Should NBA Commissioner David Stern select Andrew Bynum as All-Star starter?
With wide-eyed enthusiasm, Lakers center Andrew Bynum still maintains the boyish innocence that any 23-year-old should have.
He joyfully shares if asked what he learned from a recent book he read. He provides a detailed medical report on his latest injury or recovery effort, a protocol most athletes avoid. And his smile beams when he knows he's going to match up with an All-Star-caliber player because it gives him an adequate measure on where he stands among the league's elite.
Yet although he's still young, it was nearly six years ago when he was the Lakers' 10th pick in the 2005 NBA draft, becoming at 18 years old the youngest player ever to play in the NBA. Missing 147 regular-season games surely prolonged how long it's felt since Bynum has been with the Lakers. For those keeping score: 46 of those absences came in the 2007-08 season because of a left knee injury; 32 of the times Bynum remained on the sideline occurred in the 2008-09 season when he tore an MCL in his right knee; 13 missed games happened in the 2009-10 season when he strained his left Achilles' tendon; and sitting out 24 games took place this season as he rehabbed from off-season surgery on his right knee.
That's partially why the Lakers have yet to see the full benefits Bynum has brought, though there have been a few steps he's taken. He fought through a torn meniscus in his right knee during the 2010 NBA Finals. He's also bolstered the team's record since returning this season to the starting lineup in the past 15 games to 12-3, its defensive identity to the third-best in opponent's field-goal percentage, and with an average of 13.3 points on 59.3% shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in 27.2 minutes. Bynum's injuries are also partially why he's yet to achieve what he deems to be a significant goal in making the NBA All-Star team, though going through a 23-game stretch last season without a double-double didn't help his cause, either. With the league set to announce Thursday the All-Star starters for the game that takes place Feb. 20 at Staples Center, it's conceivable Bynum will have to wait another season to fulfill that position.
With yet another sign of globalization and that China's state-controlled media also discounts injury reports, Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is the West's leading vote-getter (928,928) at the position with 928,928 despite having season-ending surgery on a stress fracture on his left ankle. The position doesn't automatically go to Bynum, who's ranked second with (660,576 votes). Instead, NBA Commissioner David Stern will select Yao's replacement, making it possible that Bynum's fate will rest on when the coaches select the reserves, including a center, two forwards, two guards and two other players at any position. Forget for a moment that it's possible Bynum could appear in his first All-Star game as a reserve, though that is a unlikely scenario. Should Stern select Bynum as Yao's replacement?
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson immediately thought of Dallas center Tyson Chandler, whom Jackson has credited for providing a defensive presence for the Mavericks front line. Most of Sports Illustrated's writers believe Denver center Nene deserves the nod for his 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and his league-leading 64.6% field-goal percentage. And ESPN.com's John Hollinger contends that Bynum would be "horribly undeserving." And what say you? I'm sure this will spark debate within this corner of the blogosphere. No matter how much of a difference Bynum has played in the last month, however, he's simply missed too many games. But this latest debate reveals Bynum maturing in some respect, knowing his time will eventually come.
Though Bynum remarked to AOL Fanhouse recently, "I just got to get an opportunity to kind of be a focal point on this squad," those comments spoke more to what he needs to do in fulfilling his goal in becoming the NBA's best center than lamenting his current role. After all, the Lakers' 29-point victory Tuesday over the Jazz showed Bynum taking more pride in adopting a workmanlike attitude in filling the stat sheet. He collected more rebounds (11) than shot attempts (six of nine). He recorded more blocks (three) than personal fouls (two). And he's taken pride in disrupting passing lanes and shots more than making baskets.
"We have a lot of scorers on this team, so offensively, if you get a play run for you, you better be successful with it because we've got a lot of guys who are able to score," Bynum told The Times' Broderick Turner. "But defensively, I think I can be active and challenge a lot of shots, change a lot of shots."
Usually Bynum's refrain in previous seasons entailed that early touches would be the only way that led to him having successful performances, a strategy that spoke to his single-mindedness on scoring and unrealistic approach considering Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are on the team. No longer is Bynum saying much about needing to be an All-Star, either. Most of his talk instead has surrounded how he still remains dissatisfied with his physical health. In previous seasons, Jackson may have needed to remind the young Bynum that patience is a virtue. This year? "I don't think specifically it's a conversation that's necessary," Jackson said. "This is a team that knows their roles."
Bynum's role with the Lakers so far has been this: lowering minutes for Gasol, allowing Odom to lead the bench and, of course, staying healthy. Those ingredients may not be enough for an All-Star run, but they'll surely be enough in helping the Lakers secure a third championship. Eventually, that role will be suffice in accomplishing his goal in becoming an All-Star, something that will happen soon enough for Bynum to remain boyishly wide-eyed.
-- Mark Medina
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Top photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum tries to put up a shot past Utah forward Gordon Hayward during the Lakers' 120-91 victory Tuesday. Bynum played a leading role in shutting down the Jazz's offense. Credit: Gus Ruelas / Associated Press / January 25, 201
Bottom photo: Bynum challenges the shot of Denver guard J.R. Smith in the first half Friday night at the Pepsi Center. Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images