he’s looked mostly smooth thus far. His conditioning still isn’t there–they kept mentioning how he was laboring late in his stints last night, but he’ll be there in a few weeks.

  19. Cripes, Gasol had 20/14/4 ast/4 blocks. Watch out, league.

  20. I agree with giving the knee surgery some credit for his transformation. As an athlete, the torn meniscus surgery is a catch 22 and you won’t know the outcome until you wake up. If the damage can be repaired you won’t lose any cartilage but your recovery is much longer. If the damage can’t be repaired, your cartilage will be clipped down and the sharp edges will be removed. So you lose cartilage, but you’re back in about 3 weeks and you don’t even need crutches.

    So maybe we had to wait longer than we wanted for Bynum to return this season, but you only have so much knee cartilage. Waiting a few months longer to keep that cartilage in a man that will most likely need all of it is important. Here’s hoping to a completely healthy season from Bynum who could become the most dominant offensive center in the game, sooner rather than later.

  21. So do you guys think that previous year Pau-Drew at times didn’t seem to work because Drew did’t get it or make the effort? Or was it because they had a hard time understanding that they should collaps the paint? Maybe they have improved their range?

    I can’t watch most games so I’m just on the ignorant side.

  22. While witnessing the steady Growth and Improvement in young Drew, I’m hesitant to put such High Praise on him as of yet. This is not a knock on him, but until he can put up Solid (Not necessarily Tremendous) numbers against opponents/teams that can match his Size/Length, I’ll take the Wait n See Approach. Drew being a ‘Dominant’ force against smaller, inferior frontlines such as N.O., Detroit and N.Y. (just to name a few) is miles away from him being that same Impact Player against the Mavs (Dirk, Chandler & Haywood), Heat (Big Z & Bosh), Spurs (Duncan, Blair & Splitter) and last but definitely not least, the C’s (Shaq, Perkins, Garnett, J.O. & Big Baby). Keeping it 100%, he was having Issues last night against STAT, who’s barely 6’10 and isn’t known to be a Defensive Presence. So to sum it up, I’ll Hold Judgment ’til I see him perform against the ‘Big Boyz’ of the League and remain perfectly content with his Maturation as a player.

  23. The Dude – they had Isaiah Rider, but… yeah.

  24. 20 – It is not necessarily about numbers. Bynum changes the complexion of the game for the Lakers. He alters shots. He does a great job of keeping dribblers out of the paint. Plus, he allows Gasol to move to his natural (and most effective) spot on the floor. None of those things will show up in a box score. But they are all intangibles for this Lakers team.

    And the Lakers are sporting back to back championship rings due in part to Bynum’s willingness to stand up to the big boys during the last two playoff runs. There is no way they beat Boston without him last year.

    The issue with Bynum is not his impact or maturity. The issue is the health concerns.

  25. The game seems to be slower for Drew this season, which has been the most impressive element I’ve noticed out of him in his few games played this season.

    This year, when he gets the ball he’s clearly not rushing like he often did before. He’ll make one move, often a second or third, showing great footwork and understanding of what the defense is trying to take away. I don’t recall seeing that so consistently out of him in prior seasons.

    Great example was his big dunk on Amare late Sunday night. He got great position, caught the ball, then had the presence of mind to allow Amare to jump up before starting his move to the rim. In year’s past, he’d just as easily have jumped right away and been met by the defender up top. Now he waits, reacts, and dunks — big improvement from before. Let’s hope it continues all the way through June.

  26. “Lakers confirm that the NBA rescinded Andrew Bynum’s second technical foul from last night.”

    In order to hold these refs more accountable, maybe they should have to pay the fine for every rescinded technical

    It’s not a profession, unless they govern themselves

  27. I see a lot of comments about Bynum’s numbers here, and I really don’t think that’s what Darius was getting at with this post. Obviously when you’re an athletic young center you’re expected to put up numbers, or something is wrong with you, but that wasn’t the point here.

    The point was that Andrew Bynum has gone from being a talented big guy to being a skilled and talented young man. He has grown and matured, and he has started to think about the game and develop a deep understanding of it. Having teachers like Kareem, Kobe, Pau, or Phil Jackson, is useless if you are not willing to learn, or willing to put in whatever effort they require of you.

    If this transformation is permanent, Andrew Bynum is going to be a monster, simply because he isn’t just talented anymore. He now understands how to optimize that talent.

    I just hope it’s permanent. I’m not willing to celebrate just yet…

  28. @ T. Rogers

    We all understand ‘The Intangibles’ that he brings to the table for this Lakers Squad, but if we needed someone to Alter Shots, Keep Dribblers Out Of The Paint and Move The Spaniard to his Natural Position, we could’ve signed Erick Dampier (Thank the Lord we didn’t, but you know what I mean). Also, for the Salary that he’s commanding, you better Believe that Numbers count. If Drew is out there getting us paltry numbers, while being outplayed by Shaq, everyone on this site would be complaining about his Stats/Numbers and wouldn’t give a damn ’bout his ‘Intangibles’. Trust Me. And not to take anything away from the Youngin’ (Like I said previously, I’m not tryin’ to knock him), but which ‘Big Boys’ did he go through during last years run to the title? Was it Kristic in the 1st round? Milsap, Boozer or that Stiff of a Center on the Jazz in round 2 (Okur wasn’t even available)? Was it Robin Lopez, STAT or Frye on the Suns? Or Perkins in the Finals? All 6’10 of him, who blew out his knee in gm 6. I Respect Bynum and as Lakers fans, of course we want the best for him, but as of right now, everything is still based on Potential and not Productivity.

  29. My friend said the most telling thing about Bynum and his game this season. In the past Andrew didn’t dominate until he regained his explosiveness. This season he is dominating without the explosiveness he has had in the past. This illustrates his knowledge of the game is growing along with his body. The scary thing is how good will he be in two months when he gets his hops back? Scary that is forthe rest of the league. This is what my friend from NYC wrote me atbthe end of the third quarter… “if you guys didn’t have Bynum we might have a shot.” On a team with Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Ron, and being coached by Phil Jackson… It’s baby Bynum that he mentions.

    28)
    You kind of answered your own question. There are no real centers out there besides the 6-10 dwight howard. That’s why Andrew is so valuable.

  30. We expect Andrew to be instantly great and as durable as a 6’8″ forward. The kid is 7’1″ and 290lb. Also, he didn’t have 4 years of teaching from John Wooden like Kareem did, nor was he universally recognized when he was in high school.

    He was a young, inexperienced, but talented kid in a position that requires both physical and mental maturity, along with a slow learning curve, to be able to play in the pros today.

    This coming monster is only 23yrs old people. Now his tutoring and experience is beginning to show something besides flashes of talent.

    It must really bust the chops of some other GMs that he is the property of the Lakers. Sometimes life is just not fair. However, it is a good time to be a Laker fan.

  31. Really good post, good thread. I’ve read though it a few times, keep coming back for new comments. Good stuff.

  32. I really liked this post – it’s time we stop focusing on Drew’s injuries, and look at what he’s doing on the court. If the injuries come, they come – let’s just enjoy the fact that we have one of the best centers in the league right now.

  33. On a side note: I know Kobe is a shoe-in, and Pau is almost a lock to make the all-star team. How about Bynum and Odom? I know a lot of “deserving” players don’t make it… but with injuries to some big men in the west, and the impending trade of Melo to an eastern team, do you think LO and Drew have a realistic shot at making the team this year?

  34. The All-Star game is really a fan’s fantasy team. I wouldn’t mind our #3 and #4 guys having the time off to rest, however. LO because he has been playing basketball for almost a year and a half and Andrew because he is still recovering from surgery.

  35. Kobe and Drew are locks for the All-Star game because Kobe is the leading vote getter and Drew is second to Yao Ming who will not play due to injury. If Carmelo goes to the East then Pau is a lock with the third most votes. Lamar is on the bubble because others are having slightly better years (read Dirk, Griffin, and KLove) two of whom are ahead of him in votes. It would be a nice nod but I think Dirk and Griffin will go instead.

  36. @JB #18

    I made the same comment after the game about Lamar. The guy gets another double double with 18 rebounds (six on the offensive side) and doesn’t get mentioned anywhere!!! What’s up with that???!!!!

    @Darius

    Why did the above comment get moderated?

  37. #36. The comment was caught by our internal filter, not by one of us that review comments. I’ve approved it.

  38. Not sure Drew is a lock for the All Star game. From what I understand, Yao will be voted in, but the coaches will pick his replacement. In that case I can’t see Drew getting in.

  39. #38. Actually, I’ve been told that Stern will pick the replacement if a starter that was voted in is unable to play due to injury. Then, the coach would choose which player would actually start the game.

    So, in theory, if Yao is voted in, Stern would choose one of the snubs (and there will be a deserving Forward – or 3 – that don’t make it) and then Pop would decided who fills in for Yao on game night.

    If I had to guess, I’d say that more than one of Love/Griffin/Aldridge/Bynum/LO/Millsap won’t make the team and Stern will pick one. Then, Gasol (who is likely to make the team) or Duncan (who is also likely to make the team) will get the start in Yao’s place.

  40. I don’t see how Drew is an All-Star this season. He’s hardly been on the floor for the first half of the year, regardless of whether he’s now considered the “best” center in the West. I love the kid and would love to see him develop into an All-Star every season. But this year, after missing nearly 30 games? Can’t say he deserves it.

  41. If Stern had sense, he would let the rookie play. Blake Griffin is the business. The game is in LA too. Too bad Magic isn’t still playing, the kid would be the MVP.

  42. Having said that, Duncan will probably be named to the team.

  43. I agree with Darius here, his court vision and willingness to pass has noticeably improved. I remember the exact play Darius was speaking of, the cross court pass to Fish which led to an easy look for Odom…but I remember it in a little more detail. The pass came after Bynum took a couple of dribbles toward the hoop with his back to the basket, and then with one hand, he made the pass to Fish right off his dribble. Just that control he exhibited made me realize the improvement he has made on the offensive end. His defense has also greatly improved, especially his shot blocking and shot changing ability. Before, Bynum would routinely get baited into committing shooting fouls on shorter players, but now I notice a different approach to his defensive philosophy. Bynum now waits for his opponents to commit to their shot before making his block attempt. He is moving his feet better, keeping himself in perfect position, letting his opponent basically go up with their shot whenever they want, and either blocking it or at least changing their shot. In other words, his timing is in all aspects of the game is becoming a great thing to see.