If professional sports were nature television shows, the content would generally center on younger players being eaten by packs of wily veterans and their coaches, managers and coordinators.
The opposition is making constant adjustments, and particularly in the age of infinite video almost instantly available, any weaknesses in a player's game will be seen and accounted for. Once one team finds success with it, others follow. In baseball, every spring some kid shows up out of Double-A, and hits .390 over his first 75 at bats. That's the easy part. Teams watch film, find the holes in his swing, and mercilessly exploit them until the player adjusts or disappears. In basketball, they'll try to take away a player's strengths. Make him go right when he wants to go left, make him shoot jumpers when he wants to penetrate, and so on. Great players learn to beat the opposition even when they know what's coming.
Andrew Bynum is well past the stage where teams poke around to see what he can do. They know. After he averaged over 22 points on 63 percent shooting in his first three games of the season, then hit his first seven shots of the first half in his fourth, opposing squads tired of getting obliterated on the block are taking the next step: Bynum is now attracting double teams. "It's the ultimate compliment," Lakers assistant Chuck Person told me following Sunday's game.
The message may be flattering, but it's not much fun.
Against Golden State and Memphis, Bynum hit only eight of 23 shots, and turned the ball over nine times. "It's going to be a process and he's probably going to get frustrated because he's not scoring at the clip he was prior to all these double teams coming, and he's turning the ball over," Mike Brown said Sunday. Unfortunately, Bynum will have to learn on the fly. "We can't have contact at practice, so he's going to have to work through it in the games," Brown said.
Pau Gasol has seen a steady diet of double teams since his time in Memphis. "[You have to] be aware, be patient. You've got to continue to be aggressive but recognize and see what's in front of you," he said Monday after practice. "The deeper he gets the ball, the harder it is for the double team to come. He'll figure it out, it's just a matter of getting used to [it]... It's a matter of reads, and knowing that it's coming, for the most part."
Bynum isn't a bad passer, and confidence the ball might now come back has made him far more willing to kick it out than in years past. Some of the adjustments he has to make are technical, learning better body and ball position to survey the floor without exposing the rock. It's about learning personnel (his and the other team's), allowing him to better anticipate when doubles are coming and from what direction, then knowing where his teammates will be.
Both Brown and Gasol believe Bynum will figure it out. Brown noted it took even someone as skilled as Tim Duncan a few years "to get really good and comfortable with it." Fortunately, Bynum doesn't have to become a grandmaster-level expert in double busting for the Lakers to make teams pay for sending extra attention his way. He's a smart player and knows how to move the ball. If he can develop a level of proficiency over the next few weeks, the Lakers would then have three players requiring double teams at different levels on the floor.
It's one reason to believe the offense will continue to improve over the course of the season.