new article on bynum (espn)
Posted October 03, 2008 - 09:30 PM
Andrew Bynum has gotten big, cinematically big, to the point that when he approaches, you can't help but do a slow pan from his toes to his head, like a dramatic movie shot. His chest and shoulders have filled out. He's a skinny teenager no more.
The question is: Is Bynum big enough to handle the extraordinary burden placed on him, to be the man to bring the Lakers from 2008 runners-up to 2009 champions?
Bynum doesn't sag under the expectations. He shrugs.
"I don't think it's putting a lot on my shoulders at all," Bynum said. "We have a team, a caliber of team, that's worthy and good enough to get back."
Lakers fans already have done the math. Kobe Bryant & Co. plus Bynum in the first two months of the 2007-08 season equaled the top team in the Western Conference. Kobe & Co. plus Pau Gasol in the second half of the season equaled the Western Conference championship. Therefore, Kobe & Co. plus Gasol and Bynum should equal NBA champs, right?
The equation isn't that simple. There are some additional facts and figures to throw in there.
For one thing, "We've seen Andrew play about 20 games in three seasons, and that's about it," coach Phil Jackson said.
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Has so much ever been expected from someone who has done so little?
Maybe 20 is an arbitrary number. I doubt Jackson could cite a game-by-game tape breakdown for his arrival at that figure. But 20 is as good a number as any to use with Bynum. After all, 20 is, until Oct. 27, his age. Think about that. If he had been healthy all season and the Lakers had won the championship, he could not have sipped the champagne legally.
So he'll be 21 to start this season. That's not a bad number to describe him, either. It happens to be the total number of games in the two best months of his career.
In January 2007, he averaged 10.7 points and 6.4 rebounds -- both personal bests to that point -- in 15 games. Then he declined in both categories the rest of the season. In January 2008, he averaged 17.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in six games before he dislocated his knee and was done for the season.
If it were as easy as extrapolating the numbers from a small sample set, they'd be making a bust for Priest Holmes for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Let's slow down a little bit and look at what Bynum has done. The supposed savior scored 20 points in a game all of five times last season. He had double-digit rebounds 21 times (about two-thirds of the time).
By comparison, Tim Duncan averaged 21 and 12 as a 21-year-old rookie in 1997-98.
Everything Bynum gave the Lakers last season was a bonus. The Lakers did like him enough to select him with the 10th pick in the 2005 draft. And they valued him enough to hold onto him when Jason Kidd was on the trading block in 2007. But through two seasons, after 128 games and career averages of 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds, they couldn't realistically expect the performances he put on last season, when he turned into an offensive focal point, when Kobe Bryant went from disparaging him to continuously feeding him the ball.
The easiest thing to do in the NBA is break out. Even Willie Burton has a 50-point game to his credit. The hardest thing is to sustain greatness. That is the challenge before Bynum.
"We'll see if he can get to that level where you compete every moment you're on the floor," Jackson said. "That's something Andrew was just getting ahold of when he was injured last year.
"He reached a certain potential point of what we saw, a light go on somewhere. He realized, 'This is what I have to do to be competitive.'"
Bynum welcomes the expectations. He even adds to them. He says he wants to be an All-Star, to average 20 points and 10 rebounds. He says his knee injury is behind him, that it even withstood a low-bridge during a pickup game and he realized he didn't have to worry about it anymore.
[+] EnlargeAndrew D. Berstein/Getty Images
It's time to see how Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum look together on the court.
Jackson calls the 20-point wish "not possible," not as long as Bryant, Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher are around, for starters. He thinks 10 rebounds are feasible. He'd like three blocked shots per game as well.
"What I ask Andrew to do in this offense is to rebound offensively and set picks," Jackson said. "And to be a pivotal point in our offense. I'm not asking him to be a one-on-one scorer or asking him to get a lot of points, but he's a guy that's going to shore up the defense, which I think is the most important aspect, and rebound, which I think is the second-most important aspect."
Which sounds just like what Bynum wants to do.
"I've seen how I can help out," he said. "Just being a big presence.
"We have to develop a toughness. If somebody gets beat by Paul Pierce, for example, somebody's there to take the charge."
It's no coincidence he cited a Celtic, since it was Boston's overpowering of the Lakers in the NBA Finals that made Bynum's absence so glaring. He also used Kendrick Perkins as an example of a big, tough center who can hold it down in the middle.
So maybe that's the scale Lakers fans should use to weigh Bynum. Not Shaquille O'Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing. Kendrick Perkins. Hey, it worked for Boston.
On offense, Bynum still needs to develop a signature move. He needs to generate more points on his own, rather than depending on lobs and drop-offs as he did so often last season. It wasn't as if Bynum simply overpowered people on the block or swung left and lofted a sky hook, to use the preferred methods of two great Lakers centers of the past, Shaq and Kareem.
And he'll need to find his game while learning about Gasol's game. They've never played together, so they'll have to figure out who likes which side, who should spin and head to the hoop, who should play outside. This should work just fine. Gasol likes to slide out along the baseline and shoot. Bynum is comfortable taking the ball at the high post, and he's an underrated passer.
If it takes a while for them to get in synch, that falls under the category of "nice problems to have." Remember, it wasn't that long ago that the Lakers entered the playoffs with Kwame Brown as their starting center.
"I think it will play out really good," Gasol said. "We're both very talented, we both have a lot of size and ability. We should be a very dangerous couple."
Sometimes we forget English is Gasol's second language, so we'll excuse him for that last phrase. With the exception of Bonnie and Clyde, we don't think of "couples" as being "dangerous." Dangerous duo, maybe. Terrifying tandem.
Which brings up a good point: What exactly should we call this pairing of Lakers big men?
"Pau and Bynum," Bryant said. "How about that?"
Hmmm, don't think that will move a lot of product out of the team store. But get ready to hear those names a lot this season -- Pau on offense, Bynum on defense -- most likely all the way into June.
The one thing Bynum has managed to do in each of the past two seasons is exceed expectations. This year, he only has to meet them. His ambition and attitude are properly aligned. The Lakers can make his life easier by granting him an $88 million extension by the end of the month, and it probably won't take much for them to feel comfortable with those numbers … or something close.
Standing next to Bynum -- seeing him and listening to what he has to say -- can make you believe. This is a team that could win it all.
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