Lakers center Andrew Bynum tries to power his way through the double-team… (Larry W. Smith / European…)
After showing a fixation with scoring points, Andrew Bynum suddenly showed fascination with grabbing rebounds. After seeing defense as an annoyance, he suddenly saw it as his calling card. After routinely showing little interest in providing actual effort, he suddenly exerted everything he had.
It's asking too much for Bynum to consistently replicate his 30-rebound performance in the Lakers' 98-84 victory Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs. He became the fifth player in Lakers history to reach that mark, joining George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. But it's not asking much for Bynum to replicate the way he went about posting those numbers.
For the last three weeks, Bynum was justifiably criticized about wide-ranging immature behavior. He took an ill-advised three-pointer, earned a benching and insisted afterward he'd keep firing away. He drew two ejections within a two-week span. He took digs at Coach Mike Brown by revealing he doesn't participate in team huddles and he defied rules by playing loud music in the locker room. He earned fines for various indiscretions, including skipping out on a meeting with General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
But what proved more worrisome among the Lakers was Bynum's on-court efforts. He had gone on a five-game stretch in which he recorded single-digit rebounds. He routinely sagged on defense, both in transition and in pick-and-roll sequences. Bynum appeared solely consumed with padding his career-high 18.4 points per game.
Bynum may have showed some head-scratching behavior again against San Antonio. He tried stealing the ball from Steve Blake in the game's waning seconds, possibly to take a three-pointer. Bynum also described his seven-of-20 shooting performance with an expletive on live television. But as far as his effort level, Bynum provided everything the Lakers need from him on a consistent basis if they're going to contend for a championship or at least make a deep playoff run.
He challenged every shot directed his way. Any time the Spurs drove into the lane, Bynum quickly rotated. When San Antonio threw up a shot, Bynum immediately boxed out and charged toward the glass. Once the Spurs received the ball, Bynum sprinted on the other end on defense.
He assumed ownership of this role last season after the All-Star break, but it came in a different context. After Bynum recovered from delayed off-season surgery on his right knee, former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson assigned most of the defensive and rebounding duties to him for three reasons.
It better ensured a healthy knee, because Bynum's movement's remained close to the basket. It gave Bynum something tangible to strive for since he struggled finding a niche among the scoring pecking order between Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. And it helped Bynum fall back into the team's good graces after putting off surgery so he could attend the World Cup, a decision that caused him to miss the first 24 games of the season.
Bynum also appeared eager to have the same mind-set at the beginning of this season. He maintained his defensive role would remain the same. He publicly shared his hope that he finished in the NBA's top five in rebounding. Even though he also yearned for a larger offensive role, Bynum placed the blame on himself when he received minimal touches.
But as Bynum ascended past Gasol in the scoring pecking order and he finally experienced minimal issues surrounding his knee, his priorities suddenly changed. His immature behavior after the trade deadline also coincided with his sole focus on scoring and providing minimal effort on defense and rebounding.
Just as Ramon Sessions' arrival helped jump-start the Lakers' offense, Bynum's loss of focus largely contributed to the Lakers allowing at least 100 points in nine of those 16 games.
Against San Antonio, that changed. His effort largely contributed to the Lakers limiting San Antonio on offense. His effort largely overcame a poor shooting clip. His presence largely helped the Lakers absorb Kobe Bryant's absence because of a sore left shin for the third consecutive game.
Given Bynum's unpredictable behavior, who knows whether he will aim to replicate that effort again. But the Lakers sure hope so. For better or worse, that will largely determine their fate. And against San Antonio, it proved good enough to pick up their best win of the season.