Last night in Phoenix, Andrew Bynum scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and had a blocked shot all in the first quarter. For the rest of the game, while the Suns pulled away, Bynum seemed like a different player, adding just five points and just three more rebounds.
Since Pau Gasol returned 14 games ago, Bynum has gone into a slump, scoring 12.4 points and averaging 6.8 rebounds per game. This was a guy averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a game when Gasol was injured, but since he has had to share the post his numbers have drooped more than anyone expected.
What has been more concerning is that his shoulders have drooped as well — Bynum’s energy and effort seem to be off. There are fans calling him lazy and not wanting to earn his new, big salary.
But watching Bynum play, the answers are more complex than that.
Look at the loss to the Suns, a game where the Lakers game plan was to exploit their size advantage inside. The Lakers did that early with Bynum getting shots in a good space and drawing fouls. With that, he was also in position to grab six rebounds, three on the offensive end.
He came out for a breather at the end of the quarter, and it was never the same after that. His teammate didn’t get him the ball. Phoenix adjusted their system on offense so that Bynum had to come away from the basket to cover Amare Stoudemire on the wing, meaning fewer rebound chances. The reduced chances (and the team losing) seemed to frustrate Bynum, who’s effort started to lag. It became a spiral.
There are other factors — Bynum is simply missing shots at the rim he used to make. In the Lakers last four games, he is shooting 31.2% at the rim. That’s layups and dunks and tap ins, but he is making less than one in three of those. That is about confidence, that is about energy. The lack of energy at times has led to foul trouble in a number of games, which has meant more time on the bench and not playing.
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Like everything with Andrew Bynum, there are no simple answers. He needs to play with better energy and not get down when he struggles; but his teammates need to do a better job using him and not just go away from the game plan for open jumpers. Phil Jackson isn’t going to tell them all what to do, he will guide and let them figure it out for themselves because lessons learned the hard way stick longer.
And that is good for this team when it really matters in June, even if it means a little more pain in December.