At what point does the risk outweigh the reward on Andrew Bynum?
In a fantasy world severely lacking for 20-10 players who qualify at center, Bynum should be a precious commodity. Still only 22, we should be talking about how he is ascending into the top rank of fantasy centers. We should be talking about how he's about to take the torch from Kobe Bryant as the focal point of the next prospective Los Angeles Lakers dynasty.
Instead, we are talking about how 2010-11 is a make or break year for Bynum as a permanent, full-time NBA player.
It's not just us here in fantasyland talking about it. Phil Jackson began the speculation, stating that if Bynum broke down again, perhaps it would be time to start viewing him as a part-time player. Maybe it was just a Zen-type motivational ploy, but it was a three-alarm alert regarding Bynum's long-term fantasy prospects. Not that we needed any warning; four knee injuries in four seasons have the capacity to raise something of a red flag.
What tends to get lost sometimes in all the relentless attention paid to Bynum's injury history is his incredible upside. Think back to the way he started last season. For more than a month, he averaged nearly 20 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks a night. Personally, I won't forget his signature game, in January 2009 against the Los Angeles Clippers, when he exploded for 42 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Sure, it was against the Clippers, but 42 and 15 is 42 and 15. It was the night it seemed like Bynum had fully arrived.
I live in Los Angeles, and while not a Lakers fan, I've watched Bynum develop over the years and have a great appreciation for his prodigious talents. I fully believe that when ambulatory, he has the potential to be a top-20 fantasy player. So that's why it pains me to say that there's no way I'd take Bynum outside of an endgame pick (10th round or later), or in a keeper league situation.
It's not that I don't think he could come back and produce at a reasonably high level (say, 15 points and eight rebounds), it's just that I think your draft-day assets are best allotted on healthier big men.
I take the Lakers at face value when they project Bynum to return from his most recent knee surgery in late November/early December. That would still leave 65-68 games for Bynum to help fantasy owners. I'll assume that Bynum will push himself to get back into a full-time starting role as quickly as possible. However, he likely will be a victim of the Lakers' success. They are going to need him at full strength if they want a reasonable chance at a threepeat; it's doubtful they could make it through the playoffs again with a hobbled Bynum. In reality, the Lakers are thinking they need to get Bynum healthy for April and beyond, not some regular-season game in December.
Every bit of evidence out there (quotes from Lakers players and Lakers brass) points toward Bynum being eased into things over a couple of months. Could he have a minute count a la Yao Ming? Could he sit out the second night of some back-to-backs? Both are distinct possibilities.
In a season where you've got three top centers (Yao, Bynum, Andrew Bogut) already tabbed as damaged goods (not to mention No. 2-types like Troy Murphy, Mehmet Okur, Greg Oden and Samuel Dalembert), you're going to be at a huge advantage if you nab two healthy center-eligible players on draft day.
Last season marked the rare campaign where you almost had too many decent center-eligible players. This year, you'd be better off taking a stable No. 1 big man like a David Lee or Brook Lopez. Anchor the position early in drafts so you don't have to chuck a Hail Mary on Bynum.
But if you've got a late draft pick -- and an IR spot or a bench spot to burn --Bynum could amount to a reasonable risk. Just remember that you'll have to watch him like a hawk and monitor Lakers-related press for any signs that he might need to be limited after he returns.
I hope I'm wrong here. I hope Bynum's knees stabilize overnight so he can continue his upward progression as a full-time player. But if he does round back into dominant night-in, night-out form, it probably won't be in time to really help you in 2010-11.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.