Waiting for Andrew Bynum: double teams

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
5:45
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Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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Andrew Bynum
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
How much of Andrew Bynum's scoring efficiency came from playing with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol?

Andrew Bynum’s basketball world is about to change in a big way. His NBA adolescence was spent with Kobe Bryant drawing massive attention from opposing defenses, and Pau Gasol delivering pinpoint passes time and again.

Now that he's been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, Bynum will have what such an efficient scorer deserves -- the ball. But he'll also have something new: the undivided attention of the defense. He can count on fewer uncontested baskets than ever.

And then there's his old nemesis, the double-team. They'll be coming thick and fast in Philadelphia.

Will he be ready? When he's not surrounded by great players, will he still be an efficient scorer?

The film tells the story of how Bynum has handled double-teams in the past. And the first thing it says is: He has a massive body, and he knows how to use it. A post threat needs a reliable means of getting the ball in good position, and for Bynum it’s as simple as deciding to go somewhere and claiming the space.

From there, Bynum scores at a good clip and draws fouls well. It doesn’t always look pretty -- despite Bynum’s practiced movements, any improvisation is typically a mess. But it’s brutally effective.

So effective that, even in the modern day of protecting the 3-point line, and even with Gasol and Bryant on the court, opponents aggressively double-teamed him in Los Angeles. That strategy worked for the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, in part because Bynum still can do some simple things to improve his post passing and because the Lakers’ offense wasn’t doing him many favors.

One way Bynum made himself open to doubles was by making a predictable first move toward the baseline. Watch Tim Duncan in the post, and you’ll notice he almost exclusively makes his first move to the middle of the court; to counter, he goes baseline. The idea is that driving middle offers a better look at the floor and where the help or double-team is coming from. If the first move is to the baseline, suddenly two-thirds of the court goes dark and any counter move back to the middle is made blindly.

This is the sequence of many a Bynum turnover: hard dribble baseline, an unnoticed double from the top of the court, a spin back to the middle and ... straight into the double-team. Turnover.

Despite good touch around the rim, Bynum is a weak ball handler; anytime he has to take more than a couple of dribbles, it’s typically a disaster. He doesn’t have to do a lot to be "doing too much."

Bynum also tends to make himself "small" when the double-team comes, perhaps because he fears being knocked off balance should he stand up too tall. Instead of peering over the top and making a quick decision, he sometimes crouches and brings the ball to his hip -- an invitation to the defense to get even tighter.

But that habit might have been exacerbated by his teammates and the Lakers' offensive game plan. To start, the Lakers didn’t have much in the way of 3-point shooting, which made doubling an attractive option for the defense. They also tended to do a lot of unproductive moving without the ball on the weak side.

Ideally, Bynum would know all his passing options before he even catches the ball. But that wasn’t always the case in Los Angeles. As a result, you can sort of see the gears turning in Bynum’s head as he reads the double-team.

What was instinctive for Bynum was to duck in hard to the rim when Gasol and Bryant ran pick-and-rolls. Gasol would roll and catch the feed from Bryant, drawing Bynum’s man in his direction, then loft the ball skyward for Bynum to catch and dunk over some hapless defender.

Bynum will learn an increased appreciation for those moments when he lines up next to Lavoy Allen.

However, there is some reason to expect progress. Bynum did become quicker and more accurate with his passing as the season progressed, especially when he knew where the double-team was coming from. One of the reasons Denver gave him so much trouble was that instead of a set double-team pattern, coach George Karl made the 6-foot-10 Danilo Gallinari the designated doubler. Consequently, the double-team came from wherever Gallinari happened to be on the court, and when Bynum paused to parse the defense, the long, active power forward closed the trap.

This led to Bynum being visibly frustrated and looking to force his shot. In Philadelphia, he'll have to be patient and know that he is the source of the offense, whether the ball flows through him to the rim or from him to open shooters (at least Philadelphia has some of those -- Dorell Wright, Jason Richardson and Jrue Holiday are reliable floor-spacers). And even then, fewer easy looks probably means Bynum will be a less efficient scorer, even if he’s playing with more skill and savvy.

A Philadelphia offense tailored specifically to Bynum will mean more double-teams and more tough decisions for a player who has long feasted on easy opportunities created by talented teammates. He can and likely will make some technical adjustments to become better than he was. But nothing he can do will turn Evan Turner into Kobe Bryant, just as nothing he can do will result in the kind of easy points he so often scored in L.A.
Beckley Mason is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com.

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