Has Bynum Finally Arrived, Or Is This Just Another Tease?
So that’s what Andrew Bynum looks like when his head is in the game.
If you missed it on Sunday in San Antonio, Bynum, the man child center, was finally everything Phil Jackson and the Lakers dreamed he could be. He was a dominating presence on defense, he snapped up a game-high 17 rebounds and, even though he hardly scored, he set the tenor for the defending champs’ best performance of the year.
Don’t let the final score of 99-83 fool you. The Lakers were up 65-37 at halftime against the team with the best record in the NBA.
This was their statement game, and Bynum provided the seven-foot exclamation mark. His size and length simply swallowed up a Spurts team that had just humiliated LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the Heat by 30 points. He was blocking shots and altering shots and generally leading the way for a stifling defense that we hadn’t seen much of so far this season.
Remember a few weeks back, when the town was alive with the Carmelo Anthony to L.A. rumors, and I wrote in a blog that a deal like that could ruin the Lakers’ chemistry? Well, the way they were playing at that point, they didn’t seem to have much, especially defensively.
But that all changes when Bynum plays like he did on Sunday.
Now the obvious question is, has the big kid finally arrived? Is he ready to take over as the inside force so many have predicted he could be? Can he be the wunderkind to lead Kobe and the Lakers to their third consecutive NBA title?
Or is this just another of Andrew’s infamous teases? He’s done this before. He’s given us titillating peaks at his ability. He’s proven his ceiling stretches almost as high as his body. We’ve seen enough to keep waiting and waiting …
But always before, there were slumps or injuries or immaturity, or simple lack of focus. “Oh, that’s just Andrew,” they’d say. “He just needs to grow up.”
OK, well, it is time to do that now. Time to act more like a man and less like the naive teenager who arrived fresh out of high school. Time to display at least some of the passion he demonstrated on Sunday in every game, especially once the postseason starts.
Bynum has to show he can do that before I’m ready to buy into him as the NBA’s next great center.
But the talent is there. Many who read this blog have e-mailed to argue with me about that. But now their argument has been swatted away like of the balls Bynum blocked against the Spurs.
This kid can do it, and so can the Lakers when they’re focused and ready to play.
Before the All-Star break, I was among those who were predicting doom. Jackson’s guys were playing as badly as I’d seen them, appearing disjointed and disinterested, and I really didn’t see how that could change.
Now I realize I was wrong, but only if Bynum can keep this up. When he plays the way he did on Sunday, the Lakers are a completely different bunch. The pressure is off Pau Gasol inside and he can concentrate on what he does best on the offensive end. Bryant, too, can relax more and play less minutes, something that will become more important when the playoffs start.
The Carmelo trade would have been exciting, but my suspicion all along is that Jackson and Mitch Kupchak both understood that defense wins championships. And for all his other gifts, Anthony cannot defend.
Bynum can. NBA scouts always have loved him, and you could see why against the Spurs. Andrew was taller and longer than anyone else out there, and he was the biggest reason for that L.A. romp in Texas.
But now here comes a good Atlanta team in Georgia, followed by LeBron and Dwayne. And while the Heat are admittedly struggling at the moment, let’s not forget they embarrassed the Lakers on Christmas Day. And that was on the road. Thursday night’s game will be in Miami.
Then comes Dallas in Big D, and quietly, the Mavericks are playing as well, or better, than anyone in the league.
If the real Andrew Bynum has finally stood up, the Lakers should win at least two of those final three road games and maybe even sweep them. If the big guy is ready to demonstrate that one last, elusive trait called consistency, they are certainly capable of doing that.
If not . . .well, it won’t be like we’ve never been there before.
— STEVE BISHEFF