I'm unavailable for a few days and this site falls apart like this? Front page stories suggesting we cut Bynum? Seriously what happened around here?
Wait, what? You didn't notice I was gone for a week? Sniff, Sniff. Whatever, I mean, like I don't care that much. I'm just here for basketball *TRUTH* and nothing else anyway. Also for pictures of Magenta sweaters and stuff. I like those.
But I digress, I have a couple of large issues with the framing of Mr. Sam Vecinie's post on The Bynum Experiement.
The first thing that I want to point out is that while Bynum's numbers have been bad so far this season- they have not been uniformly bad. His FG% is 41.5% so far- this is true, and it is also true that is a terrible % for a big man down low. However, he did not return to the game of basketball shooting 41%. He returned much, much worse than that, in his first 4 games back he shot under 30%. Those games represent the first basketball Bynum had played outside of practice in more than a year, and even that practice is limited. Since those 4 games Bynum is shooting 43% for the season and if you want to cherry pick some data form game 5 through game 22 he was shooting over 46%.
His rebounding has also improved so far this season. In his first 9 games he was grabbing roughly 0.22 rebounds for every min he was on the floor, but from games 10-23 he was averaging ~0.30 per min. That is roughly the difference between a guy getting 8 rebounds per 36 mins and a guy getting 11 rebounds per 36 mins.
Mr Vecenie also states-
it's much more troubling that he's operating more out of the midrange area than in the paint. It seems that Bynum is struggling to consistently establish deep post position, and is settling for midrange shots. He's already taken 82 shots outside of eight feet. During his previous two full seasons, he took a combined 167 shots from beyond eight feet. During the 2011 and 2012 seasons respectively, those shots made up 11% and 17% of his shot distribution. This season, they make up 42% of his shots.
Which, when taken at face value makes it appear as if Bynum is now taking a lot more mid range shots at the expense of paint shots. The conclusion is correct but the magnitude of the conclusion is vastly overstating the change. From 2010-2012 Bynum played 3612 minutes for the Lakers and took 1209 FG attempts- which works out to ~12 fga per 36 minutes. So far this season he is averaging 15.6 fga per 36 minutes. Bynum has added in a lot of midrange shots- roughly 5 total per 36 mins, but they are for the most part not coming at the expense of his paint game, they are additional shots coming with a similar, though slightly smaller, paint game. Eyeballing the data and I come up with a guesstimate of ~0.8 paint shots missing from the average of his past two seasons per 36 minutes.
I feel the case against Bynum is not as strong as his full season stats suggest.
There is a much larger problem with this analysis though. If we were to compare Andrew Bynum to Derrick Rose (pre second injury) and ask who is more likely to return to form faster, Andrew or Derrick, you could make a superficial case for Bynum. Bynum only missed one season, not one and a half, and his game relies more on size and strength than explosiveness. Let us take a little bit deeper of a look at the situations to see if perhaps we should be granting Bynum more time.
When Rose went down with a torn ACL in 2012 the starting unit of the Bulls was Boozer, Noah, Deng, Rose and Ronnie Brewer/Rip Hamilton. The head coach was Tom Thibodeau. When Rose returned to play this season he returned to a lineup of Boozer, Noah, Deng and Butler, with the same head coach. He knee injury was also such that one would expect a successful repair and rehab to allow Rose to eventually return to playing the same style of play that lead him to 3 all-star appearances and an MVP award.
The last time that Bynum stepped onto the court prior to this season, on the other hand, he was part of a starting lineup that included a top ten player of all time in Kobe Bryant, a 4 time all-star and possible HOFer in Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace and Ramon Sessions. His head coach was one Mike Brown, but a single season of Brown as a head coach (in a strike shortened season no less) is the only continuity that team had with the current Cavs roster. Not only are the players names different, but their reputations and play styles are also different. For most of his career with the Lakers Bynum was actually third or fourth banana when he was on the court, behind Gasol and Kobe obviously, but in previous years also sometimes behind Lamar Odom in importance to the team. The adjustment for Andrew this year is not just about teammates but his position within the hierarchy on the team as well.
Lastly Bynum is not even the same player he was those years. Rose was unfortunate to be injured, but he was fortunate enough to be injured in a way that has a readily available surgery which frequently allows players to return to similar levels of production with a similar style of play. Bynum has no such luxury. His knees do not allow him the explosiveness he once had. Early in his career he was terror due to both his size and athleticism, but now he can be a terror due to size only. He will not be out leaping players, or running fast breaks or making hard or quick cuts on a consistent basis. In short Bynum is not just learning a new place, on a new team, he is also learning a different style of basketball. I think very few observers are appreciating the difficulty of this new approach.
Obviously I am in the wait and see camp when it comes to Bynum, but I also think there is a strong case for some almost unbridled optimism. The best post defender that Andrew sees on a daily basis is Anderson Varejoa. While no NBA players with perfect doppelgangers out there Andy has frequently been compared to Joakim Noah in terms of style and effectiveness. So far this year Bynum has played Chicago three times and he is shooting 60% from the floor (20/34) and averaging ~ 17/7 in 25 mpg against them. If the Bulls were a lousy defensive team I could chalk it up to poor competition, but the Bulls still a top 5 team defensively this year, despite all their injuries. I believe that his play against Chicago is based partially on the fact that their primary defender plays a similar style to Anderson Varejoa, and it is a familiarity that has been developed in practice which allows Bynum to translate his physical prescence into basketball dominance against that particular team. In time as he becomes familiar with how opposing teams will approach him he will improve against those defensive set ups as well.