Looking at how Andrew Bynum's play has evolved
The crowd sounds like a distant whisper. The remaining pain in his right knee becomes an afterthought. And the focus on his responsibility remains clear.
Everything surrounding Andrew Bynum's consistently increased presence during the Lakers' 10-1 mark since the All-Star break points to those three factors. It's enabled him to average 12.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks during that stretch, including a career-high tying 18 points against the Orlando Magic, and remain a strong defensive presence. It's enabled him to "have fun" as he put it. And it's enabled him to feel like he more empowered despite all the surrounding talent around him.
"I just made an effort," Bynum said. "It had nothing to do with clicking. It was the effort. I put energy into the defense. The defensive side of the basketball makes a difference. It helps us get more opportunities offensively. We're stil an offensive power house."
Blocking outside noise
A conversation with sports psychologist George Mumford prior to the Lakers' 92-86 victory Feb. 9 to the Boston Celtics helped plant the seeds to where Bynum willingly and consistently grabs rebounds. His career high 18 rebounds against Orlando marked the fifth consecutive game he's grabbed double-digit rebounds and eighth time in the past 10 contests since the NBA All-Star beak that he's cracked double figures in that department. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson pinpointed that game as the turning point for Bynum's renewed focus, a game that also coincided with reports circulating that the Lakers could possibly trade Bynum for Carmelo Anthony. Those reports were never unfounded, but Mitch Kupchak's admission to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell that other teams have expressed interest in him during recent struggles during Brynum's five-year career. That surely has to affect his psyche, but it's telling that Kupchak argues that he's very reluctant to think of trading him for anybody.
Bynum has always downplayed trade reports affecting him, but he acknowledged a "couple of things clicked," of the conversation with Mumford, which centered on blocking external pressure and outside distractions. Interestingly enough, Bynum says it's literally hard for him to hear the crowd at Staples Center during games. He's that much locked into the task at hand.
"I think it's more that level of focus," Bynum said. "When you're playing, it feels like it's quiet until the game stops. That's what everybody talks about when they're in the zone. Even though people are screaming, it feels quiet because you know what you want to do."
Embracing his role
That's resulted in Bynum remaining fully engaged on defensive rotations. The Lakers' new scheme installed in early January emphasizes for Bynum to remain close to the basket so he's there on help defense when guards beat the backcourt off the dribble and when opposing teams try to utilize their post presence. It's resulted in Bynum remaining fully engaged in rebounding, taking pride in being available for easy putbacks, to stave off teams from cashing in on transition and denying teams second-chance opportunities. And it's resulted in Bynum feeling fully engaged in the offense, even if his 11.6 points per game average pales to the numbers Kobe Bryant (24.8), Pau Gasol (18.7) and Lamar Odom (11.6) post on a regular basis.
"Everybody finds challenges," Bryant said. "For me, it's scoring. For him, it's rebounding. For Ron, it's shutting people down. Everybody has their thing that they do to help us win ballgames to get us excited. For him, it's rebounding and blocking shots."
In past years, Bynum remained fixated on how many touches and shot attempts he received his game, a false barometer of his worth considering the offensive pie mostly gears toward Bryant and Gasol. He changed his mindset, particularly during the 2010 playoffs when he nursed a right knee injury after suffering a torn meniscus. He also carried that attitude this season after missing the first 24 games while recovering from off-season surgery. But now he's doing it on a consistent basis, enough to make Odom call Bynum "one of the best centers in the game."
"You know what to do," Bynum said. "You know where to put your energy into. It's easier versus thinking. You don't have to spend time thinking."
Feeling more physically able
Of course, all this optimism comes with some anxiety considering Bynum's well documented injury history, missing the last 13 games of last season because of a strained left Achilles' tendon, sitting out 32 games in the 2008-09 season because of a right knee injury and 46 games in the 2007-08 season because of a left knee injury. Bynum also revealed his knee still isn't fully healthy this time around either.
"I have a little bit of fluid," Bynum said about his right knee. "I'm still taking medication. I'll let you all know when I get off that, and it'll be fine."
But don't mistake this for Bynum experiencing setbacks, though Jackson acknowledged the key to sustaining his surge points to remaining healthy. It just reveals the 23-year-old's inability to lie. In fact, Lakers guard Derek Fisher noticed that to be a good thing in the sense that Bynum's learned to overcome the psychological component of being afraid of suffering another injury.
"Forgetting about being worried about getting injured and just playing has really helped him," Fisher said. "He's helped us. Big time ... On the physical side, I think he's feeling comfortable with his body and the things he's capable of doing night in and night out. That's freed him from not worrying about physically where he is to now the mental parts of the game and the little details."
Even though Odom credits Bynum for appearing "more in basketball shape," he wants to drop from 290 pounds to 275 in hopes that his conditioning improves and he remains more mobile. Clearly, Bynum remains far from satisfied.
"They're gonna go either way (with their praise)," Bynum said regarding the general public about his game. "If I play badly, they're gonna tell you something else. I don't have time to really listen to what other people are saying. All I can do is try to get rebounds."
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org