Archives For Andrew Bynum

Records: Lakers 4-4 (6th in West), Warriors 2-4 (10th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.2 (12th in NBA), Warriors 98.9 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.9 (12th in NBA), Warriors 106.5 (22nd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Monta Ellis, Ishmael Smith (Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush are also possible replacements for the injured Stephen Curry), Dorell Wright, David Lee, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Derrick Caracter (out), Josh McRoberts (questionable); Warriors: Stephen Curry (out)

The Lakers Coming In: To observe these Lakers through the prism of conventional wisdom is an exercise in futility. That they’ve lost half of their first eight games, with one true howler in the bunch, is somewhat disappointing, but the stylistic inconsistency they’ve exhibited in arriving at this point is nothing short of infuriating.

The Lakers return home following- stop me if you’ve heard this before- a come-from-ahead loss in the Rose Garden. In and of itself, the 107-96 defeat is hardly a shock- the Lakers have dropped an incredible 24 of 30 regular season games in Portland during the Kobe Bryant era. What is maddening, however, is this team’s ongoing refusal to play to its greatest strength.

It stands to reason that on the heels of a red-hot first half, with Andrew Bynum a perfect 7-for-7 from the field, against a front line that features a defensively average (at best) LaMarcus Aldridge and the two-headed fossil that is Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, a team would exhaust every avenue to ensure that its star big man saw as much of the ball as possible going forward. The Lakers (namely Kobe Bryant) however, rather than continuing to pound the paint at all costs and allow Bynum to continue his evisceration of the Blazers’ bigs, were content to allow the game’s final 23 minutes to elapse with a mere eight field goal attempts from their MVP candidate* – with catastrophic results.

To lay the entirely (or even the majority) of the blame for Thursday’s defeat at Kobe’s doorstep would be totally irresponsible. The Lakers’ supporting cast- those players not named Bynum, Bryant or Gasol- combined to connect on just eight of 29 shots (27.6%) and missed all seven of their 3-point attempts. Gasol, meanwhile, turned in a performance that is becoming frustratingly commonplace. While he made seven of his 10 shots from the field for 19 points, Pau was essentially a non-factor down the stretch, both offensively (he made three of four in the second half, but c’mon! FOUR attempts??) and on the glass, where he did not manage his sixth rebound until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, when the game had already been decided.

No, Kobe Bryant, who made 13 of 24 shots (he missed four 3-pointers of his own, however) en route to 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds, is not the primary culprit of this defeat. However, with each passing game (actually just the losses), it becomes increasingly evident that Kobe Bean’s career has come full circle, but in a bizarre manner in which he finds himself once again diverting his attention from the game’s best offensive big man (to the tune of a whopping 38.85 Usage Rate), only this time someone else is the superstar on the ascent.

This is neither a call for Kobe Bryant to surrender his superstar status, nor to resign himself to spending his twilight as a role player. This is, however, an appeal to Kobe to recognize that in order for this team, his team, to legitimately compete for a championship, he must do what Shaq never could- give an inch.

* Yeah, I went there.

The Warriors Coming In: These are not your daddy’s Warriors. These aren’t even your Warriors.

Gone are the fun-and-gun days of Nellyball, when the defensively challenged Dubs would roll into town, pedal to the floor and fight tooth and nail to outscore you, succeeding roughly a third of the time. Oh, they still struggle on defense (22nd in the NBA) and after winning two of three to start the season, they still only win about a third of the time. They just do it more slowly now.

For the second time in six years, the Warriors are not among the NBA’s two most uptempo teams. Thing is, unlike last season, when they played the same style of ball and merely rounded out the top five, this season’s 91.4 possessions per game represent a paradigm shift. A high-IQ floor general in his playing days, rookie head coach Mark Jackson’s first order of business upon sweeping into town this offseason was to seek out the brake pedal. While this new philosophy is likely to pay dividends in the long run, it will take time for Jackson to change the mindset (or the composition) of the roster he inherited. In the meantime, there will be growing pains on D, with fewer opportunities to put points on the board.

Entering the season- as tends to be the case with this team- the Warriors’ biggest strength was expected to be in the backcourt. One half of that unit, Monta Ellis- a man I’ve likened to Allen Iverson– not only ranks (once again) among the league’s hardest working (40 minutes per game), most productive backcourt scorers (23.8 points per game; 22.5 APER, per Hoopdata) and prolific penetrators (making 62.2% of 7.4 attempts per game inside of 9 feet, including 5.4 at the rim), but is enjoying his best season as a facilitator (8.2 assists per game and a career-high 23.78 Assist Rate) and is coming off of a spectacular 38-point performance against the Spurs Wednesday night.

His running mate, however, is another story. The Warriors will be without Stephen Curry for at least two games, after their second-year maestro rolled his left ankle in San Antonio for the second time in the young season, in a rather frightening scene, as he walked the ball upcourt, with no one in his general vicinity. These Warriors aren’t exactly world-beaters with Steph in the lineup. In his absence, with the likes of Ishmael Smith, Klay Thompson or Nate Robinson trying to fill the void, the Dubs’ outlook is bleak.

Warriors Blogs: For the Warriors’ perspective on tonight’s tilt at Staples, check out the excellent Golden State of Mind, as well as Warriors World, one of the web’s best team sites and the domain of FB&G’s own J.M. Poulard.

For more on Stephen Curry’s injury, check out these excellent pieces from Warriors World’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Hardwood Paroxysm’s Danny Chau.

Key to the game: No brain surgery here. This is a game the Lakers should win with minimal fuss. Which not to say that a strong effort will not be necessary, but with sustained focus in one vital area:

Dominate the interior. Plain and simple. At the moment there is not a defender outside of Central Florida that can stop Andrew Bynum, who’s averaging 22.3 on just 15.3 field goal attempts per game and crashing the boards (15.8 per game; 37% Defensive Rebound Rate, 26% Total) at a higher rate than anyone in the league. The Lakers must feed their beast early and often, as the Warriors have little beyond former Laker Kwame Brown (a big body and decent defender) and Andris Biedrins (big body, not a decent defender) to throw at Bynum on the block.

Additionally, the rest of the Lakers’ Big Three will do well to follow the big man’s lead and head inside, as Pau Gasol will spend much of the evening dueling with David Lee – as bad an interior defender as there is in the NBA – who, should foul trouble or extreme abuse on the defensive end become an issue is back up Ekpe Udoh, potentially a good defender but a total non-factor on offense. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant is likely to be checked by some combination of Monta/Ish Smith/Klay/Nate Rob/Dorell Wright. ‘Nuff said there.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm local start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

The Broken Building Block?

Darius Soriano —  December 8, 2011

Emile Avanessian runs the fantastic site Hardwood Hype and is a friend of FB&G. He’ll be contributing to FB&G periodically and his first effort looks at Andrew Bynum as a building block and franchise player of the future. Please join me in welcoming  him. You can follow him on twitter here.

Barring a league-altering trade that for the second time in a decade and a half would deliver a Sunshine State Superman to Staples Center (yeah, I know Shaq first arrived at the Forum, but I wanted to ride that one out), there is a good chance that Andrew Bynum will be the next face of the Lakers franchise. And on the surface it makes perfect sense.

I’ve maintained for some time that when healthy, Andrew Bynum is the NBA’s most skilled pure center. When healthy, he’s one of a small (and dwindling) number of old-school big men capable of dominating the paint at both ends. At his best, thanks to an ungodly combination of physical tools and mastery of the game’s finer points, to say nothing of the tutelage of the Captain himself, Bynum resembles an evolutionary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

At seven-feet and nearly 300 pounds, Andrew Bynum goes where he wants on a basketball court. On offense, he does an outstanding job of carving out post position. Once there, he creates a “big target” for a passer, and has great coordination and soft hands with which to receive the ball. Once those hands are on the ball, be it off of a pass or a rebound, he- a la Kareem- does an exceptional job of keeping the ball high, where few, if any, members of the human race have a realistic shot at acquiring it from him. A defender’s job gets no easier when he goes to work in the post, where he possesses excellent footwork, strong, fundamentally sound post moves and- the aspect of his game in which Kareem’s fingerprints are most visible- an outstanding eye for passing lanes and great finesse on his passes, out of double teams as well as to cutters, both on the baseline and in the lane.

At the defensive end, Bynum’s jumping ability and incredible wingspan make him a terror for anyone looking to attack the paint. Not only is he excellent at changing shots near the rim, he addresses a significant Laker-specific issue by helping to negate, at least partially, the team’s shocking lack of speed and quickness at the point. Derek Fisher (now 37) and Steve Blake are still in the mix, as is Darius Morris, a talented youngster from Michigan that could have an impact as a rookie, but is little better equipped than his veteran counterparts to deal with the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.

Just 24 years old, 20+ PER each of the past four seasons, at least 9.7 rebounds/36 minutes each of the last five seasons, 12+ twice (12.2/36 last season) and a Block Rate superior to Dwight Howard’s (4.8 v. 4.5). A double-double waiting to happen and a virtual lock to put up no worse than 18, 12 and 2.5 blocks over an entire season. Simply put, when healthy, Andrew Bynum is potentially a franchise cornerstone.

When healthy. Continue Reading…

Yesterday afternoon, Mark Medina wrote a post about how Yao Ming’s early retirement should be taken as a lesson by Andrew Bynum, another promising center whose future career is still pretty much a question mark due to his injury history. From Medina’s post:

There are several lessons Bynum could take if he watched Yao Ming announce his retirement Wednesday in China after an accomplished nine-year career ended because of recurring injuries. Should Bynum be wary of a similar fate? Will Bynum’s career be cut short because of continuous trips to the trainer’s room to treat his wobbly knees? Will his legacy be tainted like Yao’s with wondering what Bynum could’ve accomplished had he stayed healthy? And will Bynum eventually need to adopt a plan the Rockets prescribed for Yao in which he wouldn’t play more than 24 minutes per game?

I’ve been of the pro-Bynum camp for some years now. However, recent history tells the story of the “challenges of building around a center vs. you need size to contend for rings” paradox. In recent years, the Mavericks, Lakers and Celtics have all been Finals champions by winning with size, but none of those teams were exactly built around a center. Dallas with Dirk, the Lakers with Kobe and the Celtics with Pierce.

Conversely, we’ve seen the Magic struggle to get over the conjectural hump with Dwight Howard as their centerpiece and Houston struggled even more with Yao always battling injuries. Even the Trailblazers know how hard it is to contend with an injury prone center with Greg Oden (and even Sam Bowie in ’84) spending a large majority of his young career on the sidelines.

So where do the Lakers go with Andrew Bynum?

It’s been clear that Jim Buss is willing to hold on to Bynum by any means necessary, but is it wise to focus the future of your franchise on a young center who has had his fair share of injuries? At this point, it’s hard to give a definite answer considering the fact that ‘Drew has shown flashes of absolute brilliance on both sides of the ball, and could make a legit claim to be the league’s second best center when healthy — but that qualifier is exactly what has a lot of us questioning whether or not Bynum is the future.

Without question, if you can have the best center in your conference in a league that has been dominated by size in recent years, you have to say yes. However, it doesn’t make sense to keep him if he’s going to spend more time in street close than on the hard wood. When the lockout ends, the Lakers are going to have a lot of minor roster questions to deal with, but the franchise’s big picture question about their future is surely whether or not they’re going to move forward with Bynum.

Last season, ‘Drew didn’t have any major injury issues. The optimists among us might point out the fact that he had a series of scary moments and nothing bad happened. On the flip side, some might wonder if that season was an outlier in a career that has shown trends of prolonged injuries. Obviously, time will tell whether or not he’s completely shaken the injury bug, and I hope he does — because if he happens to fulfill his potential, the transition after Kobe’s retirement would be a much easier one. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Lakers handle this situation and how Bynum handles his body. I’d hate for Bynum’s career to end in the same fashion as Yao’s.

More Thoughts On Game 2

Darius Soriano —  April 21, 2011

Last night’s win is still taking up a lot of space in my crowded brain. So with that, I’ve no choice but to spill out random thoughts about the Lakers’ first win of these playoffs…

  • Pau Gasol is taking a lot of heat for his performance so far this series and based off his stat lines and his penchant for shooting turnaround jumpers, I can understand why. Nearly every one expects more from Gasol (myself included) and it’s fair to say that he’s been a disappointment in the first two games. That said, last night I spent nearly the entire final three quarters pleading to my TV for the Lakers to run any sort of action that would put Pau in better position to do damage. Nearly every time the Lakers ran an action for Gasol to get the ball, it involved him moving from weak to strong side without the aid of a screen to make the catch or asked for him to fight for position on the weakside for a post isolation. I’ve come to the conclusion that these plays will not work. Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor are simply stronger than Gasol and are consistently uprooting him and knocking him off his spots. Furthermore, when Pau does make the catch he’s unable to drive by them or back them down without also being bumped off his path (please note, this is not a complaint about the refereeing). All I ask is for someone, anyone, to set a screen for Gasol to give him that extra second to make a catch without a defender draped all over him. Any screen will do. A back screen in Center opposite sets. A cross screen by a cutting wing to bring him to the middle of the key when the strong side post is filled. A rub screen by the guard when Pau makes his catch at the elbow. Any of these actions will work and all of them are basic actions built into the Triangle. I just don’t see the point in telling Pau that the solution to all of his problems are getting lower (to build a stronger base) and working harder. That’s part of the solution, but not all of it. The coaches need to help him help the team.
  • Our old friend Trevor Ariza really hurt the Lakers yesterday. He hit a variety of shots – some unexpected, some not – that really kept the Hornets afloat on offense. And while I understand that a repeat performance isn’t likely, it’s surely possible considering how Trevor did his damage. The Hornets consistently deployed Ariza on the extended wing and had him avoid the short corner. They moved him up high so that in the event that Chris Paul passed him the ball he could either shoot the three in space or attack hard to the middle of the floor to his strong hand. The Lakers wings are going to help off Trevor consistently (as they should) to cut off the lane when Chris Paul drives, but when they recover to Trevor they mustn’t do so in a way that invites the drive. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to surrender open three pointers to Ariza and make him prove he can get hot like it’s 2009. Yesterday he hit 2 of 3 from deep, but can he hit 5 of 7? The Lakers never made him prove it and instead ran out to him only to see him use his dribble to drive right by the close out. In a game of mostly expert defense from the Lakers, this was one area they needed to be better. Hopefully in game 3 and beyond, they will be.
  • Andrew Bynum’s fantastic game was discussed at length in the recap, but one thing I was especially proud of was his singular focus and lack of moping when things didn’t go his way. On one specific play Bynum posted up hard on the ball side only to see the ball swing back the other direction and go into Gasol instead. Pau lost the ball and the Hornets ended up racing the floor the other direction. In season’s past, Bynum – who did not get the post touch he desired earlier in the possession – might have moped back on D and trailed the play. Instead he busted down court in a full sprint and ended up picking off a cross court pass to a man that was in the corner. Big Drew ran nearly baseline to baseline to grab a steal on a pass that the Hornets only made because they thought it was open. Bynum erased that opening with pure hustle and desire. It was a single play in a series of sloppiness from both sides and likely won’t be remembered by anyone when the playoffs are over. But it stood out to me. Our guy has come a long way in the past 18 months.
  • I’m a believer in statistics and how they can be used to further analyze the game. I respect metrics like PER, on/off stats, pace based efficiency numbers, and all the insight that can be gleaned from them. That said, last night a Laker scored 0 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, handed out 5 assists (to 2 turnovers), had no steals or blocks, but had a major impact on the game. Steve Blake may not have given the Lakers much on the stats page (save for the team high in assists that were a strong tangible contribution), but his organization of the Lakers sets, his ability to involve his teammates on offense, his desire to push the ball up court, and his scrappiness on defense were all key ingredients to the win. I know that for many Blake has not been the guy we’d hoped in terms of numbers provided and stats accumulated. But last night he gave his team a shot in the arm. He made a difference. I’m very happy that he’s back.
  • I’m really hopefull that Shannon Brown can find his stride at some point these playoffs. His good to bad possessions ratio has been steadily moving in the wrong direction and I’d love for him to find a way to reverse the trend. His last couple months of action could be perfectly summed up by the sequence where he sunk a three pointer after a great two man game of post entries and kick outs, only to come down the next possession and jack up an extremely suspect long jumper. Maybe I should stop holding out hope, but I have to think he can find some sort of rhythm to his game this post-season. The Lakers will need him.

As we’re all aware, Andrew Bynum has missed the last two Laker games due to suspension. He leveled an airborne player, that player crashed to the ground, Bynum was ejected and suspended two additional games as extra punishment. There are various ways to look at the foul and subsequent suspension but I’m not here to argue those points. I understand that some are, essentially, okay with what Bynum did (for a variety of reasons) but I am not one of those people. We can agree to disagree if you’re on the other side of this debate. I’m perfectly okay with that.

Again, though, I’m not here to discuss Bynum as tough guy/dirty player/enforcer. There are bigger things to focus on, like how the Lakers played in his absence and why it’s now more clear than ever that the Lakers need him playing well to achieve their ultimate goal this season.

Earlier in the year when Bynum was missing games while recovering from his knee injury, the Lakers suffered for it. That said, they suffered not from any contributions he was providing but rather because the Lakers needed bodies. I feel entirely comfortable in saying that during Bynum’s absence early in the year the team suffered more because it forced heavy minutes onto Pau and his play dipped because of it. The fact that Theo Ratliff was injured and Phil didn’t trust rookie Derrick Caracter to perform in spot duty meant that Gasol carried an inordinate load on both sides of the ball and he started to play worse due to the increased wear.

Essentially, Bynum’s absence created a domino effect that the Lakers, and Pau specifically, had trouble dealing with.

However, in these last two games with Bynum out, the Lakers not only saw that same domino effect (Pau was inefficienct offensively in both games – shooting 15-40 while scoring 38 points – while still doing a good job in rebounding – totalling 26 in the two games) but we also saw how much the team really missed Bynum.

With the restructuring of the Lakers defensive sets to capitalize on Bynum’s sheer size and ability to block and alter shots, the fact that Bynum is out makes it so the Lakers clearly lose something on defense. Against both the Blazers and the Suns the Lakers found themselves scrambling on D and switching big men onto guards/wings more often than in recent games with Bynum available. This switching led to more mismatches all over the court that the Lakers had difficulty dealing with. Just look at a lot of the open jumpers that Nic Batum got or how Gasol ended up switching onto Nash late in the Suns game. These are only two examples but they’re reflective of how the Lakers scheme was compromised in order to better cover for each other – something that we saw much less of with Bynum playing.

I understand two games is a small sample size and that what I’ve desribed could be chalked up to sample size or the opponent. After all, Phoenix with their uptempo P&R heavy offense and Portland with their slow down screen and post centric sets offer two of the more polarizing styles that a team could face in back to back games. That said, when the same trends pop up in both match ups, I think it’s fair to say that it may not be the opponent, but rather the Lakers style that’s dictating what’s seen. And what we saw was a team – despite some good defensive numbers against Portland – that wasn’t playing that same peak level D as it was with Bynum available. And since this team will go as far as their defense takes them, I think this is important to note.

At this point, I’m just happy that Bynum is coming back on Friday. Without him, the Lakers are an excellent team that has just as good a shot to win the title as the Bulls, Spurs, and Celtics. With him playing – especially at the level he was playing at before his suspension – I think the Lakers are the favorites. So while I’m happy for the wins that the Lakers got while Bynum sat out, I’m more excited about the wins they hope to get when he’s back in the fold. And based off some of the little things I saw with him out, his value may mean plenty of them.

Welcome To Rumorville

Darius Soriano —  February 8, 2011

The last two plus weeks before the trade deadline are always the most active when it comes to proposed deals, leaks, and misdirection. Teams are consistently working the phones trying to improve their teams’ prospects for the current and future seasons while simultaneously working the media to try and gain leverage in accomplishing these goals.

Today, we’ve seen the perfect example of this with the latest report that the Lakers are “in discussions” with the Nuggets involving a trade for Carmelo Anthony. Chris Broussard (who has a good reputation in being on top of such matters – he was one of the first reporting LeBron to Miami) has the scoop:

The Lakers and the Denver Nuggets have had preliminary discussions about a blockbuster trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles, according to league sources. The Lakers’ package would be built around Andrew Bynum.

When you dig deeper into the column though, you get a better sense of how close this deal actually is (or in this case, isn’t):

It is believed that the Lakers have not yet made an offer for Anthony but that the two clubs have merely had discussions. (emphasis mine)

And more:

The Lakers’ front office is not in full agreement on dealing Bynum…Jim Buss, son of owner Jerry, was in charge of the franchise when Bynum was drafted with the 10th pick in 2005 and has consistently resisted any attempts to move him, including a deal for free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh last season.

So, really, this seems like some smoke but not a lot of fire. In reality, I see this leak more as a way for Denver to gain leverage in any deal that they do ultimately strike in sending Anthony away. Denver knows that once the Nets dropped out of the ‘Melo sweepstakes, they not only lost their best offer but they also lost the deal that they could leverage all other deals against. The most recent offer from the Knicks (in a reported three team deal involving the Timberwolves) reflects that as the Nuggets would have received marginal talent back, fewer draft picks and young players, and only a big salary savings to show for losing their franchise player. 

When viewed from this perspective, it makes perfect sense that the Nuggets would try to engage other teams into talks, discuss more desirable pieces (in this case Bynum, and then use those talks as leverage to other teams as evidence that the offers that come in need to be better than the one they’re discussing. This isn’t to say that “talks” aren’t happening or havne’t occured. Mitch Kupchak said that he’d be more than willing to engage teams in trade talks just  a week ago. 

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However, why these talks are out there is a different subject than whether or not the deal is a good one. Forget the extra pieces that would likely be involved so the Nuggets are happy with the final outcome (it’s been widely reported they want to dump bad contracts – see Harrington, Al – in a Melo trade) and just  deal with a straight up swap of Melo for Bynum.

Does this make the Lakers a better team? That’s a complex question that needs to be looked at from both the short and long term.

At Land O’ Lakers, Brian Kamenetzky touches on both angles, but has this to say about the short term prospect of swapping the two:

Doing so in the middle of the season, even for a more established star like Anthony, makes a three-peat for the Lakers less likely. Short the highly improbable scenario of swapping Bynum for another high-end 7-footer, removing him from the equation and integrating (likely) another A-list wing or backcourt scorer, Anthony or otherwise — reworking how the Lakers operate on both ends of the floor — fundamentally changes LA to the point it would be tough to jell in time to go all the way.

If the goal of any trade is to win this year, a blockbuster deal involving Bynum isn’t the best route. It’s more the emergency-chute option, and despite legitimate concerns about the Lakers, they’re not at that point. They haven’t even jumped out of the plane, yet. The Lakers remain elite as constructed and prominent in any credible championship conversation, and I firmly believe this core deserves a chance to keep the streak alive.

Brian does, however, go on to say that he’d likely pull the trigger (go read the entire piece for his reasoning – it’s well thought out). In an email exchange I had with Reed, he also said that he’d do the deal:

I understand the fit issues, but in the end I’d do it. The key question to me is — what gives you the better opportunity to win titles over the next 5 years. I think healthy Bynum is a better fit this season, next to Kobe and Pau, but we’ve never seen healthy Drew in the playoffs. And, I think we need to start thinking a little about what happens when Kobe slows down, which he is already doing (he isn’t closing in the final minutes against great teams like in the past). Melo + Pau is a really nice combination. So, I like Melo over Drew over the next 5 years.

Personally, I see both sides of this (and Reed’s point about long term planning is a key one) but continue to lean towards keeping Bynum. For one, the Lakers’ size is one of their biggest strengths and any deal that diminishes that without bringing in a quality big to supplement Pau/Odom is not worth it to me. And while I don’t want to get too picky, it would need to be a big man that is skilled enough to play in the Triangle, is defensive minded, and is less a health risk than Bynum. Guys like that don’t exactly grow on trees. And if we’re only talking Bynum/Melo in this trade, who steps into the back up Center role for the Lakers? Ratliff is injured, Joe Smith barely plays in blowouts, and Caracter hasn’t yet earned the trust of the coaches.

Second, I think pairing Kobe with another high usage wing is somewhat problematic. Both can be prone to inefficient shooting nights and both do a fair amount of work out of the triple threat where they are prone to holding the ball, waiting for a potential double team, and then attacking with their own shot if the second defender doesn’t come. I envision there being some harsh growing pains as those two learn to play off each other while still involving Gasol at the level he’d need to be for the offense to still run smoothly.

Third, there is the issue of team composition. Right now, the Lakers have a trio of bigs to rotate between PF/C, four wings to alternate between SG and SF (with a healthy Barnes), and two point guards. If Melo comes in that dynamic shifts. There’s the issue of who picks up minutes at back up Center that I already mentioned, but how do the SF minutes get divided. I know that Melo (or Barnes/Artest) could play PF in spot minutes to relieve Odom, but all of those guys are natural SF’s and none of them are viable options at SG. That means you’re really not getting a lot of minutes for 2 of the top 8 players on the team (Artest and Barnes).

In the end, I don’t see a deal like this happening, but I do see the value in exploring it. I’m not on board. But reasonable arguments do exist that would be for it. What are your thoughts?

Records: Lakers 33-15 (2nd in West), Rockets 22-27 (11th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (2nd in NBA), Rockets (110.1 (5th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (10th in NBA), Rockets 109.9 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Rockets: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes and Andrew Bynum (both out); Rockets:Yao Ming (out), Jared Jeffries & Courtney Lee & Brad Miller (all questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Two straight losses (especially when one is to the Celtics) has a lot of fans panicking and has GM Mitch Kupchak talking about exploring trade options. My brief take on this is that a trade is doubtful for several reasons:

  • The Lakers have few trade-able assets that aren’t core players that the team doesn’t want to get rid of. I’m sure the Lakers are more than willing to explore trades of guys like Walton, Ebanks, and Caracter. And while Artest and Blake are guys that aren’t performing up to expectations right now, their contracts are problematic AND they’re guys that do have defined roles on the team. Brown and Barnes have low salaries and thus can’t fetch much back unless it’s an equally low paid player that the Lakers trust to play well. That leaves Bynum, Odom, Gasol, Fisher, and Kobe. Raise your hand if you think the Lakers would seriously consider trading any of those guys. (Note: my hand is still down.)
  • Money is still an issue for this team. Besides the Pau Gasol trade, the every Laker trade has been made to cut costs. Radman and Sasha were salary dumps. It’s very unlikely at this point that the team is willing to add to an already league high payroll.
  • Mitch Kupchak typically keeps things quiet. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall any leaks about the trades that brought in Gasol, Ariza, Shannon/Ammo, or Joe Smith. Mitch normally doesn’t let information out easily. The fact that he openly discussed the possibility of a trade actually leads me to believe a trade is less likely, not more.

That last point is the key one to me, though. Kupchak’scomments that a shake up may be in order centered entirely around the performance of the current group. His comments included several references to the team having enough talent and that it’s currently under-performing. That sounds like a man that’s telling his team to get in gear, not one that’s planning a big move. I could be wrong, obviously. But the public nature of this discussion andthe fact that the core players (i.e. players with trade value) are guys the team wants to keep has me thinking no deal is eminent. We’ll see though.

The other major news of the day is that Andrew Bynum has been ruled out of tonight’s game. An MRI exam showed a bone bruise on his left knee andif you noticed him limping or sporting some tape aroundthat leg during the Boston game, that’s why. (As an aside, the right knee is the one with the brace and the one that he had off-season surgery on.) After yesterday’s practice, Phil relayed the fact that Drew hoped to play tonight, but alas he’s been ruled out. I know that the words “Bynum” “hurt” and “knee” often cause panic, but based off reports this isn’t serious. Hopefully he’ll be back by Thursday to face the Spurs. We’ll get you updates as we get them. 

The Rockets Coming in: Honestly, this team has been flying under the radar for me of late. When you look at their schedule, they’re 2-4 in their last 6, but in that stretch they faced Orlando, Dallas, and San Antonio. All of those teams are better than Houston so losses aren’t that big a concern. They’re currently 4 games out of the 8th spot in the playoffs and unless they make a big push after the all-star break, this team may find itself out of the post-season.

One difference of late, though, is that the Rockets have been starting Kyle Lowryat PG rather than Aaron Brooks. For a while that was injury related as Brooks missed many games with a badly sprained ankle. However, upon his return, he’s been relegated to reserve status as the team has preferred Kyle Lowry’s defense and ability to attack off the dribble to Brooks’ long range bombing and lack of D. With the Rocketson the bottom quarter of the league in defensive efficiency, I can understand why.

Rockets Blogs: A few quality spots to get Rockets news and analysis. Red94 is one such site. As is The Dream Shake.

Keys to game: With Bynum out, the Lakers are going back to their LO/Gasol frontline and that means a bit of a different approach on offense. We’re likely a shift from Kobe to Lamar as intitiator in the Lakers’ two guard front of the Triangle. Kobe will probably play much more on the wing andat the weak side elbow with Lamar making the initial pass into the corner or the hub of the Triangle to get the Lakers’ actions going.

This means that the Lakers’ attack will change some as rather than Kobe doing a lot of his work off the dribble, he’ll be off the ball more. Hopefully this creates better ball and player movement for the team and allows others to “activate” themselves in the Lakers’ sets. This also means that Pau will move off the wing and elbow and more into the low post for longer stretches this game. Going up against Chuck Hayes is never a picnic for Pau as Hayes’ low center of gravity and quick feet allows him to push Gasol out further than he’d like on his catches and makes backing down to earn position harder. However, if the Lakers can get Pau to make his catch on the move and coming to the ball, I think tonight can be a night where Pau gets good shots inside using his jump hook (a shot that has been too absent from his arsenal in the past several weeks).

Defensively, the Lakers must be disciplined and understand that they’re in store for a lot of cuts, screens, and misdirection tonight. Rick Adelman’s preference for the Princeton offense means a lot of high post entries to big men with wings like Martin, Battier, and Budinger screening and cutting off those picks to either fade to the corner for open shots or cut hard back door for layups. Every Laker must be aware of what’s going on and communication on D will be crucial to the team’s success in defending these actions.

From an individual standpoint, the Rockets O tries to feature the efficient Kevin Martin on the wing and the crafty Luis Scola on the block. Controlling Martin is always tricky because he moves well off the ball to free himself up for his jumper but also uses the threat of that J to drive the ball hard into contact andearn trips to the foul line. As evidence of this he’s on track to becoming a player that can lead the league in both 3’s and FT’s made which is quite the feat.  So the Lakers must effectively trail him off screens to deny his jumper (you know, the opposite of how they treated Ray Allen) and with the big man supporting that action by stepping up early to deny penetration while giving the wing defender a chance to recover. As for Scola, he’s a very good post scorer but please don’t let him go to his right hand. Every fake, pivot, spin, and step through is designed for him to get back to his right hand for a jump hook or scoop shot. Force him to turn over his right shoulder, sit on his right hand, and you’ve completed 75% of the job.

This isn’t panic time but tonight is a game the Lakers need to win. Even though Phil was in a joking mood after yesterday’s practice, he mentioned that the Lakersneed to do a better job of protecting their home court while also beating the teams that aren’t currently in the playoff mix. Tonight’s opponent fits the bill on both counts. The Lakers surely don’t want to go into Thursday’s game vs. the Spurs on a 3 game skid. Let’s get this win.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on Fox Sports West. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.

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.