This is the fourth in a series of posts grading the Lakers on their efforts in the 2011-12 season.
Player: Andrew Bynum, Lakers center
How he performed: 18.7 points on 55.8% shooting and 11.8 rebounds in the regular season; 16.7 points on 47.7% shooting and 11.1 rebounds in the playoffs.
The good: Finally, the Lakers don't have to judge Bynum strictly on his potential or on the hope that he stays healthy. They can strictly judge him by his performance. And, boy, did Bynum show plenty of signs that he has arrived. After Kobe Bryant said two years ago that "I eat first,Pau [Gasol] second," Bynum immediately bumped Gasol in the offensive pecking order. After longing to make an All-Star team, Bynum finally landed a spot. After Bryant said five years ago in explicit terms that the Lakers should trade Bynum, the team's superstar remains forever supportive of Bynum's growth.
His career-highs in points, shooting percentage, rebounds and minutes (35.2) happened through various circumstances. Bynum added more post moves, based on efficient footwork, hook shots and aggressive drives to the basket. He learned gradually how to quickly post and re-post out of double teams. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Bynum has shown efficiency in cuts to the basket (77.9%), post-ups (46.2%) and defending both the post (37.8%) and pick-and-rolls (38.5%).
Those marks earned him several high marks in the season. He became the fifth player in Lakers history to record 30 rebounds. Bynum tied an NBA playoff record with 10 blocked shots. He recorded seven 30-plus-point games this season after having one through his first six years. And his 16 15-plus-rebounds games came after having just 22 of those games through his first six seasons.
Most importantly, Bynum achieved all this while staying mostly healthy. Injuries sidelined him for only one games because of a moderately sprained left ankle. That's a far cry from the 31-game absence Bynum averaged in the past four seasons because of injuries. This progression may have taken longer than Laker fans hoped, but finally Bynum has arrived.
The bad: Still, the Lakers understandably feel very unsettled about Bynum. His 90-minute exit interview with Lakers Coach Mike Brown and General Manager Mitch Kupchak featured the two stressing the need for Bynum to stay what he called "mentally strong." It's safe to presume that included his numerous transgressions.
He earned a benching in one game for launching an ill-advised three-pointer, only to profess he'd shoot more of them in the future. Bynum routinely disrespected Brown by staying out of team huddles and appearing indifferent to his on-court instruction. ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin first reported Bynum blew off a meeting with Kupchak. Both McMenamin and The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported Bynum earned fines for numerous infractions. The list goes on and on.
More importantly, Bynum has displayed an inconsistent engagement level after the All-Star break. After posting his 30-rebound effort, Bynum went five of the next six games grabbing only single-digit rebounds. His effort level looked so atrocious April 22 against Oklahoma City that Brown pulled him in favor of seldom-used forward Jordan Hill. All of the Lakers' three losses in their first-round matchup against Denver mostly trace back to Bynum's effort level, which needlessly extended the series to seven games. Too many times, Bynum's effort level on defense either depended on how many touches he received inside on offense or his overall mood.
Although Bynum assumed a key role with the Lakers this past season, they simply can't afford having games in which he's not engaged. That's why it's not surprising the Lakers' commitment toward Bynum has only involved picking up his $16.1-million player option for next season. Even after his monstrous breakout season, the Lakers are right in thinking twice whether he's worth a long-term investment.
Had Bynum simply played hard consistently, he would've deserved an A+. But his unpredictability severely cost the Lakers in the playoffs.
Lakers report card: Pau Gasol faced reduced role, trade rumors
Lakers report card: Ramon Sessions soars and stumbles
Is Andrew Bynum's talent worth the Lakers' long-term investment?
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