Pressure makes diamonds.
These were the unforgettable words newly acquired Philadelphia Sixers superstar center Andrew Bynum spoke back in August at his introductory press conference.
And these words couldn't be any more true. Although there are other Sixers who face pressure to improve their performance this year (looking at you, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner), no one is under more pressure than the big man himself. The expectations are demanding and numerous. Bynum is expected to do things like: block every shot, dunk every ball, never let his man score , save women and children from burning buildings, come up with a cure for cancer, and even make The Office as good as it was when Michael Scott was the manager. OK, so maybe I made a few of those things up. But you get the point - Bynum is here to be THE guy the Sixers build around in the near future; he's expected to be the proverbial cornerstone of this whole organization. Simply put, Andrew Bynum needs to be the superstar he's capable of being, and nothing less, in order for this team to have a chance at being a legitimate championship contender. Fortunately, this shouldn't be a problem.
Andrew Bynum: Offense
At 7'0", 285 lbs and only 24 years old Bynum can already be considered among the NBA's elite. He's the second best big man in the NBA (or first, if you ask fellow teammate Dorell Wright), and he's entering a role with the Sixers where he'll have even more opportunities to display his dominance. Gone are the days of playing second (or third) fiddle to the likes of Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol; Andrew Bynum is the number one option now.
In order to gain more firsthand insight on Bynum, I reached out to DexterFishmore from LA Lakers SBN Blog Silver Screen and Roll. He eloquently describes Bynum's aforementioned dominance here:
The best thing about Drew's game is just his physical presence in the paint. That height, that strength, those arms that at times seem to reach to the ceiling... when they're put to good use they can dominate a game and demoralize an opponent. Philly fans will see it soon enough. Early in a game, Drew will swat away a runner, or pull down a defensive rebound that no one else can reach, or play volleyball at the rim, tip-tip-tipping missed shots until they go in, and you'll see the opponent visibly start to wither. They'll suddenly lose interest in venturing into the key. The guys guarding Drew will get tired of having to bang against his huge frame, and those inside points will just get easier and easier. I like to compare Drew to a big running back in football. If you keep feeding him down low, eventually he'll wear down whoever's guarding him. It's just not that fun spending a couple hours getting beaten up by a 300-pound person.
As a big man, most of Bynum's offensive greatness will be displayed down low in the paint. His combination of size, athleticism, and great footwork make him an unstoppable force in the post at times. Bynum uses his size and length to establish good post position, catches the ball while maintaining his position, and then goes to work using a variety of moves. If Bynum seals his defender on his back, which you can see he's good at from the video below, he's already won most of the battle. With the defender behind him, Bynum can then utilize a power dribble and a drop step that puts him in prime position to score the ball or draw a foul (or both!). . If the defender tries to front him (or side front him), all Bynum has to do is seal the defender on his front and call for a lob for an easy basket.
While there will be times where the offense will be as simple as dumping the ball to Bynum down in the post and letting him "do his thing', there will be times where the post entries to Bynum will need to be more creative. Such an example may be the high-low option that the Sixers could run with a player like Spencer Hawes at the top of the paint with Bynum down low. Rich highlights this possibility in greater detail in his post, but the essence of this concept is that Bynum can receive an easy entry pass from the high post as opposed to a potentially more difficult and conventional angle from a wing entry.
Another great quality about Bynum is his composure in the post. As a post player, you have to the right combination of decisiveness and patience. You have to make a strong, aggressive post move to get the shot you need before the defense can react, but you also need to make sure you're not rushing the shot and/or shooting off balance. Watching Bynum (admittedly only throug the limited film I could find on him), I get the sense he has this type of experience and composure. Knowing this, you can see why he's such a tough cover. This is why teams have and will continue to double team him down low. In theory, this is great because if the opponent is doubling Bynum they're leaving an open man somewhere. However, Bynum may have a problem in getting that open man the ball.
Although it may seem inconceivable, Bynum does have some weaknesses in his game. Here's what Dexter had to say:
[His] offensive skills could use some work. He's not good at reacting to or passing out of double-teams and historically he hasn't been a good screen-setter. I don't know if that's a cause or a result of the Lakers not playing much pick and roll.
It's not like these weaknesses are newly discovered, since we've discussed them here on LB before, but they need to be repeated. While they may provide cause for concern, not all hope should be lost. The Sixers added a number of shooters this off-season that will get open looks when Bynum draws double teams. Conversely, Bynum might not see as many double teams if defenders are paying respect to shooters on the perimeter by playing them tight. If Sixers coach Doug Collins can stress some concepts of the 4-out, 1-in offensive theory that Rich talked about in length, that might increase Bynum's awareness of double teams and encourage him to pass out should he face a double team. As for the pick and roll issue, this is another area where Bynum can only get better by being put in these situations. He simply wasn't put in the position to run pick and rolls in LA, so it's hard to know if he can succeed in this role (no pun intended) until we actually see him trying to do it.
Andrew Bynum: Defense
Obviously Bynum's impact on the Sixers defense will be huge as well. His massive presence down low will make it hard for players to easily drive into the paint to get easy shots. Expect many players to have their shots blocked or altered when they try to drive in on the big man. In this sense, his team defense will help mask, but not entirely solve, some of his teammates defensive deficiencies. His individual defense will also prevent dominant post men from throwing him around with ease.
When it comes to defending the pick and roll, here's what Dexter had to say:
I actually think he's better at defending the pick and roll than he's given credit for. Opponents often try to generate mismatches by getting him to switch onto a ball-handler on the perimeter, and while that's clearly not where you want Bynum to be spending most of his time, he's so athletic and huge that the strategy isn't that great for opponents. He's learned how to "ride" a smaller ball-handler on a drive into the lane, suckering him into thinking there's an open layup or floater and then slapping the shot out of bounds.
This is certainly encouraging to hear. I can't count how many times we saw Hawes defend the pick and roll last year so terribly. Think back to the Celtics series when Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett ran the pick and pop quite often. Ugh.
If this part of Bynum's defense as Dexter describes it holds true, teams will have a harder time penetrating the Sixers defense and getting easy shots at the rim.
Maturity Issues and Injuries
By now, it should be clear that a lack of ability is not something Sixers fans should worry about when it comes to Bynum. However, there are some non-ability related issues that may cause concern.
There will be maturity issues with [Bynum]. Hopefully it won't become anything major. He's never really struck me as a bad person, just someone who gets bored sometimes with the day-to-day work of being an NBA player. Something didn't seem right in his relationship with Mike Brown... Drew appeared to view him as a substitute teacher who could be clowned on a little bit. He'd function best with a coach who's firm and authoritative but respectful. Neither coddling him nor treating him as a chronic discipline case is likely to generate good results.
Bynum seems happy to be here in Philly as he indicated in his press conference. So it's not like he's some disgruntled player. In fact, he's very gruntled. And although Doug Collins might be reportedly overbearing with his players at times (see: text messages like "LOL ANDREW I LOVE U SO MUCH <3333" and players reportedly tuning him out), I think Bynum will respect him more than he did Mike Brown. Collins may be that "authoritative but respectful" coaching presence Bynum needs. But maybe not and Bynum gets annoyed by Collins and that becomes a problem. Hopefully that's not the case. I don't see maturity problems being a major issue for Bynum here if he's truly happy as he says he is.
What is an issue right now though is Bynum's knee problems. He's suffering from a bone bruise (reportedly unrelated to his offseason non-invasive knee surgery in Germany) and he's being held out all if not most of the NBA preseason as a precautionary measure. As I was watching an interview with Andrew recently on the Sixers website, he did state that he feels he could play through the pain if he needed to, which is encouraging. Hopefully the rest pays off and Bynum isn't hindered by injury issues this season, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on.
Update [10/10/12 - 12:03 PM] ... There's a report that Bynum's knee injury is more serious than we're being led to believe. For more on that, read Michael's article here.
Patience Is Key
Look, this is the most people have been excited for a Sixers season and player since... what almost seems like forever. But before we go thinking "championship!!!", let's slow down for a moment and realize that Andrew Bynum is on a new team with new players and coaches in a new atmosphere. Naturally, there's going to be an adjustment period, and even more so due to the fact Bynum is missing time in the preseason to practice and play with his teammates. Bynum will likely be great for the Sixers this year, and it's reasonable to have large expectations, but let's not forget that he may need that adjustment time.
One last thing to consider is that Bynum can't win a championship for this team by himself. As the Bible says, "Man can not live on Bynum alone". He's going to need his teammates to step up and find a Robin (Jrue?) to his Batman. Having Bynum puts the Sixers on the right track to contending, but they're just not there yet until they find that right complementary piece(s).
Predictions & Goals
Instead of posting stat predictions like some other writers have, I'll open that up to the readers in the comments.
These are some goals I've highlighted for Andrew:
- Develop a strong pick and roll duo, especially with Jrue
- Recognize double teams better and kick the ball out when appropriate
- LAWAD in the paint all night
- Avoid stepping on and/or eating Malik Wayns
- Avoid causing media controversy to the best of his ability
- Stay healthy (!!!!!)
- Posterize Kevin Garnett
- Get his favorite NASCAR driver's autograph
- Film a retro police movie with Spencer Hawes
- YOLO 3 point make
- Fall in love with Philly and sign a max contract here after the season
(PS: Thanks again to Dexter for the insight!)