Archives For Andrew Bynum

As a Laker fan, there’s not a player I’ve disliked more in my life than Kevin McHale. Whether it was his clothesline on Rambis, how he’d lumber up and down the court, or just his lurch-like look he was the Celtic I despised most during those epic 80’s battles.

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that one of the main reasons I also couldn’t stand him was because of how good he was and how often he’d take his defender to school – especially whoever on the Lakers was checking him (that is until the Lakers traded for his college teammate Mychal Thompson). McHale was a low post monster, shooting 55% for his career and twice eclipsing the 60% barrier in a season. His mix of long arms, fantastic footwork, and ability to mix primary moves with almost unstoppable counters made him a nightmare on the low post.

So, when McHale talks low post scoring or has opinions on the games of today’s post players, you listen. His insight in this area should be as respected as much (or more) than any other legend, especially since he relied on technical skill more than athletic prowess. At the Adidas Eurocamp, McHale was doing some talking and teaching on playing on the low block and one topic he covered should be of interesest to Lakers’ fans. Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk has the story:

The question came up of how important it was for a big man to be able to learn to pass out of a double-team in the post — a skill Lakers center Andrew Bynum has struggled to develop as he’s started to face that extra defender inside. McHale said that’ll come, but smiled when the question was asked, because it’s really the very last step to come in a competent post player’s game.

“First of all, there’s like three prongs in that thing,” he said. “One, you’ve got to get good down in the low post. Two, you’ve got to get good enough to beat your man steady. Three, they double-team you — that’s the third prong, and then you’ve got to pass out, OK?

“You learn pretty quickly, because in the NBA especially, when you start getting double-teamed a lot and when teams have success, they’ll do it every single night. Bynum a year from now will be a very good post passer. He’ll know where to go, he’ll be relaxed, he’ll read it, and pass it out. Then you’ve got murder on your hands because the guy can score down there and he can pass out. And any time two (players) guard one in our league, three have got to guard four. And three cannot guard four in the NBA, the players are too good.”

During this past season, we saw Bynum progress through all three of the prongs McHale discussed. Early in the year Bynum showed that he had the strength and size to establish the deep post. From that position he then showed he could score against single coverage with great efficiency. At that point, defenses started to adjust by double teaming him and that’s where things got tricky for the first time all-star.

Throughout the year Bynum had his ups and downs in dealing with the double team, sometimes making the right read and other times forcing the action a bit too much. Rather than making the easy pass back out to the same side wing, Bynum would try to make the homerun pass to a teammate cross court that wasn’t quite open. Other times he’d try to bully his way through the double team to score rather than pass at all. And other times, he’d (seemingly) resign himself that the double team was eminent and not work for position to make a catch at all. (As an aside, the latter two issues could also be the product of the inconsistencies the Lakers showed in featuring their big men on the block. Too often the ball stuck in the hands of perimeter players – Kobe and his wing running mates are guilty of this – and not looking inside early or often enough.)

Bynum’s inconsistency in dealing with the second defender – no matter the reason – only created further incentive for defenses to continue the tactic. It’s easy to say that Bynum was getting doubled because of his ability to consistently beat single coverage, but as McHale mentioned teams also double team because they have success doing so. That means they force turnovers, bad shots, and frustration of the guy they’re doubling. Anyone that saw the last few games of the Nuggets series clearly saw a frustrated Bynum weary of constantly having to deal with double teams.

However, as McHale also said, Bynum should only continue to grow in this area. Big men must learn to navigate defenses with their back turned to the rim and getting that grasp on where and how a defense wants to attack them takes time. I liken it to how a quarterback must turn his back to the defense when executing a play-action pass in football; big men don’t often see how the defense is shifting behind them and how their teammates move in accordance with those shifts. As bigs get more comfortable with how the D wants to double them, their reads become almost automatic and are executed off muscle memory the way a counter spin move is when the defender takes away middle.

We saw flashes of that with Bynum this year but he’s not yet a finished product. However, in time, I believe he’ll get to where he needs to be. I remember the period in their respective careers when Duncan and Shaq struggled dealing with double teams, firing passes to the other team or committing traveling violations when getting pressured by the second man. Over time they learned how to stare down the pressure of the second defender and make the right read more often than not. One day, and probably soon, Bynum will get there too.

Money On The Mind

Darius Soriano —  June 5, 2012

Yesterday, the Lakers did what they’ve been saying they would for months and exercised their team option on Andrew Bynum’s contract for next season. As a result, big ‘Drew will rake in $16.1 million dollars next year (while also setting up other questions still to be answered, but that’s another topic).

This commitment to Bynum got me to thinking about the Lakers finances both short and long term. As we know the new collective bargaining agreement is designed to level the playing field through punitive penalties to high spending teams. The Lakers, of course, are one such team. So, in building for today and tomorrow, the Lakers must take into account their payroll into every move made. This may not be what fans want to hear, but it’s an inescapable truth and must be part of the calculus of how this team moves forward.

Consider the following facts:

  • With Bynum in the fold, the Lakers’ payroll for next season will be around $79.3 million. However, this is before Ramon Sessions makes a decision on his player option. If Sessions picks up his option and plays out the final year of his contract the Lakers payroll jumps to about $83.8 million. If he opts out and the Lakers re-sign him, their payroll will be even higher.
  • The above total will also be affected by the other free agent decisions that the team must make. Devin Ebanks and Matt Barnes are both free agents and losing both creates a major hole on the wing behind Kobe and Ron. The likelihood that one of them returns is high and my bet would be on Ebanks returning, though at what cost remains to be seen. Jordan Hill is also a free agent and while the CBA dictates what his maximum salary can be next year ($3.6 million) the team will need to decide if he’s a part of their future as well and at what cost. Darius Morris is also a free agent and the Lakers will need to decide if they’d like to keep him.
  • The CBA dictates that next season the luxury tax line will be at least as high as it was this season – $70 million.
  • The CBA also dictates that next year’s tax payments will equal $1 for every $1 a team is over the tax line.
  • After next season (2013-14; year 3 of the new CBA), the escalated tax penalties kick in and the year following that (2014-15; year 4 of the new CBA) teams are eligible to be hit by the repeater tax (defined as a team that pays the luxury tax for 4 years in a 5 year span).

From here it’s pretty clear that the Lakers have to think both short and long term, not only from a “how do we contend” standpoint but also a “how do we keep our payroll reasonable” standpoint. Every team will have to navigate these waters but a team like the Lakers – with heavy financial commitments to several key players – are already working with their backs against the wall. They need to balance a desire to win (now and later) with the desire (need?) to get below the tax line by the summer of 2014.

Fortunately, there’s a ready made plan of attack already built into the contracts the Lakers currently have on their books. In the summer 2014, the Lakers don’t have a single player under contract. That is the summer Kobe, Pau, Ron, and Steve Blake’s contracts all expire. At that point, the Lakers can (and likely will) work under the framework of the CBA to rebuild their team into one that can contend as quickly as possible while not going into luxury tax territory. The decisions that will need to be made at that point (especially in regards to Kobe) will be hard ones no doubt, but they’re properly set up to make them.

(Side note: What happens with Andrew Bynum long term will affect the Lakers’ payroll for 2014 and beyond. If he signs an extension or tests free agency but returns to the Lakers, he will be on the books beyond 2014 and his salary must be accounted for here. The same can be said if he’s traded for an equal talent that the Lakers feel is a cornerstone player for their future. Whatever the case, it’s fair to assume the Lakers will have a max (or close to max) level contract on their roster that summer. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the aforementioned players’ contracts are expiring and the team will be positioned to get under the tax line that summer.)

Of course, that’s not the only year with financial concerns. The 2013-14 season will hit the Lakers hard in terms of tax payments. Eric Pincus did some math on the matter and estimates a $92 million dollar payroll in player contracts (an amount he calculates based off filling out the roster) will equate to $144.5 million dollars in payroll + luxury tax payments. Are the Lakers willing to spend that much that season? The answer to that question will dictate every roster decision we see in between now and then.

As we’ve been saying all off-season, the Lakers will have many decisions to make in terms of how they want to build a team and what model will be most successful for them. However, we mustn’t forget that financial concerns will always loom large. These concerns will be part of every roster move made (or not made) and will shape the details of any deal significantly. So, while Andrew Bynum’s option being picked up was a no-brainer and great news for Lakers fans, there will be harder decisions to be made in the future in how the Lakers spend to compete.

*Payroll and salary information via Shamsports

Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Deron Williams.

What do those names have in common?

All-stars? Check. All-NBA performers? Indeed. Franchise cornerstones? You betcha.

They’re all also players that had their free agency status become a major storyline within the last couple of years. Questions about whether they’d stay or go once their contracts were up or if their team would end up trading them were discussed ad nauseam by fans and media alike. Besides Dwight Howard, none of those players actually does still play for the team that wrestled with their star player’s contract status (and Dwight may not start next season on the Magic either). LeBron and Bosh left as free agents (though technically were signed and traded) while Paul, Carmelo, and Deron were all traded for packages of attractive assets (young players, expiring contracts, and draft picks).

Will Andrew Bynum be next?

One of the under-discussed topics related to Bynum’s future is the fact that he’s entering into his walk year; that after next season he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers’ front office has already stated they’re planning to pick up Andrew’s option for next season, but beyond that we don’t yet know what his future holds.

Will he sign a contract extension? Will he test the waters and explore his free agent options? No one really knows at this point.

When asked about his future after the Lakers’ game 5 defeat to the Thunder, Bynum first said that he didn’t care where he played and then added that he’d like to remain a Laker. Many have made a big deal about the “I don’t care” part of his statement but when put it into context it doesn’t bother me much at all.

Remember, Bynum’s name has appeared in countless trade rumors over the years and his mindset has always been that he’d play anywhere. It’s this mindset that’s at least partially allowed him to blossom as a player, a growth that contributes to him having the type of value that makes him attractive on the trade and free agent market. In essence, I prefer to focus on what he’s done – improve his game while contributing to the success of the team – rather than a soundbite that only shows he’ll try to continue to grow as a player regardless of where he’s playing.

That said, what’s different now is that it’s not the Lakers that hold all the cards. Bynum will have the ability to stay (sign an extension) or go (walk after next season) all while being non-committal about the entire process. Basically, his situation can quickly become comparable to the aforementioned stars above.

The Lakers front office has made their feelings about Bynum known. They see him as a franchise pillar that can be built upon. Issues surrounding attitude and maturity exist, but do so inside the body of a 7’1″, 285 pound man with long arms, soft hands, and tremendous skill. Wanting to keep that package of traits in-house is preferable to the alternative. Sure there’s some risk. Whether or not he matures and, if he does, the timeline in which it happens are important. Can his game continue to grow and can he take the next step, skill wise, to become an even better player? These are unknowns.

And this contributes to the dilemma the Lakers have on their hands. Bynum has shown tremendous progress as a player but still has enough issues to warrant serious questioning. Meanwhile his ability to decide his own future puts the Lakers in a position where they must explore all their options. We’ve been talking a lot about the framework of the team and the tough choices the Lakers have to make this off-season and Bynum’s contract status is a key component that must accounted for.

How much this will influence the Lakers remains to be seen. But, to be sure, it will influence them. Because despite this team obviously living in the short term world of “win now” while Kobe Bryant is still a top level contributor, the future is also very important. That means looking at the luxury tax and revenue sharing. It means looking at Gasol’s value. And, it means looking at Andrew Bynum and his looming free agency.

Well, that was fun.

A year after a playoff home opener in which they were brutally craved up by Chris Paul and after a(nother) regular season in which a double-digit leads made frequent cameos but were often unable to carry a show, on Sunday the Lakers physically dominated an overmatched foe in a manner that was expected, but conspicuously absent for much of the campaign. In what can only be called an ideal playoff opener, the Lakers, powered by an aggressive defense and some timely outside shooting, opened up an early double digit lead and – with the exception of a couple of barely perceptible blips – cruised to a 103-88 Game 1 victory over the Nuggets.

The Lakers were sparked by an glorious (or terrifying, depending our your perspective) defensive performance from Andrew Bynum (an NBA playoff record 10 blocked shots and the Lakers’ first postseason triple-double since Magic in 1991), sustained by a trio of outstanding postseason debuts and some timely long-range strike form Steve Blake, and capped by a blinding barrage from Kobe Bryant (9-of-14 after halftime, including 14 straight Laker points in 4:31 of the fourth quarter). Lest you forget, Pau Gasol was in attendance as well, looking every bit the part of “world’s most skilled big,” with 13 points (including a 3-pointer), 8 rebounds, 8 assists and a pair of blocked shots of his own. It was an all-around solid playoff opener, setting the tone for what should be a fairly businesslike – if more competitive – series.

This is not to say that ‘Drew will swat 11% (!!) of Denver’s shot attempts from the sky, Jordan hill double-doubles (10 and 10, with 4 offensive boards) are the new norm, nor that Devin Ebanks ought to be blindly penciled in for an ultra-efficient 12 (5-of-6 FG, 2-of-2 FT) each night (incidentally, the Lakers’ third playoff debutante, Ramon Sessions, turned in a completely replicable 14, on 6-of-11, and 5 assists). It would also be foolish to ignore the fact that, while Bynum impromptu block party dramatically dented the Nuggets’ composure in the paint (per Hoopdata, just 48.8% on shots at the rim and 13.4% from 3-9 feet out), the Lakers’ perimeter defenders did an atrocious job of keeping Denver out of the paint. The Nuggets attempted a whopping 54 shots from within nine feet, 39 of those from point blank range, more than half those by non-bigs Danilo Gallinari (5-of-8 at the rim), Andre Miller (4-of-8) and Al Harrington (0-of-4). If the Lakers are unable to prevent penetration into the lane – and remember, strong, speedy Ty Lawson was a non-factor on Sunday – in addition to probably making more than half of their shots at the rim, it’s possible that the Nuggets will be aided by a bit of gamesmanship from coach George Karl, whose postgame comments included a barb about Bynum’s “illegal” defense. Don’t be surprised if ‘Drew is clipped early with a Defensive 3 Seconds call, and forced to slightly alter his approach.

Additionally, as Karl himself suggested in the huddle – and as anyone that watched Sunday’s game will attest – the Nuggets entered Game 1 neither properly engaged mentally nor committed to pushing the breakneck pace that has been their calling card all season. A stronger showing from the starting backcourt (Lawson and Arron Afflalo shot a combined 6-of-22 and missed all five of their 3-point attempts), Al Harrington and Andre Miller (who actually had a great all-around game off the bench, with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists) combined to hit more than a third of their shots and continued efficiency and activity from the starting frontcourt of Gallinari (7-of-14, 19 points) and the Manimal, Kenneth Faried (4-of-8, 10 points, 8 rebounds and so. much. energy.) ought to make Game 2 a more competitive affair.

With all of that said, however, the blueprint with which the Lakers can look to exploit their advantages over an undersized opponent remain very much in place. With a commitment to pounding the ball inside to Bynum, Gasol and Kobe, controlling the tempo and turning the Nuggets into a halfcourt team on offense and limiting turnovers (a season-long bugaboo; they had just 11 in Game 1), Game 2, while more competitive, should mirror Game 1 in its result. Prior to the playoffs I’d predicted a six-game Lakers victory in this series. I now have a tough time seeing the Nuggets pushing this matchup past five games.

Records: Lakers: 40-23 (3rd in the West), Thunder: 46-17 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers: 106.1 (11th in the NBA), Thunder: 109.8 (2nd in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers: 104.3 (13th in the NBA), Thunder: 102.9 (9th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha
Injuries: Lakers: none; Thunder: none

The Lakers Coming In: With 96 minutes of ball remaining in a breakneck regular season, and just one day between the end of Game 66 and the beginning of the postseason, veteran playoff-bound squads – particularly those with a nicked-up superstar – are likely engaging in some late-stage R&R. Not in Lakerland, where the Purple and Gold – full complement of talent now in tow – are hustling to get back up to speed while locked in a tooth-and-nail, cross-hallway battle for playoff position and a division title.

After a seven-game absence, Kobe Bryant and his presumably less sore shin returned to action on Friday night in San Antonio. After a slow start in which he made just two of six shots, Kobe found his footing, finishing 7-of-12 from the field for 18 points in 30 minutes. Unfortunately, much of the remainder of the starting five – be it Pau Gasol (4-10 FG, 11 points in 30 minutes), Andrew Bynum (TWO rebounds, just days after grabbing 30 against the same squad) or Ramon Sessions (5 points on 2-of-9 in 24 minutes) – fell well short of the standards they’d set in the Mamba’s absence. With Tim Duncan and Tony Parker scoring an efficient 41 and Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Daniel Green and Gary Neal connecting on 80% (8-of-10) of their 3-point attempts, I’m not sure any team has the bullets in its gun to down the Spurs, but at this time of year, there’s really no excuse for putting forth that lackluster an effort on the boards and offering so little resistance in the midst of a third quarter blitz.

Looking forward, the Lakers welcome to Staples an OKC squad that’s given them fits in both meetings this season – running the Lakers ragged in a 15-point home win on February 23, then overcoming a brutal start in L.A. on March 29 and riding Russ Westbrook’s 36 to a nine-point win on the Lakers’ home floor.

The Thunder Coming In: The Thunder enter Sunday’s showdown in a situation similar to that of Lakers, trailing San Antonio by one-half game for the West’s top spot. Though they’ve won four of five, OKC is hardly firing on all cylinders. Since April 1, they’ve not only failed (in five opportunities) to notch a victory against playoff-bound opposition, but have fallen short of the 100-mark on each occasion and only once connected on better than 45% of their field goal (45.2% v. Memphis on 4/2) and 32% of their 3-point attempts (46.2% on 4/11 v. Clippers).

Rightfully, all eyes with be on OKC’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but it’s the remainder of the roster, and their ability to neutralize the Lakers trio of stars. In the paint, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins (averaging 17 points, 19.5 rebounds and 5 blocks in the previous two meetings), with glue guy extraordinaire Nick Collison off the bench, will lock horns with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, whom they’ve “held” to a combined 37 points and 20 rebounds per game.

Meanwhile, in the backcourt, Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden will look to extend Kobe’s struggles against the Thunder. In the two previous meetings, Kobe has managed a combined 47 points on an awful 14-of-49 (28.6%) from the field, due in large part to the length and athleticism of OKC’s defenders.

Thunder Blogs: For the latest news and insight on the crew from OKC, check out the excellent work done by Daily Thunder and Welcome To Loud City.

Keys to the Game: Win the battle of the bigs. It’s tough to imagine Kobe hitting the floor in full facilitator mode, but he will do well to work off of his elite duo of seven-footers on the inside. Conversely, I’d look for the Thunder to pack the middle in an effort to entice not just Kobe, but all of the Lakers perimeter players (I am including Gasol here) to abandon the inside-out approach in favor of a jump-shot heavy approach. Be it via strong entry passes or dribble penetration, a top priority for the Lakers on Sunday will be to knife into the paint and take advantage of the defensive aggressiveness of the OKC bigs to earn frequent trips to the foul line and frequent, foul-induced trips to the bench for Perk and Ibaka (especially Ibaka, with whom on the floor, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency drops to just 86.7, compared with 108.6 without; great stat from Matt Moore, via Twitter).

Additionally, and thanks to Darius for his great input here, there are two areas of great importance. First, the Lakers’ ability to deal with Westbrook in the pick and roll will be vital. In the teams’ last match up, Russ was dialed in from mid-range, which, combined with the Lakers’ bigs (namely Bynum) sagging below the screens proved deadly. It will be interesting to see if the Lakers maintain this approach on Sunday, or tweak their scheme by having the bigs play the screen a bit more aggressively. This is not to say that the bigs will must hedge hard, but by playing a bit higher on the screen, Westbrook will have to deal with a defender – one prepared to contest the mid-range J – earlier, and perhaps be forced into more rushed decisions.

Finally, and every bit as importantly, the Lakers must get back in transition. It is vital that the Lakers effectively “build a wall” against Westbrook’s penetration, while also staying with the Thunder players filling the lanes. The keys here will be better floor balance and the perimeter guys prioritizing transition D over crashing the offensive glass. With Pau and Bynum – two of the best in the biz – already attacking the offensive boards, MWP and Matt Barnes will be far better served in working to limit OKC’s easy buckets by limiting run out opportunities.

Whether it ultimately results in a victory remains to be seen, but with the Clippers nipping at their heels, a possible second round matchup looming and third career scoring title in the balance (27.9 per game, v. Durant’s 27.8; yeah, you’re right, Kobe probably doesn’t care at all about that), look for Kobe and the Lakers to ratchet up the intensity on Sunday afternoon.

Where you can watch: 12:30 PM start time on ABC. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.