Lakers’ success or failure largely hinges on Andrew Bynum
Various points in the Lakers’ 99-84 Game 3 loss Friday to the Denver Nuggets define both the good and the bad that Andrew Bynum offers.
There’s the dominant Bynum. That one scored 18 second-half points, aggressively fought through double teams and consistently established post position. The Lakers didn’t always feature him as they should, but he still pushed, stood strong and delivered when he received looks.
There’s the lazy Bynum. That one went scoreless in the first half and attempted only three field goals. Sure, Denver wanted it that way as it started Timofey Mozgov at center and then swarmed him with double teams.
There’s the angry Bynum. That one nearly drew a technical foul in the third quarter when officials overlooked JaVale McGee’s goaltending call. Even after a bucket by Ramon Sessions cut Denver’s lead to five, Bynum still argued. He didn’t stop until Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes and assistant coach John Kuester intervened.
All these conflicting snapshots represent Bynum’s current stage of development. And how he reacts in these circumstances will largely dictate the Lakers’ success. The unsettling reality: No one can predict which one will show up.
For the first two games of this series, Bynum provided everything the Lakers could want. In Game 1, despite double teams holding him to 10 points, Bynum managed a triple-double by posting 13 rebounds and tying an NBA playoff record with 10 blocked shots. In Game 2, Bynum scored 27 points, yet lamented afterward that he could play better.
The Lakers like that attitude. It suggests Bynum is well on his well to becoming a franchise player, perhaps that he’s growing up.
Yes and no.
Bynum has repeatedly taken two steps forward then one step back this season. Soon after appearing in his first All-Star game, Bynum tested his boundaries by shooting a three-pointer, taking public digs at Coach Mike Brown, skipping a meeting with General Manager Mitch Kupchak and earning two ejections within a two-week span. After becoming the fifth player in Laker history to grab 30 rebounds in a game, Bynum recorded just single-digit boards in five of the next six. Frustrated by a lack of effort in rebounding and defense, Brown sent him to the bench late against Oklahoma City on April 22 in favor of seldom-used forward Jordan Hill.
In the Lakers’ first-round series against Denver, Bynum has proved largely responsible for the team’s two wins as well as its loss. Bryant told reporters after Game 3 that the Lakers were doomed by six-of-25 shooting from three-point range. But Bynum’s inconsistent effort when he did get the ball may explain why he got fewer touches in the second half while the Lakers turned to long-range shots. How Bynum passes out of double teams largely determines the Lakers’ ball movement. How he produces in the post largely affects whether the Lakers can slow down the pace. Bynum’s effectiveness even largely dictates how the Nuggets will cover Bryant.
Perhaps it’s a heavy burden for Bynum. But he wanted and has earned this role, even though it can’t be predicted whether he will show up with aggression, laziness, anger or all of the above.
It’s all part of the maturation process for Bynum. Because of that, the Lakers’ playoff fortunes hang in the balance.
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