A couple weeks into the season, I cautioned Lakers fans about getting overly excited about Andrew Bynum’s quick start, following his 4-game suspension. They pointed to the 17-1 stretch the Lakers ran off, following last year’s All-Star break with Bynum dominating from the defensive end. I reminded them of the fact that the season didn’t end after that stretch…in fact, it actually ended at the hands of the (eventual) champions and in the form of an embarrassing sweep.
Bynum, certainly wasn’t at his finest, as he and Pau Gasol were severely outplayed by Dirk Nowitzki/Tyson Chandler in that series. Admittedly, the manner by which Bynum ‘exited’ the court, following his elbow to J.J. Barea’s chest, left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Heading into the summer, I wondered if the organization would finally place this “pipe dream” of Bynum ‘leading the Lakers into the future’ to rest?
Although, always a fan of Bynum’s potential, the health factor combined with his unwillingness (so I thought) to give maximum effort on a consistent basis, not to mention his lack of apparent maturity led me to believe we had seen all we could ever expect from Drew. Given Bynum’s history and actions that was a fair assessment of his game.
It’s well-documented that Bynum spent the off-season working out with famed boxing trainer, Freddie Roach (owner of Wild Card Boxing Club). Not only did Bynum shed his body fat from 10 percent to 5.1 percent, but he seems to have shed some (most) of the internal doubt he would have understandably had, following multiple knee surgeries and rehab stints. That ‘total body confidence’ has paid off to such an extent, the “trade for Howard” sentiment has almost evaporated entirely.
While Bynum won’t ever be able to develop the fast-twitch muscle reaction that permits guys like Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin to execute some of the eye-popping blocks/dunks, he is showing signs of being able to match, if not exceed Dwight’s actual overall productivity and impact upon the game. Since I can already envision Orlando Magic fans rolling their eyes, an exact comparison of Dwight Howard’s numbers vs. Andrew Bynum’s numbers isn’t a fair assessment of the two players.
Consider this, Dwight is giving you about 20 points, 15 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game as the unquestioned focal point of his team Andrew Bynum is averaging 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game in three less minutes and as the obvious second option on a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant. In fact, Bynum’s touches are limited even further by the fact that he’s competing with Pau for some of the same shots. While that’s a ‘good problem’ to have for the Lakers, it should be noted that Bynum has been nothing but the consummate professional throughout the trade rumors and tumultuous start of the season.
“I’m in every trade rumor, so I’m used to that. Like (for) everybody you can get. So it doesn’t really bother me too much anymore. It did at first, but not anymore. … My first trade rumor (was bothersome), like four years ago for Jason Kidd, I think it was. But not anymore.’’
Trade rumors abound, Bynum has simply strapped on the knee brace and gone to work all year. Just to further the Dwight vs. Drew comparison, the shooting percentages are comparable (Bynum much higher FT percentage, Howard slightly higher FG percentage), and while Dwight provides 1.5 steals per game, he also turns the ball over 3.3 times (compared to 2.3 from Bynum). Again, comparisons of this nature are not an exact science, due to the variables that go into determining stats. The most definitive argument in favor of Bynum being a much better fit for the Lakers can be found in these quotes from Dwight Howard:
“I want to be great for this team. I want to carry this team (Orlando) to a championship…that’s one thing that I want for myself, so I can become the guy who finishes games for my team. I want to be that guy whose team wants him to close games out for them. Coach (Van Gundy) just needs to have confidence in me.”
Regardless of his reasons, Dwight doesn’t seem to want to play in Los Angeles. Without individually breaking down the humorous parts of that quote, if Howard truly believes what he’s saying, then Lakers management should permit him to follow his dreams of being the biggest ‘name’ on the marquee, somewhere in Brooklyn. Sure, Bynum may have the same desires, and has offered similar comments about wanting to be utilized down the stretch of games, but Bynum understands and fully embraces his role with his eyes on a much larger prize. Another title.
Having been there before, Bynum understands the idea of how a small amount of sacrifice in the beginning, can pay off 10-fold in the end. Andrew Bynum’s consistent play has not only changed his ‘perception’ among fans and analysts, but seems to have changed Kobe’s mentality towards Bynum being able to step into the role of a ‘championship big-man’. Somewhere, Jim Buss is smiling ear-to-ear beneath a black baseball cap.