Andrew Bynum's performance in Lakers' 118-96 victory over Indiana Pacers provides blueprint to follow
He missed the team flight Saturday to Toronto after oversleeping and had to buy a $300 ticket for a commercial flight. Although he was fined an undisclosed amount by the team, Bynum didn't face serious consequences. He didn't miss Sunday's game against Toronto. He didn't lose his starting position. He didn't lose any minutes in that day's game, either.
Yet, the episode brought up another example of his perceived immaturity, other examples including his 21st birthday bash in 2008 and his well-known complaining when he doesn't get touches and/or playing time. But before fans could immediately think this is the latest sign that a Bynum-Chris Bosh trade is imminent, Bynum dropped 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting with nine rebounds in the Lakers' 106-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors. Then on Wednesday in the Lakers' 118-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers, he scored a season-high 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds -- the first time this season he and Lakers forward Pau Gasol each scored at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the same game.Performances like these leave Lakers fans conflicted. Just as they lambast him for his immaturity, Bynum shows what he's capable of on court.
Of course, buzzwords such as "potential" and "young" are words Lakers fans have often heard when tracking Bynum's development since the Lakers selected him with the 10th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. He was the youngest player ever selected in the draft and the youngest to play in an NBA regular-season game (18 years and six days). They heard the buzzwords again when Bynum signed a four-year, $58-million contract before the beginning of last season, when he dropped a career-high 42 points last season against the Clippers and when supporters of Bynum argued the Lakers shouldn't trade him for Bosh.
But some fans had their doubts about Bynum as he suffered through some serious injuries, including a left-knee injury that sidelined him for 46 games in the 2006-07 season and a right-knee injury that sidelined him for 32 games last season. They doubted Bynum after the Lakers won a championship last season without him. And they doubted Bynum this season after he seemed unable to coexist with Gasol on the floor.
Bynum's performance Wednesday may be the latest example of his "potential" simply being a mirage. Or it could be a sign of things to come. The verdict is still out on that one, as well as whether he'll be named a Western Conference All-Star reserve at 4 today on TNT.
Bynum's refrain is that early touches will yield success. An indication of immaturity? Maybe, but his approach often works. Against Indiana, he made the team's first eight shots. Against the Clippers two weeks ago, the same approach led to 10 first-quarter points and, ultimately, 20 points each from Bynum and Gasol, who had returned after missing the previous six games because of a left hamstring injury.
It had been expected Bynum's play would immediately drop off upon Gasol's return. After all, Bynum had averaged more than 20 points and 12 rebounds during Gasol's 11-game absence (right hamstring) at the beginning of the season. When Gasol returned, Bynum's numbers dropped to 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds by Christmas. He also went 23 consecutive games without double doubles. Coach Phil Jackson and Bynum also said that dropoff could be chalked up to sinus, asthma and knee issues. Then when Gasol missed six games this month because of an injured left hamstring, Bynum posted four double doubles in those contests. Since Gasol's second return, however, Bynum has posted double figures in six of the past seven games.
Of course, there are still many issues Bynum needs to iron out, mainly on defense. After all, Indiana reserve center Roy Hibbert scored most of his 21 points on 10-of-18 shooting against Bynum. Bynum's defense and his inconsistent rebounding are reasons why I don't think he'll be named to the West's reserves list today, even if Bynum has career highs in points per game (15.5) and free-throw percentage (74.4%). His numbers rank below Clippers center Chris Kaman (20.2 points per game) and Minnesota center Al Jefferson (17.8 points per game).
We'll find out today whether Bynum will be an All-Star. It'll be later at an undetermined time before we find out whether Bynum is truly an all-star with the Lakers.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Andrew Bynum finished with 27 points on 12-for-14 shooting and 12 rebounds to help the Lakers claim a 22-point victory over the Pacers on Wednesday. Credit: Steve C. Mitchell / EPA