Saving Private Bynum

On December 4th, Andrew Bynum scored 19 points and snagged eight rebounds in the Los Angeles Lakers' win over the Miami Heat. That was the last time it could honestly be said that Drew played well. Since then, he's turned in a series of increasingly lassitudinous performances, bottoming out (one hopes) in last night's 11-minute no-show in New Jersey. His December slide has conjured the unwelcome specter of Playoff Bynum, that ungainly and foul-prone creature who failed to contribute much to the Lakers' postseason run last year.

What exactly is up with the Laker big man? Phil Jackson has mentioned that Bynum hasn't been feeling well the last couple games, but the slump goes back further than that. Pau Gasol has been beasting of late, no doubt soaking up shots and rebounds that might otherwise be available to Drew. I don't pretend to know precisely what's driving his game backward. I have, though, run some numbers that help reveal the contours of the problem.

The table below lists certain of Bynum's stats for the last seven games, along with his season averages for comparison. Usage is usage rate, or the percentage of Laker possessions he uses when he's on the floor. (Think of it as a measure of how involved he is in the team's offense. With five players on the floor at any one time, an average usage rate is 20%.) Pts/40, Reb/40 and Fouls/40 indicate his points, rebounds and fouls per 40 minutes of play. TS% is his True Shooting Percentage, a measure of how efficiently he's generating the points he scores.

Opponent

Minutes

Usage

Pts/40

TS%

Reb/40

Fouls/40

Phoenix - 12/6

30

16.2

17.3

60

8.0

2.7

Utah - 12/9

32

17.9

17.5

54

5.0

3.8

Minnesota - 12/11

25

16.2

19.2

67

12.8

6.4

@Utah - 12/12

31

17.3

16.8

63

3.9

5.2

@Chicago - 12/15

25

20.6

17.6

53

4.8

3.2

@Milwaukee - 12/16

24

13.6

13.3

67

5.0

8.3

@New Jersey - 12/19

11

21.0

14.5

52

10.9

21.8

7-Game Averages

25

17.3

16.9

59

6.7

5.8

Season Averages

32

20.1

20.2

61

10.3

4.1

As you can see, Drew's numbers are down across the board. What bothers me the least are the usage and scoring stats. His season averages include a big chunk of games when Pau was shelved with his hamstring injury, so it makes sense that Bynum is now a lesser feature of the offense and thus not scoring as much. His True Shooting Percentage has held pretty steady, meaning when he does get the ball he's scoring at about his usual efficiency. No red flags there.

The problem lurks in the columns to the far right: rebounding and fouls. Drew's rebounds are down 35% from his season average, and his fouls are up over 40%. Thanks to the latter, his playing time is down over a fifth. This is most definitely the Playoff Bynum we remember.

Some of the rebounding dip I'm willing to chalk up to the Gasol Effect. Pau has been a goblin on the boards lately and is surely cannibalizing Drew's rebound rate to some degree. But on the offensive glass especially, Drew has to turn up the volume. The Lakers are not collecting their own misses well enough these days, and part of the blame sits at Drew's feet. He doesn't spend much time on the perimeter setting picks and so has no excuse for being out of position. Improvement required.

The fouls are a source of equal frustration. Look, big men can fall prey to flukey whistles sometimes. There's a lot of grappling in the paint, and some nights amid the scrum the refs tag you with a foul or three you didn't really deserve. I get that.

Drew does, though, get caught flat-footed and slow to rotate more than he should. His D on the whole has been better than many in our game threads give him credit for, but it hasn't been good here in mid-December. Too many times, he gets beat and then to prevent the layup clobbers a guy from behind. His discipline, attentiveness and technique need to get better.

I don't mean to sermonize at Bynum's expense overmuch. Because he's been a Laker for over four years now, it feels like he's older than he actually is. He's still only 22, younger than several rookies in the league. He's still ascending the NBA learning curve and will be for some time. We're also dealing in a small sample size of recent games, which should temper our reactions.

The last seven games, in all likelihood, are simply a natural market correction, a needed reminder of the ups and downs in the development of any talented big man.

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