Which Andrew Bynum would the Lakers prefer? The one who posted his first career triple-double in the Lakers' 103-88 Game 1 victory over Denver with 10 points, 10 rebounds and an NBA playoff-record 10 blocks? Or the one who posted 27 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers' 104-100 Game 2 win over the Nuggets?
The Lakers had varying ways of wiggling out of their answer. Lakers power forward Pau Gasol pointed out with a smile that "both Andrews are good." Lakers guard Kobe Bryant argued it all depends on how defenses are playing Bynum. The Lakers center himself pointed to the triple-double effort, since, statistically that's a better rate. And then Lakers Coach Mike Brown touted Bynum's Game 1 effort since, of course, he loves defense.
"Realistically, I think he can do both," Brown said. "I think he can still impact the game defensively or control the game defensively. And he can score."
Yet, that all depends on the effort Bynum actually gives. That's a good thing these days. The Lakers enter Game 3 on Friday against Denver with a 2-0 series lead partly because Bynum has averaged 18.5 points on 63% shooting. That prolific play likely will continue since the Nuggets don't have enough size to counter Bynum no matter how many double-team combinations they throw at him. Brown and teammates saw Bynum's public self-criticism as evidence that he remains driven to improve.
"To me, in order to take it to the next level, you have to be your toughest critic," Brown said Thursday. "And if he's doing that and he truly means it, which I think he does, then, yeah, it's going to help him out. It's going to help him become the superstar that he can be one day."
"He's going to get out of it what he wants out of it," he concluded. "On the floor and off the floor."
That's where the unknown lies on the pace of Bynum's development.
Big picture, there's no question Bynum largely has grown this season since he posted career bests in points (18.7), rebounds (11.8) and minutes (35.2). Bryant and Bynum both noticed their All-Star appearance together strengthened their bond, and also gave the Lakers' center additional insight on how to improve his post moves, footwork and film study. And Lakers guard Ramon Sessions argued that Bynum has remained the league's best center "from top to bottom."
Day to day, Bynum had taken some steps back. And you know the list of transgressions. He took an ill-advised three-pointer and made public digs at Brown. Bynum stayed out of team huddles, skipped a meeting with General Manager Mitch Kupchak and played music too loud in the locker room. He showed such little effort on defense two weeks against Oklahoma City that Brown benched him in favor of Jordan Hill.
"I wasn't playing very well and I didn't have that much energy," Bynum said. "Coach made a decision that led to the win."
Now, Bynum is showing plenty of energy. The key involves remaining as prolific and self-critical as he's been during the Denver series.
"He's working his way there," Brown said. "The sky is the limit for this guy."