If you take a glance around Lakers Nation today, Andrew Bynum is undoubtedly the story. That tends to happen when you are the player of the game in a 20 point beatdown of a fellow playoff team (even if that team does play in the East). It's quite likely to happen when you out-play an MVP candidate on both ends of the floor. And it certainly happens when the strong performance occurs in 10 less minutes of game time than possible, on account of getting thrown out of a game with two quick technical fouls. The most positive and negative factors from last night's game all involve the same guy, with the positive out-weighing the negative by quite a bit, so big Drew is the focus of a lot of analytical work today.
One such piece can be found on Forum Blue and Gold. I don't want to go into a whole lot of detail here, because I'd rather you click on through to see what they have to say, but the topics on display include: Andrew's maturation, his grasp of the offense and his ability to utilize his teammates more effectively on that end, Andrew's defensive impact, and how the slightly unorthodox nature of Bynum's off-season knee surgery might have restored some of Drew's athleticism as compared to last season.
It's that last part I want to elaborate on. One thing that has surprised us all is how quickly Drew seems to be rounding into form. Having borne witness to the "Andrew Bynum returns from injury" show a few times now, I think we were all expecting a repeat of prior episodes, which includes a warm up period that involves months, not weeks. Instead, Drew only took a few games to start showing the qualities that make us all drool at his potential, and with just 14 games under his belt, he's already playing at a level I wouldn't have dreamed of until post All-Star break. A big part of that complimentary discourse is a style of play I've never seen from Drew before.
That style, or perhaps mentality is more appropriate, is brute force. Put simple, Andrew Bynum is playing bigger than I can ever remember.
Andrew Bynum has always been big, and he's always used that size well to be successful. He isn't getting more dunks than in the past (in his breakout 2008 year, pre-Gasol, it seemed like 30% of the Lakers offense was a Bryant to Bynum alley-oop with another 65% being "give the ball to Kobe"). He has always used his size to get quality offensive looks with a large array of (sometimes) effective post moves. But so far this season, the one area in which he has been better than ever has been his ability to force better position by bullying his way to it.
One play from last night's game illustrates this new mentality perfectly. Bynum received the ball on the right block and, with Amar'e Stoudemire on his back, took a few dribbles, backed Amar'e all the way under the basket, turned and blasted a vicious one handed throwdown. Many people have rightfully pointed out that move because it displays a level of athleticism we haven't seen out of Drew for a couple seasons now. It brought back happy memories of all those dunks which announced Bynum as a player who possessed more than just potential. But forget for a second that the play displayed athleticism we haven't seen out of Drew in a while. Doesn't it also display a mentality out of Drew that we've never seen? Making comparisons between Bynum and another famously large center that won a few titles with the Lakers has always been "easy", but that play was straight out of the Shaquille O'Neal offensive textbook, something we haven't seen out of Drew unless "Get set up by Kobe for a strong flush" is included.
While the specific result of that play was the first we've seen Bynum create on his own, the mentality is not an isolated incident. Drew has done a fantastic job so far this season of not settling for post position. If he gets the ball 8 feet from the basket, he's closing it to four feet before taking a shot. If he gets it at 6 feet, he'll back his man down to three. If he gets it 4 feet away, dude is getting to the rim. Contrast that with prior years, in which Bynum was some combination of afraid, lazy, or unable to muscle his way closer to the basket, and the difference is quite clear. To be fair, in periods in which Bynum has been rolling, it hasn't mattered much. There have been occasions in past seasons when he has been just as unstoppable at eight feet as he would be at four feet. But now is not one of those times, because Drew still has not regained the height of his offensive touch, and yet he is quickly becoming the Lakers' most efficient offensive post option, all because he's turning those 8 foot hooks into four footers.
I have no idea whether Bynum has started playing more powerfully simply because his body is no longer limiting him from doing so, or whether this is the next step in the physical and mental maturation of a young big man, but either way, it is truly exciting news. Bynum will never match Shaq's power (and despite Shaq's amazing production for the franchise, I don't think any of us really want him to), but he doesn't need to. The truth is that Bynum's repertoire is already ahead of Shaq's in terms of the number of moves Drew can perform well. If he can marry that offensive polish with even a portion of Shaq's overwhelming power (and stay healthy for more than 1/2 a season at a time, of course), he might well make good on the threat he has posed (in varying degrees) since 2008, that of becoming the best offensive center in the game. Combined with a defensive presence which has been steadily increasing throughout his career, it's fair to say that we've never had better reason to be bullish on the prospects of Andrew Bynum's career.