Improving From Within: Andrew Bynum

Phillip Barnett —  May 24, 2011

Last week, Darius wrote a post about how the Lakers can improve next season by making internal adjustments, with individual players improving their games and bodies instead of making wholesale changes. In that post, he discussed all the things Kobe can do to improve on his health that would make for a better Bryant going into the 2011-2012 season. Today, we take a look at Andrew Bynum.

As the off season progresses, talks about the Lakers getting rid of the young center for Dwight Howard may grow louder, but if they happen to fall upon def ears, no one should be particularly upset about keeping ‘Drew in the Forum Blue and Gold as he showed more promise in becoming the league’s definite second best center than he had at any point in his career. While some of his offensive metrics are down from last year (FG%, FT%, TS% to name a few), he’s improved leaps and bounds on the defensive end of the floor and has developed a mid range jump shot that we hadn’t really seen from him in previous years. While this season wasn’t his best in terms of statistics, it was definitely one of his best in terms of overall impact and showed us that, while he isn’t a perfect center, he is moving in the right direction.

However, as Darius mentioned with Kobe, ‘Drew needs to spend this summer improving his health over everything else. Bynum missed a huge chunk of the beginning of the season recovering from the knee surgery he had during last off-season. After joining the team in December, Bynum managed to play in all but three of the remainder of the Lakers regular season games and in each of the Lakers playoff games, a huge testament to how hard he worked during his rehabilitation period. His knee is still a problem though, as witnessed by the collective reactions of Lakers coaches, players and fans every time he went down and grabbed that knee. Even if he were only down for a few seconds, most of us seemed to believe the worst first, and work back from there. Naturally, it is impossible to prevent freak accidents, but putting in work to strengthen the ligaments surrounding his knee would go a long way in building his own confidence in his knee. More than once this year, we saw Bynum go down and change the way he played his game because of the fear of losing another season due to injury.

Once Andrew Bynum gets that whole body health thing down, he’s going to be a very, very good basketball player. What I loved most from Bynum’s season was his dedication to rebounding and the defensive end of the floor following the all-star break. Land O’ Lakers Brian Kamenetzky gave a great account of his stretch of brilliant play when he wrote:

The Lakers ripped off a run of 17 wins in 18 games, during which Bynum was awesome. Particularly so in 11 March games, in which Bynum finished with fewer than 12 rebounds twice, and had eight multi-block games. As a team, the Lakers allowed only 91.3 points a game for the month, holding opponents to 42 percent shooting — their best marks of the season. Again, this was the influence of Bynum. He was changing shots to the point’s J.A. Adande actually invented a stat for him (S.A.B.O.A., or Shots Altered by Bynum’s Outstretched Arms). Scoring became secondary (though he still did enough of it), as for the first time in his career, Bynum truly committed to the idea of dominating defensively and on the glass, something the Lakers had implored of him for years.

Considering how great he was in protecting the rim and cleaning the glass, it’s hard to argue that he could have played any better during that stretch, however, consistency is something that can definitely be asked of from Bynum. There are very few men in the NBA bigger and more skilled than Andrew at his best. He’s always had great timing when attempting to block shots, and he’s done a much better job of using his body instead of relying on his size to rebound. Just doing those things on a regular basis will go a long way not only for his development, but for the Lakers in general.

Lastly, I think Bynum’s offensive game will be vastly improved if he spent a little time working on his patience — something that he’s already improved on. Take a look at the following play.

Bynum gets the ball, looks to the corner, then looks over his right shoulder for cutters before even taking a dribble. After a couple of dribbles, he kicks the ball out to Fisher and then re-posts deeper and gets a nice easy jump hook out of it. There have been myrad possessions where Bynum has caught the ball and attacked the rim too quickly, or caught the ball and immediately made another pass before evaluating all of his options. I’m not saying that he needs to hold on to the ball with every catch, but doing things with a purpose and with patience will help improve some of those offensive metrics that were down this year. Also, that five to 15-foot jump shot can be a great way for him to open up things for himself in the post.

Even with an early playoff exit, I do think the Lakers have the right pieces to contend for another championship, and Andrew Bynum’s size is a huge asset. Improving an already very good center could prove to be more valuable than trading core pieces away.

Phillip Barnett