Andrew Bynum, passing fancy
In 35 minutes of burn a night, Andrew Bynum is averaging 18.5 points on fewer than 13 shots. He's shooting nearly 60% from the floor, and making a hair under 75% of his free throws. And while he still occasionally has lapses in aggressiveness on the glass, his 10.2 boards a night are good for ninth in the league. Best of all, he's showing greater awareness on the defensive end on pick and rolls, and despite increased playing time over last season is fouling less often.
And he just turned 22. Forgot about that.
He is, in short, (to get with the ever growing holiday spirit) quite literally the gift that should keep on giving to Lakers fans for another decade-plus. What makes him such an exciting player, though, is how much more he can improve and mature. Offensively, we've noted a tendency for Bynum to get shot happy at times, occasionally forcing the ball or holding it too long without awareness of double teams. He's a good passer when he remembers, but it's fair to say Bynum occasionally gets some tunnel vision.
Before Tuesday's game against the Hornets, I asked Phil Jackson if the coaching staff is encouraging him to be more willing to move the ball, to post and re-post, and so on:
"We've always asked our centers to be passers. If they're outside the lane and catch the ball they're passers until the cutters have gone by or until their passing opportunities have evaporated. You always have a relief pass or a lag pass to re-post if you need it. Drew's been very anxious to score. I don't know if anxious is the right word, but he's been real interested in scoring and likes that aspect of the game. A lot of players do, and you can't blame kids for wanting to score. So as the defense starts to come down and trap him and double team him and stuff, he has to get the ball out more and more and re-post, and find another way to get it in. Or we get it in there. So yes, the answer (to whether or not we're encouraging him to pass more freely) is yes."
After the game, one in which he scored 21 points on 9-10 shooting, I put the same question to Bynum. His response was pretty straightforward. He's not much for the nuance PJ seems to touch on above:
"If I'm inside the paint, I'm not really looking to pass. Just because, first of all you're dealing with (the) three seconds (violation) and second of all I'm within range of striking distance for me. If I'm outside the box, I'm looking to pass the ball, but we need a lot more motion. I think whenever I get the ball or Pau gets the ball or Kobe gets the ball on the block, everybody kind of stands, so we've got to work on that."
So the subtleties of kicking out and re-establishing position? Swinging the rock a little more? Bynum smiled. "Well, you know for me, being the third player on this team or fourth player on any given night, if I'm inside the paint, I'm looking for an opportunity (to score). You don't get too many."
Subtext: If I give it up, I may not get it back.
Those of us who have actively campaigned for more touches down low, whether to Bynum or Pau Gasol (or Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, or any others in the army of dudes they can deploy near the bucket) certainly understand the sentiment. I can't entirely blame Bynum for wanting to take his crack when he gets it. A) he's right- the ball too often doesn't come back inside once it leaves the post. B) the dude is shooting nearly 60%. Good things generally happen when he hoists. C) When a big runs the floor and establishes good position, it's good basketball etiquette to let him touch the rock.
Note: C may not apply to the NBA's Kwame Brown, Hasheem Thabeet, and Chuck Hayes types. But I digress..
Just as it is with Kobe, in the big picture Bynum's aggressive offensive instincts are a positive. They help push him to improve. Kid likes to score. No worries, that's a handy skill to have. As long as it doesn't scuttle the other stuff- mainly rebounding and defense- everybody's a winner. Most 22 year-olds, particularly young scorers, don't automatically master what PJ is talking about above. It takes time to learn how passing up a decent shot early in the clock can lead to a better one later, or even three or four more down the road. It's one of those circle of life deals.
Since the preseason, I've said/written repeatedly that one of Jackson's biggest challenges will be to placate so many talented players as the season progresses. Obviously Bynum's continued development plays a big role in that equation. If he's defending well, does he play more fourth quarters? How does that impact Lamar Odom? Do guys give up their shots? It's important not to forget about Gasol, too. He'll share, but needs "his," too.
For Bynum, handling all of this will require maturity. I think he has it, but the guys around him will have to guide as well. But assuming all the parts continue working together- I see no reason why they won't, particularly if the team continues to win, the level of dominance the Lakers will be capable of displaying any given night could be overwhelming. And they're pretty good now.