Lakers center Andrew Bynum dunks during the Lakers' 104-100 playoff… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Somewhere in Andrew Bynum's bookshelf sits the title that perfectly encapsulates his improvement in the 2011-12 NBA season.
The book, "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell, delves into how "little things can make a big difference," a subject Bynum read at length last season while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. Regarding Bynum's development this season, Lakers fans might see that tipping point in various places.
They saw it in his aggressiveness, where his larger post presence ensured a career-high 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds a game. They saw it in the team's pecking order, where Bynum surpassed Pau Gasol as the team's No. 2 scoring option. And they saw it in Bynum's first All-Star appearance, which, in turn, created an even tigther bond with Kobe Bryant.
Yet, when you add all that up, Bynum only finished fourth in voting for the NBA's Most Improved Player. That award went to Orlando Magic forward Ryan Anderson, who posted career highs in points (16.3) and three-point shooting (39.1%). But that improvement reflected his move into the starting lineup since his advanced stats remain mostly the same. Other candidates, such as Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova and Detroit center Greg Monroe jumped from unknown players to solid role players.
For Bynum, he went from solid contributor to All-Star in a single season. The jump might not be as surprising, but it should be more noticeable. Bynum in recent seasons had always been considered the No. 2 center behind Dwight Howard, but now Lakers fans can say with a straight face that Bynum's the best. Many valued Bynum's size advantage for the Lakers, but wondered if he could ever stay healthy. He has proven he can. Many wondered if Bynum would have the necessary work ethic to assume greatness. The possibilities remain so open that the consummate workaholic in Bryant respects how Bynum approaches his craft.
Of course, Bynum is still going through some rough patches. His commitment to defense doesn't always show. His off-court antics make people wonder. He's hardly ready to lead a team on his own. But these areas reflect the evolving process and fine-tuning of Bynum into becoming a great player. These incidents might have slightly delayed his growth, but they're not damaging it.
Unfortunately for Bynum's sake, it's not as glamorous to see a good player becoming great as it is to see a completely unknown player immediately blossom. His growth remains more subtle.
It started his rookie season. That's when he matched up with Shaquille O'Neal, answering a dunk when Shaq used Bynum as a pogo stick by driving past the Big Fella on the baseline during the next possession. It continued in 2008. That's when Bynum signed a four-year, $57.4-million extension, showing the Lakers strongly believed in his potential. In 2010, Bynum earned respect from his teammates by bravely fighting through a knee injury and becoming the team's distinguishable X-factor in their NBA Finals win over Boston. And last season, Bynum made up for his 24-game absence while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee by assuming a large defensive role when he returned and completing the season without another major injury.
Those examples make it clear there were many "tipping points" that led to his breakout campaign this year. It's too bad the voters didn't notice enough to appreciate him.
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Andrew Bynum deserved Most Improved Player award