Andrew Bynum continues to run rampant on offense, averaging 20.3 points in exhibition play and looking nothing like the player who was such a non-factor in the Lakers’ championship run last spring.
He has been a presence down low, shooting 57.5% and scoring almost every one of his baskets via dunk or layup, but can he keep up this pace once the games count?
“If his teammates are willing to look for him,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “With teams that we have an advantage, we should be taking advantage.”
There are some forces that might lessen Bynum’s presence once the regular season begins.
Pau Gasol has missed four games because of a strained hamstring, allowing Bynum to operate freely in the post. Kobe Bryant is averaging only 16.5 points in exhibition play, but that’ll go up when the games mean something. And as Jackson pointed out, the Lakers have played Golden State three times, Sacramento and Charlotte -- none of whom suited up a center who could match Bynum’s size and strength. (Jackson said the Clippers’ Chris Kaman was a suitable opponent, though Bynum scored 20 points in that game Sunday.)
“He can average anywhere from 15 to 20 points,” forward Lamar Odom said of Bynum’s regular-season prospects. “He’s been so efficient. He’s a great free-throw shooter, which will help.”
Bynum did not practice Wednesday because of a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, but tonight could be an early chance against an All-Star caliber center. The Lakers play Denver, with one-name center Nene, in Anaheim. The teams play again Friday in San Diego.
Jackson has often been hard on Bynum, realizing how close the soon-to-be 22-year-old is to attaining All-Star status.
Is he finally satisfied?
“You ask me questions like that and I rarely say yes,” Jackson said. “There were about four or five defensive things that really got to me [Tuesday against Golden State]. That’s where I want to see improvement. Offensively he’s doing great, he’s dunking the ball, getting that ball to the basket . . . but those defensive things have got to change.”
Bynum slipped out after Wednesday’s practice without talking to reporters, but it’s safe to say he knows he needs to work on his defense.
The Lakers’ coaching staff is imploring him to be more of a quarterback down low. They want him to keep his head on a swivel and yell out when and where screens are coming at teammates.
They also want him to be faster with help defense if a guard squirts through the perimeter and closes in on the basket.
“Some of it’s just basic awareness, basic protection of the basket, which our big guys have to do,” Jackson said.
Gasol and Luke Walton (sore back) might play tonight after making it through Wednesday’s practice.
Odom, meanwhile, looked fine in scoring 16 points Tuesday after sitting out two games because of a bruised right shin.
“Time off and [trainer] Gary Vitti -- that’s the magic formula,” Odom said.
The Lakers waived guard Thomas Kelati, who averaged 1.6 points in five exhibition games, leaving their roster at 14 players.
Rookie Tony Gaffney remains a longshot to make the team. An undrafted forward out of Massachusetts, Gaffney did not practice Wednesday because of a bruised back he sustained on a hard fall in Tuesday’s game. He is considered day-to-day.