Thursday, January 28, 2010
Making the case for Bynum
By Dave McMenamin
The NBA All-Star reserves are set to be announced today.
If all of the coaches who voted to determine who the seven substitutes in each conference will be were sitting around watching the first half of the Lakers-Pacers game on NBA TV on Wednesday instead of manning the sidelines (it was a particularly packed 11-game night), then Commissioner David Stern would have had a new problem on his hands when he arrived at his Olympic Tower office.
(Wednesday, that problem was named Gilbert Arenas, of course.)
Stern's new dilemma would be figuring out what to do with 14 revised coaches' ballots lying in a pile by his fax machine, all with the name "Andrew Bynum" plastered on them in a font size large enough to fully punctuate the 7-footer's game.
(Fourteen, not 15, because Lakers coach Phil Jackson isn't allowed to vote for his own players.)
In Los Angeles' 118-96 win over Indiana, Bynum started 5-for-5 from the field in the first quarter, had 22 points and seven rebounds by halftime and finished with a season-high 27 points on 12-for-14 shooting, 12 boards, two assists and a steal (all in just 31 minutes).
It was the type of performance that makes you want to second-guess things.
The intra-city Clippers' Chris Kaman and his 20.1 points and 9.1 rebounds averages has been popping up on the reserves list of scribes who cover the league as the can't-miss backup center in the West. But while Bynum was punking the Pacers, Kaman was putting up an empty 24 points and 11 (to go with five turnovers) in a 16-point loss to the hapless 4-40 Nets.
One night does not an All-Star campaign make, but it certainly makes you think. Has Bynum been overlooked because of the lofty expectations attached to his team? Aren't Bynum's numbers more meaningful on a 35-11 team than Kaman's on a 20-25 one?
Even if an all-expenses paid trip to Dallas to Watch Shannon Dunk and play in Jerry Jones' palace isn't in Bynum's near future, the way he's playing deserves some credit.
Bynum embarrassed the Pacers' Roy Hibbert in the first half the same way that Hibbert shocked the big-man-watching world on January 5 by putting 26 points up against Dwight Howard's 11 in a win over Orlando.
This season, the Lakers 22-year old center(piece) of the future has been the subject of trade speculation involving the Raptors' Chris Bosh, he's been scrutinized for his oil-and-water meshing with Pau Gasol's game and most recently he's been fined for missing the team's flight from New York to Toronto (and subsequently chided by Jackson for making a "rookie mistake" even though he's a fifth-year player), so it's not like he'll be a snub that will get everybody up in arms when the final rosters are released, but he is making strides.
He's averaging career highs in points per game (15.5) and free throw percentage (74.4, outstanding for a center) and his rebounds per game (8.3), blocks per game (1.6) and field goal percentage (56.4) are right in line with what you'd expect from a guy with his 7-foot, 285-pound frame.
The amazing part about the matchup with Hibbert was that it actually made Bynum look young again. Hibbert, a space-eating 7-foot-2, 278 pounds himself, is in only his second year in the league, but thanks to a four-year collegiate career at Georgetown, is actually a year older than Bynum.
After Bynum suffered devastating knee injuries in consecutive years, robbing his 2007-08 season and severely hampering his range of motion and level of confidence during the Lakers title run last June, his knee brace was like a scarlet letter, and he looked about as airborne as those airplane rides outside of Costco.
Not on Wednesday.
He threw down an alley-oop. He extended for putbacks. He exploded for rebounds. Bynum exacted revenge on both the Pacers for the last-second win they pulled off against the Lakers last season at Conseco Field House but also on the month of January itself, because it was during the first month of the year the last two years that his knees gave out.
Bynum's boost helped the Lakers to a plus-20 advantage on the boards and a plus-22 lead in the paint.
It was an individual outburst that the Lakers needed as a whole, as they were playing in the fifth game of their eight-game road trip (and the second tail end of the three back-to-backs that are scheduled during their 14-day odyssey) and the beauty of it was that the solo show didn't come from Kobe Bryant.
Not to say that Bryant, who is headed to his 12th All-Star appearance next month, wasn't his usual brilliant self, but he was able to play within himself and not try to do too much because Bynum was playing out of his mind.
Bynum is used to coming down with an injury to a knee this time of year.
When he finds out his name isn't announced with the All-Stars today, he'll find out getting a chip on his shoulder is a much better alternative.