Archives For Andrew Bynum

AP Photo/Sean Gardner

AP Photo/Sean Gardner

When anticipating Andrew Bynum’s return I often focused on the impact he would have defensively.  While Bynum was out of the lineup, the Lakers missed his phenomenal size and length and his ability to block and contest shots both in the paint and when closing out on mid range shooting big men.  Since his return, Bynum’s impact on that side of the ball has been about as good as we could have hoped as he’s stepped right into the game as a paint protector and shot blocker/alterer that the Lakers have sorely lacked with only Gasol and Odom as the backline defenders.

However, last night against the Hornets, Bynum’s contributions to the win weren’t limited to his defense and rebounding.  Where he really helped the Lakers was on the offensive side of the  ball.  By establishing deep post position and displaying his great touch (and power) around the hoop, Bynum scored 18 points by making 8 of his 12 field goals.  Through the power of Synergy, I went back and reviewed all 12 of his shot attempts and have made notes on each one.  Below is what I saw:

Shot #1: Kobe brings the ball up the left sideline and passes to Gasol on the wing and proceeds to cut to the sideline as Bynum sets up in the hub to form the sideline Triangle.  Rather than pass to Kobe in the short corner or Bynum in the hub, Pau reverses the ball to Fisher at the top of the key.  With Artest at the elbow, Fisher dribbles right to use Ron as a screener and then passes to Ron who popped to the top of the key to maintain spacing.  Right when Ron makes his catch, Bynum (who was still on the left block) muscles his way into the middle of the paint and Ron hits him with a direct post entry 5 feet in front of the hoop.  Bynum turns over his right shoulder and shoots a simple jumpshot that hits the heel of the rim but drops in because of the soft touch he had on the shot.

Shot #2:  As Kobe brings the ball up the left sideline, Bynum trails the play but runs up the right wing ultimately setting up on the weak side along the right lane line at the lower block.  Kobe, rather than passing to the sideline as is the norm, reverses the ball to Fisher who is the top guard in the two man front of the Triangle.  Right when Fisher receives the pass, Bynum again uses his superior size and strength to duck into the paint right in front of the rim and gets a direct line post entry from Fish.  This time turning over his left shoulder, Bynum shoots a jump hook from 4 feet out that hits the heel and bounces out long.  A great look that just didn’t fall.

Shot #3:  The Lakers are in semi-transition and Kobe is jogging the ball up court.  Bynum is running to Kobe’s left and sets up at the top of the key to set a screen for Kobe to drive to that side.  Instead, Kobe goes away from the screen, jumpstops at the FT line, and then steps through to his left to shoot a jumper.  While this is going on, Bynum rolled to the hoop, bringing Okafor with him down the lane.  When Kobe elevates, Okafor leaves Bynum to contest the shot and Kobe executes a nice drop pass to Drew who then elevates at the charge circle and throws down a dunk.  Semi-transition plays like this have been a staple of how Bynum has gotten his baskets over the years as his size and ability to dive, make the catch, and finish blend naturally with the gifted passers the Lakers possess.

Shot #4: The Lakers are again in semi-transition and Kobe has the ball coming up the middle of the  floor with Artest on the left wing and Bynum trailing slightly on the right side.  Kobe quickly looks to attack by driving hard and spinning into a back down move at the FT line.  As he elevates to shoot his jumper, Bynum inches closer to the right lane line for rebounding position, but Kobe instead passes to Artest in the left corner because his man dug down to contest Kobe’s shot.  After receiving the pass, Ron drives hard baseline and forces Okafor to leave Drew to help.  Artest flips up a lob that Bynum snares easily and after coming down quickly elevates again for a simple lay in.  This was a relatively easy play but my one take away was how big a target Bynum is when making this type of pass.  Ron literally just had to throw the ball any where above Okafor’s hands and Andrew would have made the catch and finish.

Shot #5 & #6: Lakers run their classic sideline Triangle initiation with Fisher bringing the ball up the right side.  He passes to Artest at the right wing and then proceeds to cut to the strong side corner.  Bynum fills the post on that side to form the Triangle.  Bynum works his way up the lane line to make himself available for a pass from Ron, but the defender stays on his top shoulder to deny entry.  Ron then passes to Fisher in the corner who then makes  a quick pass into Bynum who has Mbenga sealed due to the fact that DJ is trying to recover from playing on the top side when Ron just had the ball. Bynum makes the catch and quickly shoots a righty jump hook that misses to the left.  However, Bynum immediately recognizes that his shot is off, quickly moves to the ball to recover the offensive rebound, and then shoots a quick fading shot from a few feet away right in front of the basket.  The Hornets announcer says “He’s just too big.”

Shot #7:  Kobe again brings the ball up on the left side and Bynum is running ahead down the middle of the court.  ‘Drew decides to stop and set up shop at the elbow looking to set up the hand off sequence of the Triangle.  Recognizing that his defender is playing him top side, Bynum spins away looking for the lob but Kobe doesn’t hit him right away.  Instead Kobe looks to drive, but notices that Bynum’s man never rolled to the hoop to recover but rather stayed near the elbow to help on penetration.  Kobe then passes to a wide open Drew for an easy dunk.  It really doesn’t get much easier than that.  (On a side note and in full disclosure, this was one of the first possessions of the 3rd quarter and David West was guarding ‘Drew.  West was testing his sore ankle and his lack of recovery could have easily been because he couldn’t move as well on his bum wheel.)

Shot #8: Kobe brings the ball up the middle of the floor with Fisher to his left and Bynum alone the baseline at the left block.  Kobe calls for Pau (who is at the right elbow) to set a screen for him to go to his right hand.  Kobe uses the screen, drives hard to his right hand, elevates and passes to Fisher who is still cross court on the left wing.  After making the catch, Fisher immediately touch passes to Bynum who had his defender on his back due to the fact that Kobe was attacking on the opposite side of the floor just a second before.  Bynum makes the catch, turns over his right shoulder to the baseline, and sinks a left handed jump hook.  “Wow he can even use the left hand…” says the Hornets announcer, who at this point sounds a bit discouraged by the combination of size and skill that ‘Drew is flashing.

Shot #9:  The Lakers run a classic Triangle set.  Fisher brings the ball up the left side, bypasses Shannon who’s in the two guard front to hit Artest who’s on the right wing and then proceeds to cut to the ball side corner.  Because the ball is essentially skipped from strong to weak side, the post is empty and creates what’s called “Center opposite” as the post needs to be filled by one of the players that was on the original strong side.  Pau fills the post to create the Triangle with Ron and Fisher.  Ron passes to the corner to Fish and then cuts top side through the lane.  Gasol then steps out to set a screen for Fish who uses it to go to the middle.  Off the screen Fisher hits Shannon Brown who is still at the top of the key in his original position in the two guard front.  Right when Shannon make his catch, Bynum (who is still on the left low block from the original set up as Pau filled the post) posts up.  With Ron finishing his cut on the left sideline and Brown bringing the ball over to that side, the Lakers have now formed the Triangle again after the ball has reversed.  Brown hits Bynum in the post and Drew turns over his right shoulder to attempt a baby lefty hook off the glass.  The shot misses long, but to this point this was one of the more drawn out sets that the Lakers ran and it was executed wonderfully.  By utilizing both sides of the floor and using both Pau and Bynum as post threats in the possession, the Lakers showed how easily they can involve their bigs without ever having to force the action in either one’s direction.

Shot #10: Lakers again run a Center opposite action this time with Odom (who had subbed in for Pau) filling the post.  As Odom flashes to the strong side he receives the pass and proceeds to make his move to score.  However, Bynum’s man (who was on the opposite block guarding Drew) came over to help and it’s created a passing angle for LO to drop the ball off to Bynum.  He does just that and after finally gathering the ball in traffic, Bynum makes a little righty hook form inside 4 feet.  There’s few things I love more than big to big passing for easy buckets.

Shot #11: Steve Blake brings the ball up the left side of the court ahead of the rest of the team.  As he’s known to do, he slows up and lets the rest of his guys get set.  Rather than a wing coming to fill the ball side corner, everyone stays to the right side as Bynum runs down the left lane line to set up at the mid post.  Blake hits ‘Drew with a pass and cuts through to clear the side and create an isolation for Bynum against former teammate DJ Mbenga.  After taking a couple of dribbles and not gaining any ground, Bynum passes out to the perimeter and reposts to try and get better position.  The pass goes back inside for ‘Drew to go at DJ again.  This time after taking a couple of dribbles, Bynum dips his left shoulder like a pass rusher turning the corner, takes two big steps, and tries to ram the ball on a contesting Mbenga’s head.  DJ bothers the dunk attempt enough that it hits back iron and bounces away.  This may have been a miss, but man was it nice to see ‘Drew attack the hoop like that.

Shot #12: After some passing around the perimeter, the Lakers finally get set up in the Triangle on the right side with Kobe in the corner, Blake on the wing, and Bynum in the hub.  After Kobe passes to Blake and clears the side (creating a two man side with Blake and Bynum), Blake calls Drew over to set a high screen.  Bynum sets the pick to for Blake to drive left and then rolls to the short wing on the right.  Blake drives to his left, passes to Shannon who’s the other top side guard in the two man front, who then whips a quick pass into Gasol who ducked into the mid post on that side of the floor.  Gasol turns and faces, drives to his right hand and then spots ‘Drew who is still on the short right wing after his P&R action with Blake.  Gasol delivers a pass to Bynum who then sinks a 12 foot jumper on the angle.  Again, great offense from the Lakers as the ball switched sides and then great big to big teamwork as Pau played set up man for Bynum’s easy face up jumpshot.

After reviewing the tape, it’s obvious that New Orleans didn’t have the size to combat ‘Drew.  Several of his baskets came on simple duck ins where his defender didn’t have the strength or length to bother entry passes.  However, the Lakers also did a lot of good things on offense to get Bynum the ball in position to score and he capitalized on his chances by making two-thirds of his attempts.  Obviously Bynum isn’t going to be that efficient every night, but his ability to score the ball and be a threat on offense is going to help the Lakers tremendously.  Maybe not as much as his defensive presence in the paint, but as a counter to the finesse games of Pau and Lamar, Bynum’s offense is going to be a welcomed sight in the Lakers’ triple post sets.

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From JE Skeets, The Basketball Jones:  Saturday, December 18th was a strange night in the life of Ron Artest, even by Ron Artest’s standards. A group of Toronto artists created an art show celebrating Ron’s career entitled, “Lovable Badass.” And, as if to prove how unpredictable he is, Ron decided to show up. Check out the madness!

From Mike Bresnahan, The LA Times:  He still felt pain Monday and said his knee felt stiff during practice. “They tell me it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with,” said Bynum, who had cartilage repaired in his right knee in July.  There was no swelling in the knee, Bynum said, a key indicator that it might not be a big issue. In fact, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wasn’t aware that Bynum was feeling discomfort.  “I didn’t hear any report about it. That’s news to me,” Jackson said. “He came out and practiced today. He’s still tiring and that will happen as he gets game conditioning.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers:  Jackson said he’s pleased with what Bynum has done in the four games since returning to the lineup last week in Washington. Sunday marked Bynum’s best statistical output- 16 points and seven boards in over 17 minutes of burn- but isn’t necessarily an indication of an ability to return to the starting lineup. “I just can’t tell you [when that will happen] until he’s got that kind of bounce in his step that says he can now play 30, 35 minutes,” Jackson said. “Then he can go out, play eight minutes and get into that four rotations that you want from a starter. A couple rotations each half, so that he can have the influence on a game. Right now, we’re content with how we’re doing it.”

From Mark Medina, The LA Times:  Although Lakers Coach Phil Jackson remains unsure how many minutes Smith will play (he had zero minutes Sunday against Toronto), there’s a litany of reasons the Lakers will welcome his presence, albeit in limited fashion: Andrew Bynum’s lingering knee issues, Theo Ratliff’s continued rehabilitation of his surgically repaired left knee, Derrick Caracter’s likely demotion to the Development League and never-ending fatigue for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.   In case any of the aforementioned variables exacerbate themselves, the 6-foot-10 Smith’s career averages of 11 points and 6.4 rebounds, his reputation as a versatile forward and center and his ability to hit mid-range jumpers and make defensive stops suggest he could hold the fort and eat minutes so that the Lakers can minimize their frontline issues.

From Chris O’Leary, Slam Online:  There’s the selflessness of what he’s doing. Nothing is guaranteed in sports. The NBA title may be the Lakers’ to lose, but they could well lose it. Between injuries, the Celtics and burgeoning Heat and Thunder teams, there’s the possibility that Ron Artest could never win a championship again. If that’s the case, he’d walk away from basketball without the physical fruits of his labors of last season.  There’s the breadth of the gesture. In donating the funds of his ring raffle to mental health awareness, Ron will impact lives beyond the realm of the traditional pro athlete. Everyone talks about the legacies of the game’s greats, but with something like this, Ron’s legacy extends beyond the hardwood. Yeah, the story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team is a great one for coaches everywhere to use at their own tryouts every year (”Work hard, come back next year and who knows what could happen?”), but Ron’s efforts will save and/or permanently alter lives for the better. The people he’s helping may never know anything more about him or the L.A. Lakers than that Kobe Bryant played for them, or that they’re basketball players.

From SoCalGal, Silver Screen & Roll:  So I’ve been thinking about doing some kind of player profiles for a while now, but I haven’t had the time. Instead, I’m going to start a periodic feature called “Did you know…?” and post some little- and well-known facts about some of our players. They’re not facts that are difficult to find, they’re just facts that aren’t reported regularly. That said, if I post something that you think is incorrect or incomplete, feel free to correct/update at your peril in your comments.  This week, I’m going to feature our very own Mr. Intangibles, Derek Fisher. We all know about his family’s battle with his daughter Tatum’s retinoblastoma, a vicious and rare form of eye cancer, which, thankfully, is in remission. But I’ll bet there are some things some of us didn’t know.

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Records: Lakers 18-7 (3rd in West), Pacers 11-12 (7th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.3 (1st in NBA), Pacers 104.0 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (11th in NBA), Pacers 102.6 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Pacers: Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, Roy Hibbert
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Pacers: none

The Lakers Coming in: Apparently, yesterday was a bad day for me to get sick since there was a lot of news with the Lakers.  So while I sip on another Thera-flu, let’s get right to it in discussing all the ins and outs of a busy Tuesday for the Lakers.

First, Andrew Bynum returned last night and I thought he looked as good as could be expected considering his long lay off.  There were a couple of plays where his footwork was awkward and he was unable to convert the two lobs that were tossed his way, but those were the only down moments on a pretty successful evening.  In his 17 minutes of game action, ‘Drew did a good job of changing ends and he used his (massive) size effectively to create post up chances on offense and block/alter shots on defense.  In the end though, his biggest impact came in how he provided rest and an interior alternative for Pau and Odom.  Throughout the game Gasol especially looked fresher and more comfortable on the floor as he no longer had to preserve energy while also taking all the banging down low – two things that don’t really go well together.

The other big news was obviously the trade of Sasha and LA’s 2011 first round pick as part of a three team deal that netted them Joe Smith, two second round picks, and Ukrainian big mag Sergei Lishouk.  This trade has a lot of positives and I’m quite pleased with the haul the Lakers received and the financial benefits that result from the deal.  Looking at the money first, the Lakers save nearly $9 million this year in salary and luxury tax payments in the swap of The Machine for Smith.  They also gain a trade exception of almost $5.5 million according to cap guru and CBA expert Larry Coon.  All of this money will bolster the Lakers chances of being able to spend more next off-season or use the trade exception to take on salary without giving up any players should a player come available that the Lakers really want to bring on board.

As for the haul of Smith, picks, and Lishouk are concerned, I’m very happy that the Lakers have been able to supplement their big man depth (a real need), grab additional second round picks that can be added to the roster or stashed in Europe with little financial commitment, while also grabbing the rights to a seasoned European big man that currently plays in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.  Obviously the picks and Loushik are potential pieces for future seasons and can’t be looked at as anything more than assets, but Smith is a guy that can help this year as another serviceable big that can hit the top of the key and baseline jumpshot while also providing decent low post defense.  Plus with Ratliff still out of commission from his knee surgery, Smith provides a contingency plan in case Theo’s recovery takes longer than expected.  Overall, this is a win for the Lakers as they’ve accomplished what many would have thought impossible: they’ve traded Sasha, saved money in the process, and picked up assets that can help down the line without taking on any additional salary.  Really, Mitch Kupchak has done it again.

One last note on Sasha, I’m happy that he’s going to get a fresh start and wish him nothing but the best in New Jersey.  While his tenure with this team had its severe ups and downs and could mostly be characterized by frenetic play that upset Lakers fans as much as the opposition, Sasha provided some good moments that I’ll remember for a long time.  His two FT’s to clinch last year’s title are the obvious, but his inspired play in 2008 also helped the Lakers reach the Finals and really contributed to the turnaround of this organization from first round fodder to contender.  His role in all of that was indeed limited and behind the bigger roles of Kobe/Pau/Bynum/etc, but he’s a guy that always worked hard and gave it his all on the court.  And for that, at least, I’ll remember him fondly.  Plus I’ll miss his videos.

The Pacers Coming in: Since the 5 game stretch at the end of November when the Pacers took down both the Heat and the Lakers, the team from the Hoosier state hasn’t been able to find a real rhythm.  They’ve lost 5 of their 7 games this month and haven’t beaten a quality team since they visited Staples Center and took out the Lakers (their two wins this month have come against the Bobcats and the Raptors).  So right at the time that many thought the Pacers were breaking through and starting to show that they can be a pretty good team in the East, they’ve stagnated.  It’s like they’ve come back to earth before ever really taking off.

Plus, their coach seems to be making some strange decisions and showing tougher love than what may really be needed with his up and coming team.  Recently, Jim O’Brien sat Darren Collison down the stretch of a close game in favor of AJ Price.  When Collison was asked about being parked on the pine, he offered that he “didn’t know why (he) didn’t play”.  Then you have the comments he made about Roy Hibbert to the media where he basically said that his much improved Center “isn’t really having a good season”.  I’ve always liked O’Brien as a coach as he typically gets the most out of his players.  He runs creative schemes on both sides of the ball and his results are usually better than expected considering the talent on his roster.  But, in this case, I’m really not sure what he’s up to or what he hopes to accomplish by taking the stance that he has with two of his best young players.  We’ll have to see if this leads to better play, because even though they currently sit in 7th in the East this group does need to turn it back around.

Pacers Blogs: Jared Wade continues to do a bang up job covering the Pacers over at 8 Points, 9 Seconds.

Keys to game: When these two teams met last month, the Pacers controlled the paint on both sides of the ball and pulled out the win mostly with their ability to defend well and control the tempo of the game.  Tonight, if the Lakers are to get the season split, they’ll need to turn the tables on the Pacers by taking that same formula and making it their own.

Offensively this means attacking the interior through quick post ups and by utilizing the actions of the Triangle to get good shots going towards the hoop.  Last night against Washington, the Lakers did a very good job of being patient on offense and waiting for cutters to break open and then delivering the ball on time to get shots at the rim.  Those same techniques can be utilized tonight against the Pacers if the Lakers commit to running their sets and executing them cleanly.  That means setting good screens off the ball and cutting hard when Kobe, Pau, and Bynum are in the post.

The other key on offense will be to make the extra pass against a good defensive team.  The Pacers do a great job of playing a disciplined defense where they rarely gamble and funnel players to the paint so that their bigs can contest shots.  To beat this type of defense, the Lakers will need to penetrate the gaps but then look to make the pass to the open man when the help comes.  In the last game the Lakers got too caught up playing in isolation and it led to bad shot attempts and a lot of Kobe ball.  Kobe did his best to keep the Lakers in it by having a 41 point outburst, but in order to get the win tonight, more balance will be needed and that means moving the ball on to the open man when possible.

Defensively, the Lakers need to defend the paint.  In the first match up, the Pacers made 22 of their 33 FG’s within 10 feet where Hibbert and the Pacers’ wings were way too comfortable posting up and attacking off the dribble.  The Lakers need to do a much better job of fighting Hibbert for position while simultaneously closing down driving lanes better.  Having Bynum back will aid in this, but I’m also looking for Artest and Kobe to do a better job on their men by not gambling as much for steals and by playing better position D when the Pacers run their myriad of screens and cuts to free up their perimeter scorers.

On the second night of a back to back, this will be a good test for the Lakers to see if Bynum can be productive and if the rest that the Lakers got last night will carry over into tonight.  Motivation should be easy to come by considering the results of their last meeting, but it will take more than just wanting it tonight.  The Lakers are going to have to exceed the execution of the Pacers and play hard throughout in order to get the separation that they’ll need to pull this game out down the stretch.  Hopefully, we’ll see that commitment to playing a full 48 that we saw last night against the Pacers this evening.

Where you can watch: 4pm start time out west on KCAL.  Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

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In less than a weeks time, the Lakers expect to have Andrew Bynum back in uniform and playing in actual NBA games.  This is a big deal for a variety of reasons.  For one, it allows Pau Gasol the rest that he needs.  Playing over 40 minutes a night isn’t ideal for any player, much less the wiry Spaniard who has to be the do it all big man for the Lakers for every minute that he’s on the court.  As commenter VoR pointed out:

Pau can’t give away fouls because he has to stay on the court (got to be careful on aggressive D and rebounding), he has to D up the opposition’s big man, cover for Laker guards getting beat, box out and rebound, bang down low on offense (who else is there?), be a play maker and focal point for the offense and not sit down for more than a minute or two.

Bynum being back allows the Lakers’ front court rotation to normalize.  Players get slotted in their more natural positions and take on a minute allotment that makes more sense over the course of a long season.

But where Bynum really helps is in the Lakers defense.  Allow me to quote some Kelly Dwyer knowledge on the subject:

(Bynum) also turns the Lakers into a terrifying defensive team, though. Los Angeles is 13th in defensive efficiency right now, and while current center Pau Gasol(notes) is light years ahead of where he was in terms of strength and foot movement four years ago, he’s still Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom(notes) may clear the defensive glass with gusto, but he’s still Lamar Odom. Andrew Bynum, a legitimate helping center, changes all that.

And more from KD:

The only chinks in Los Angeles’ armor this year come in the form of those close six losses in 21 tries (each of those games could have been won in the fourth quarter) and the team’s mediocre defense. This isn’t to say that something’s gone wrong so far — it hasn’t. It’s to tell you that there is nothing wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers that can’t be fixed by the Los Angeles Lakers. And it starts with the bigs cutting hard to the pinch post to receive a pass, and Kobe Bryant giving up the ball and letting the offense work for him. Because the defense, with Bynum back, will take care of itself. (empashis mine)

I know it’s difficult to rely too much on one player, especially one that misses games and has had focus issues during his time with the Lakers.  But make no mistake, Andrew Bynum is going to help the Lakers.  And he’s going to do it on defense. 

When Lakers’ opponents run pick and rolls with Pau and ‘Drew in the game, that back line defender won’t be Lamar Odom or an undersized Ron Artest contesting the shot.  It will be a seven footer.  When the opposing offense tries to run cross screens and pin downs for guards and wings against a defensive group that includes Bynum, his big body will disrupt screen angles and his long arms can reach out and deter easy passes.  When Lakers guards get beat off the dribble, they’ll have to contend with Bynum stepping up and altering shots.  Trust me, the number of uncontested lay ins that the Lakers allow will go down significantly when Bynum returns.  And some of those point blank shots will become floaters from 10 feet out, rather than finishes right at the cup.

Bynum’s not the perfect defender.  He can be slow of foot when hedging on the P&R.  He will, at times, avoid fouling for the sake of preserving his time on the court.  But the one thing that can’t be denied is that he’s a massive man that can control the paint.  His sheer size makes posting up more difficult and his tremendous wingspan changes shots’ trajectories.  When coupled with the Lakers improved (in recent games) ball pressure on wing ball handlers, we’re likely to see an uptick in forced turnovers and in out of control shots by penetrating wings who are being pressured on the front end and contested on the back end. 

So, get your efficient offensive nights on the Lakers now.  Get ’em while the Lakers big man depth is depleted and when Pau and Lamar won’t commit fouls due to their need to stay on the court.  Get them while the back line defense doesn’t have a capable shot blocker (or one worried about fouling) coming to help.  Because in about a weeks time, reinforcements are coming.  And while it won’t be picture perfect right away, things are going to improve.  Remember, the Lakers were a top 5 defensive team for most of last season and that was without Matt Barnes’ tenacity in the mix.  And while Artest and Kobe haven’t yet played up to that standard, the Lakers also haven’t had their eraser on the back line for a single minute this season.

The Expectations Game

Darius Soriano —  November 18, 2010

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Expectations can be tricky.

Live up to or exceed them and the bar gets raised to a level where anything less than achieving or surpassing those same heights can taint future accomplishments (see: Thunder, Oklahoma City).  Or, don’t achieve what’s expected of you in the first place and it’s a disappointment that is tough to live down, regardless of what transpires in the future.  Yet still, if expectations are low and the achievements reached are far greater than what anyone originally thought possible, a hero’s celebration is sure to follow (Michael Beasley is inching in that direction right now).  Such is life – and sports – and walking a path where you don’t find yourself on one side of this line is often difficult or even impossible.

We see examples of the expectations game all the time in the NBA.  In 2008 the Lakers were an afterthought to start the year as trade rumors surrounded Kobe Bryant and engulfed the Lakers’ organization.  By the time the all-star break came the Lakers were one of the better teams in the league, had traded for Pau Gasol and went on to crash through their supposed ceiling by reaching the Finals.  That team eclipsed what many originally thought possible and were thus celebrated. (Initially, at least. Then expectations shifted, but that’s another story for another day.)  Today, we see what being on the wrong side of fulfilling expectations is like with the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh’s performance under a constant microscope with tags of underachievement being placed on a team (and that specific player) based off what was thought they would be and could achieve this season.

There’s really no way around playing the expectations game.  A player or a team can ignore them the best they can, but in the end others’ beliefs of what you can or should achieve, be, or do in any given situation often take the place of whatever the individual or team has in it’s own plans.

I bring all this up because of the case of two big men.  One of them we’re all quite familiar with – Andrew Bynum.  The other is also a familiar name  – Greg Oden.

Earlier this week, Bynum was asked what his return date would be as he continues to work his way back from off-season surgery of his own.  Rather than go into any details, Bynum said, “I don’t want to change expectations”.  You see, Bynum is quite familiar with how this works.  This is the 4th straight season that he’s missed substantial playing time due to an injury.  Each season a timeline was set for his return and each year that date came and went with Bynum still rehabbing his injury.  Fans (myself included) proceeded to call Andrew a “notoriously slow healer” and now our expectations have been reset and adjusted to the fact that there aren’t any real timelines when it comes to Bynum, only waiting.  We know that one day he will be back and when he is we can go back to placing other expectations on him – to be an all-star, a better passer, or more/less of some other quality that we’d like to see in him or his game.

Fans of the Portland Trailblazers could only hope for the same ability to say that their injured big man will be back.   Because with the latest announcement and the reprecussions of it, it’s not a lock that Oden will ever be a viable player in the NBA again, much less do it with the Blazers (check out this post for a great roundup of Oden articles).  Which, needless to say, is a shame.  Because we’ve all had our own expecations for the Blazers’ big man.  Some called him the best big man prospect since Duncan.  Others said he had the potential to be a defensive game changer in the Alonzo Mourning mold, only with a more refined offensive game.  His size, strength, and natural talent as a player was unquestioned and now with another knee surgery planned and another season missed, questions are all that there are.

However this all turns out, though, I hope nothing but the best  for Greg Oden.  Many are counting him out right now and there’s good reason for that.  While the success rate of players who go though micro-fracture surgery is much better than the days of Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway, it’s still a daunting surgery with a long and rigorous rehab.  That said, Oden seems like a player that loves the game and after working as hard as he has to come back from his other injuries maybe he has one more push to come back in him.  I sure hope so.

Just as a I hope for a healthy return of Andrew Bynum and for him to show us all again why all the fuss about his timelines exists in the first place.  While Bynum, like Oden, has endured more than his fair share of injuries, he’s also had enough court time to show us what’s possible with his game; for the expectations to be based off actual, sustained production and not just the potential of it.  So, I can’t wait to see him back on the court.  If only because the expectations for continued improvement are still there – even if it’s not always fair that it’s the case.

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It’s October 11, somehow still 90 degrees in L.A. and we’re almost two weeks away from banner night. While LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Co. continue to set fire to the league’s media landscape, there’s another story that is quietly dominating the NBA this fall, one sprained ankle and tender hammy at a time. The ever-present injury bug has reached full-scale epidemic levels during the 2010 pre-season with nearly every team—including several Lakers rivals—experiencing its wrath in one way, shape or form. If you look down the Lakers own bench since training camp opened, you’re likely to be greeted by no less than Kobe, Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton. Bumps, bruises, tears and aches are minor problems for some teams and full-scale crises for others. Let’s check in with some of the competition to see who’s still standing.

Miami’s Big Three took its first hit last week when Dwyane Wade strained his right hamstring in the Heat’s exhibition opener against the Pistons. No one’s hitting the panic button in South Beach, but as anyone who has ever hurt their hamstring can attest, it has the potential to linger if not given due diligence.

The Celtics responded to news that budding center Kendrick Perkins would be out for at least half of the season by signing Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal to help fill their void down low. So far, the injury-plagued younger of the two O’Neal’s has suffered a case of the butterflies and a more concerning pulled hamstring injury of his own that kept him out of the Celtics’ first two exhibition games. He made his debut last night and played five minutes, but Doc Rivers warned that Boston would continue to carefully monitor the injury.

Clutch City has been more like Crutch City the past few years and the 2010 pre-season has done nothing so far to rid Houston of its new name. First, there was the announcement that Yao Ming—so vital to Houston securing a top seed in the Western Conference—would be limited to a maximum of 24 minutes per game and likely wouldn’t play at all on some back-to-backers. Now, his insurance policy, Brad Miller, is nursing an injury of his own, as he’s day-to-day with a sprained left ankle.

Spurs newcomer Tiago Splitter received a rude welcome to the NBA, suffering a strained calf that has kept him out of San Antonio’s pre-season action thus far. Doctors say they’ll reevaluate the forward-center in 7-10 days, but this isn’t exactly the type of start San Antonio was hoping for from a player who is widely viewed as a huge factor in keeping the Spurs’ championship window open for at least another season.

Portland’s injury woes from the past few seasons have shown no signs of letting up with Greg Oden again out indefinitely and potential replacement Jeff Pendergraph announcing this week that he’ll miss the entire 2010-11 season with a torn ACL. This recent bout of injuries does little to instill much confidence in a team, who when healthy, is expected to potentially compete against the Lakers for the West crown.

The Nuggets—whose front court was already reeling from the absence of Kenyon Martin to start the season—lost his replacement, Al Harrington, for at least two weeks with a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot.

Leading contenders for the Central Division title—Chicago and Milwaukee—have both taken their tumbles this pre-season, led by Carlos Boozer’s freak hand injury and news that Andrew Bogut’s surgically-repaired hand, wrist and elbow is likely to continue to cause him discomfort all season long.

While it won’t heal Kobe or Bynums’ knees or cure Luke of his back pain, it’s at least somewhat reassuring to know that most of the Lakers’ leading competition for the Western Conference and eventually, the NBA title, are to some degree, dealing with injuries of their own heading into the 2010-11 season. We all witnessed what one major injury to a key player (Kevin Garnett) did to Boston’s title hopes in 2009, so here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for all of the league’s wearied and wobbled.

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Part deuce of our look at key stats for the upcoming season focuses on the bench corps. In case you missed it, check out our post on the starters too.

Lamar Odom: O/U 30 games as a starter
Fisher and Bryant are used to receiving props for their durability, but Odom proved that he belongs in the Lakers iron man conversation too after playing in all 82 games in 2009-2010. As the starting center on Team U.S.A. this summer, Lamar entered training camp this week with only a few weeks of rest. His load figures to be even heavier to start the season now that Bynum is out for at least the first few weeks, leaving Odom as the go-to starter. The Lakers have been able to weather his inconsistency as a sixth man the past two seasons, but will especially need Lamar to elevate his game while Andrew heals. Going off of Bynum’s own timeline, Odom is a virtual lock to start the first 15-20 games of the season. The Lakers can only hope it stays around that number and far away from the 38 games he started last season.

Sasha Vujacic: O/U 37% three-point shooting percentage
Sasha fell out of favor with Lakers coaches and unfortunately, back into the “practice player” label too as he only connected on 31% of his three-pointers during the regular season–down from his career average of 37%. Here’s hoping his much-improved performance in the final two rounds of the playoffs is more indicative of his play this season.

Luke Walton: O/U 70 games played
Luke was largely a forgotten man in last season’s championship run after appearing in only 29 games due to a pinched nerve in his back. Heading into 2009-2010, Walton’s troublesome back remains a bit of a ticking time bomb for the Lakers. Though they’ve proved that they can win without him, Luke’s expert knowledge of the offense is an undervalued commodity on a second unit that will be lacking triangle wherewithal. If his back holds up, it’d sure be nice to see him play close to a full season.

Matt Barnes: O/U 38% three-point shooting
The Lakers expect stellar defensive tenacity and intagibles out of Barnes, but they also need him to spread the floor from the three spot, similar to the player he’ll likely be subbing for the most—Artest. Matt shot 32% from beyond the arc during the regular season in 2009-2010, but improved to almost 38% during the playoffs—a trend that L.A. is hoping continues this season. Barnes proved himself a capable, if unspectacular offensive player during recent playoff runs with the Warriors and Magic, but finding consistency in his outside shooting will go a long way toward shoring up L.A.’s second unit this season.

Steve Blake: O/U 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
Blake has been quietly dropping bombs from three point land for years now, hitting 40% of his treys last season (23rd in the league). However, equally important to the Lakers’ success this season will be his ability to lead the offense in a way that his predecessor Jordan Farmar never quite mastered. Blake ranked 13th in the league last season with a 2.97 assist-to-turnover ratio and could do a lot worse than replicating that number this season. Early reports out of training camp from Coach Jackson and Kobe indicate that Steve is already taking control of the team, which bodes well for next season.

Shannon Brown: O/U 2.5 assists
After a sub par regular season and playoff run for Shannon, his second full season with the Lakers is all about the other tricks in his bag. For starters, he can improve his nearly 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio—an ugly stat that is unfortunately mostly consistent with his inconsistent decision-making. When Brown first joined the forum blue and gold, there was preliminary talk about his ability to potentially supplant Fisher as the team’s starting point guard, thanks to his ball-handling and the strong potential he showed as a man-to-man defender. He obviously isn’t the answer the team is looking at the one spot anymore, but he remains a vital spark plug in the 20 minutes or so he plays off of the bench.

Theo Ratliff: O/U 1.5 blocks
Ratliff was a shot-blocking fiend during his prime and will be asked to recapture some of that magic as the Lakers’ third-string big man. With Andrew missing the first month of the season, Theo moves one rung up the ladder. At this stage of his career, Ratliff is a bit of a one trick pony, but his specialty—blocking shots—is something that L.A. despertaely needs from its second unit.

Derrick Caracter: O/U 275 lbs
So far, so good on the Derrick Caracter weight watch as the the versatile forward entered training camp in compliance with the team-mandated weight clause. The Lakers will certainly keep a close watch on his conditioning throughout the season, and if he sustains his motivation, he could get some quality burn even in Coach Jackson’s notoriously anti-rookie regime. The odds of this happening, of course, also depend on the collective health of Walton and Bynum.

Devin Ebanks: O/U 1.5 steals per 40 minutes
It’s difficult to pinpoint a stat for a player who isn’t expected to see much time on the floor this season, but I, along with the Lakers, view Ebanks as a potentially very strong defender in the same vein as Trevor Ariza. For that reason, it would be great to see him channel the former Lakers forward as a go-to defender on the wing, agile enough to guard some of the league’s larger point guards, but still sturdy enough to do battle with the NBA’s elite small forwards.

Los Angeles Laker's talks to reporters during the media day at the Lakers training facility in El Segundo, Ca., on September 25, 2010 (UPI Photo/Lori Shepler) Photo via Newscom

As we’ve all read by now, Andrew Bynum is still recovering from his off-season knee surgery.  This extended recovery time will likely make him unavailable for the start of the regular season and the man himself has said that he may not play until late November.  And while there is a group of people that are upset with Bynum once again being behind schedule his recovery from an injury, I think most folks are understanding of this recent set back and just want Bynum healthy for the playoffs come April and May (this group includes Phil Jackson) after Bynum gutted his way through the playoffs on his bad wheel while still contributing to the Lakers championship run.  That said, missing Bynum still has implications for this team.  Just because the Lakers have had success in years past of playing with a limited or completely out of the lineup Bynum doesn’t mean that there aren’t any reprecussions to having their starting Center (potentially) miss the first month of the season.  This is especially true with this current Lakers group (as we’ll get into).  Below are a few questions and things to look for while Bynum is on the mend until Thanksgiving.

*More time for Lamar Odom – is he ready to play the extra minutes?  Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be a question worth asking.  In past seasons, Odom has filled in admirably for an injured Bynum and has usually raised the level of his game to the point where the Lakers are just as dangerous as they are with an Odom/Gasol frontcourt as when their twin towers patrol the paint.  However, this is not a typical year.  Odom is coming off an extended Summer of on court action playing for the gold medal winning World Champion Team USA.  Combine this lack of rest and recuperation to the fact that Odom is coming off a third consecutive deep playoff run where he played heavy minutes in place of a banged up Bynum and there are legitimate questions about how Odom will hold up in the first part of the season.  Maybe this is much ado about nothing and I’m worrying over a potential issue that will never sprout up.  However, Odom is not known as the most durable player (despite his relatively high games played totals the last few seasons) and he’s also been nicked up himself the past couple of years.

*Who will be the Lakers’ 3rd big man with Bynum out?  In years past, this role would be split between Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga – with Josh earning more minutes from coach Jackson.  However, both of those players have moved on to new teams and now those minutes will have to go to another big on the Lakers roster.  With the newly acquired Theo Ratliff and rookie Derek Caracter waiting in the wings, the Lakers look to have able replacements that can soak up some minutes in the front court.  However, that’s not necessarily a given.  Last year, in limited games (but extended – for him – minutes), Ratliff filled in nicely as a part time big man for the Bobcats.  He rebounded at an average level and blocked over a shot a game.  However, if forced into action for the Lakers will that same production be there?  One can hope, but at this advanced stage of his career, that’s not a given.  And then there’s the rookie Caracter who looks the part of a legitimate NBA big man but is still only a first year player with pretty big learning curve to get over on offense and the need to play defend and rebound at a high enough level where he’s actually useful on the court.  Overall, I feel that both Ratliff and Caracter have enough experience and ability respectively to be relied upon, but with Andrew out the onus is on them to prove it for stretches in every game.

*Will the Lakers play more small ball?  Last season, when Bynum missed games and Mbenga/Powell were ineffective the Lakers played Artest at PF for some stretches in situations where Pau/LO needed extra rest or were in foul trouble.  During the first part of this season, the same may end up being true if Ratliff/Caracter prove to be no better than their predecessors.  This off-season, the Lakers added a player in Matt Barnes that has at times played PF in small ball lineups on the Suns and Warriors.  Whether or not this same need arises with Bynum missing up to a month to start this year remains to be seen, but Phil Jackson should be comforted that against certain teams – ones with perimeter oriented PF’s especially – the Lakers can trot out Barnes or Artest to play some PF in a pinch.  Also, Odom did play some Center for Team USA in the Worlds so he may be able to fill that same role for short stretches if Pau is relegated to the bench for any reason.

It’s clearly not the end of the world that the Lakers will be without ‘Drew to start the season.  As mentioned, they’ve survived without him in the past and have enough talent across the rest of the roster to compensate for his absence.  That said, missing Bynum will be a challenge for this specific Lakers’ team.  Their pre-season will be broken up by a trip to Europe and Phil Jackson has already said that this training camp will be a bust, what with the integration of new players and how that will likely curb their growth process as a team in the early going.  You add that to the potential that the aforementioned issues crop up and the desire to have a stronger regular season this year than last and there may be issues on the horizon.  Nothing that the team can’t overcome by the time the playoffs roll around, but a potential concern nonetheless.