The concerns about Andrew Bynum's health are well-documented. There's no secret that it's a longshot for Bynum to avoid further injuries for an entire season. The Cavaliers realize that this signing might not work out and that's why Bynum's contract includes just $6 million guaranteed. But when he's healthy, Andrew Bynum is really really good. Sam Vecenie talked about what a healthy Bynum could bring to the Cavaliers earlier this summer. You should read that whole article, it's quite good. But I'm going to focus on one particular point that he makes.
"...he's excellent at finding open space whenever the other big does screen. Bynum finished in the top 1% of all players in Synergy's database in scoring off of "cuts" (shooting 78% on 172 attempts) because he has excellent hands and great feet that allow him to finish quickly. Cutting is something of a misnomer here. Bynum obviously doesn't cut in the traditional sense of sprinting along the baseline in order to get open at the rim or finding a backdoor lane. However, one of his best skills is finding the soft spot in the defense within seven feet of the rim and sitting down there until someone finds him."
Sam's explanation of a "cut" by Andrew Bynum is pretty spot on. He's not usually diving towards the rim, catching a pass, and throwing down a monster dunk (although he does do this from time to time and looks surprisingly nimble when he does it). Instead, Synergy seems to have thrown the "cut" label on any plan that see Bynum catch the ball and make an immediate move. He's not spotting up and he's not directly involved in a pick and roll. He's kind of just there. Sometimes the play involves a movement that could be described as a cut, but sometimes he's just standing there, getting good position, and waiting for the ball. What does this look like? Here's a pretty good example.
Simple enough, right? Well yeah, it is simple. But it's also the primary reason that Bynum is such an efficient and devastating offensive player. When people think about Bynum, it seems that people tend to think of a traditional, back to the basket kind of big man. And he can be that -- over 54% of his offensive plays were post-ups in 2011-12 and he scored .89 points per possession (PPP) on those plays. That's a very efficient post player. But in general, straight post-ups are not the most efficient plays. Much of what made Andrew Bynum such a monster was he unbelievable efficiency on cuts, not his great post game. His 1.53 PPP on cuts was 5th in the entire NBA and, as Sam noted in his article, he scored on nearly 78% of those plays. That's incredible.
Obviously, if you want to make the most out of Bynum's skills, you'd be wise to get him the ball in a bunch on a bunch of these cuts. How do you do that? Well, the Lakers did it in a couple of different ways during Bynum's best season.
The video clip above is probably the most standard example of how they got the ball to Bynum. The ball-handler (in this case, Ramon Sessions), drives to the basket and when the defense collapses on him, he dishes a simple pass off to Bynum.
What's Bynum doing to get in position for this easy bucket? Not a whole lot. He's just standing next to Enes Kanter on the low-block.
A lot of times (as you'll see in the other clips), Bynum is actively fighting for position or making subtle adjustments to get free for an open pass. He's also frequently raising his hands, calling for the ball. This play develops so quickly that there's no need for Bynum to do either. But that doesn't mean he's being passive. Bynum is keeping his eye on the play while getting in the spot that he wants. When these plays are successful, Bynum is attentive and ready for the ball. It also helps that Bynum has tremendous hands and rarely mishandles the ball once it's thrown his way. In this case, Bynum has his position and knows how Enes Kanter will react to the driving Sessions. Once Kanter makes that one tiny step (red arrow) to get in front of Sessions, Bynum slips behind him (blue arrow) as he receives the pass and throws down the dunk.
How can the Cavs use this?
It's easy to imagine how the Cavs could utilize this type of play in their offense. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are both guys that can get to the rim and have keen passing instincts. Bynum is an enormous target and he's pretty hard to miss. The fact that he makes the necessary subtle movements to go with the pass towards the basket instead of simply waiting for the pass and then making his move, makes the connection that much more deadly.
Look at this similar play by the Cavaliers.
Kyrie drives down the middle of the floor and draws attention from Chris Wilcox. Wilcox steps away from Tristan Thompson and Kyrie sees this and makes the appropriate pass. But look how far away Tristan is from the basket when he catches the ball.
Once he receives the ball, it simply takes him too long to get the ball to the basket. Tristan isn't close enough to the basket and fails to make the little adjustments once Wilcox steps out to defend Irving. He stays in one spot and catches the ball outside of the paint.
I'm not sure if it's just instincts or experience, but Bynum has better initial positioning and his active movement towards the basket -- once his man goes to help -- allows him to make his move to the hoop much faster. Hopefully Tristan can take some notes from Bynum and improve this part of his game (Thompson scored a respectable 1.09 PPP on cut plays in 2012-13 according to Synergy ).
Here's another instance where the Lakers effectively get the ball to Andrew Bynum near the basket.
Kobe Bryant goes away from Pau Gasol's screen, drives to the right side basket, and has Tayshaun Prince pretty much beat. Bynum's man sees that Prince is beat, so he steps out to stop the layup. Bynum, not Kobe, is the one who recognizes this and points up for the lob. Instead of forcing a tough shot or committing a charge, Kobe softly tosses the ball up to Bynum who uses his soft hands and excellent coordination to get an easy two points.
How can the Cavs use this?
Kobe Bryant gets himself into a pretty bad position with his drive. He beats Prince, but once the other defender steps out, he doesn't really have any options. But Bynum's presence serves as a safety valve. Kobe can't pass to any of his other teammates in this spot.
If Bynum isn't the huge person that he is or if he isn't attentive and calling for the alley-oop, Kobe probably takes the jumper over two defenders. But since Bynum is a giant, Kobe just throws the ball in the general direction of the rim and Bynum is able to adjust and finish. Having that kind of option when you have nothing else could be extremely valuable for guys like Irving and Waiters. Bynum is one of very few players in the league that presents a viable scoring option in this particular situation. It's nice having the ability to go up and over the defense when it looks like they every other option is covered.
Even though Bynum is a very good offensive player, he doesn't have much range on his jumper. He doesn't spread the floor and there have been concerns that his presence would clog up the paint. This next example offers the counter-argument. Yes, Bynum camps out near the paint and that will mean his defender will be there too. But if you can make the right passes, you can take advantage of that defender.
This play looks like it has turned into a strict Kobe-iso. He's doing whatever he can to get around Jared Dudley and eventually he beats him to the middle of the floor. Bynum is battling with Marcin Gortat, who sees Kobe driving down the paint and steps in front to take the charge. Kobe has nowhere to go and just lofts the ball over the two defenders to a waiting Bynum.
Just like in every other example so far, Bynum is focused on the ball-handler and has his hands ready for the pass (yes, he was ready for the pass even though Kobe Bryant had the ball!). You can see the subtle movement to prepare himself for a move to the basket in this play as well. When Gortat slides in front of Kobe, Bynum takes one shuffle step into the paint. It's a very slight adjustment, but when we're talking about fractions of seconds, it makes a difference. He's now that much closer to the hoop and the defender has that much less time to react once the pass is received.
As you'll see in a lot of these plays, Bynum is making some pretty great catches and has very good ball security. A big problem of his used to be that he would bring the ball down to his waist on offensive rebounds instead of keeping it high. He has seemingly fixed this problem, for the most part. He's not just camping out near the paint for no reason. He's getting to those particular spots because he wants the ball and he wants to score. He's looking for the pass and rarely fumbles the pass. According to Synergy, Bynum turned the ball over on just 3.4% of this type of play -- much lower than his overall turnover rate of 12.9%. Some of that number is explained by scorekeepers possibly being more likely to give the turnover to the passer rather than the receiver, but Bynum's hands have a lot to do with it as well.
Compare that to Tyler Zeller. Daniel Gibson drives to the hoop and makes the pass to Zeller instead of trying to finish at the rim. But Zeller bobbles the pass, giving Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh time to recover and contest the shot.
It wasn't uncommon during his rookie season for Zeller to appear surprised when a teammate made a tough pass to him. I'm sure some of that was being a rookie, but it's something that Bynum is much much better at. Zeller turned the ball over on 7.2% of cut plays in 2012-13, according to Synergy. That's more than twice as often as Bynum. If Zeller is taking notes from Bynum's play near the basket, he needs to always remember to expect the ball and be ready when the pass comes. He'll cut down on his turnovers and be able to score much more efficiently.
How can the Cavs use this?
Cleveland has one of the absolute best isolation scorers in the game in Kyrie Irving. When a defender in Gortat's position sees someone like Kobe or Kyrie driving the lane, it's natural to want to try to help stop him. But in order to do this, he has to leave Bynum. Obviously you don't want to give up an open layup, but is the alternative that much better? Yes, he's forcing Kobe to make another pass, but Bynum near the basket is converting these opportunities at a 78% clip! If Bynum is able to get enough playing time and punish teams with this type of play, opponents will eventually adjust. You'll start seeing defenders in Gortat's position wait a little longer before committing to the player coming down the lane. It's not the same spacing effect that a big man with range would provide, but Bynum's so deadly in these situations that he could end up creating a little more daylight for Kyrie Irving or Jarrett Jack when they're trying to score in the paint.
These next two examples of Bynum scoring on cuts might be some of my favorite plays in basketball. A lot of the credit for these goes not to Andrew Bynum, but to Pau Gasol. He's the best passing big man in the league, and I don't know that it's particularly close. We saw it last year with Gasol setting up Dwight Howard for easy buckets and we saw it two years ago with Gasol dishing to Andrew Bynum.
On this play, we've got Kobe hitting Gasol on the left block then Gasol drops a gorgeous bounce pass to Bynum for the dunk.
It's a little hard to tell what's going on here because of the camerawork, but it's clear that the Mavericks really messed up their defense. One man is stuck trying to guard Bynum and Gasol in the paint. He's in good position to guard Gasol, but Bynum is wide open for the pass. Some big men might not think to make the extra pass and take advantage of Bynum's position. Of course, Gasol does and it's an easy bucket.
How can the Cavs use this?
Cleveland doesn't have Pau Gasol, but they do have their own big man with some impressive passing ability. It's easy to forget due to the fact that he played in just 25 games, but Anderson Varejao was recording a career-high 3.4 assists per 36 minutes last season. A big that can make smart interior passes to other big men is a nice weapon to have. Anderson Varejao is one of those.
Check out this clip of Varejao finding a cutting Zeller for the wide open dunk.
Isn't that gorgeous? I'm not saying that Varejao is as good at passing as Gasol, but he's still pretty solid. At the very least, he's a willing passer. And when you have a competent passing big man next to Andrew Bynum, good things can happen.
Andrew Bynum isn't much of a threat in the pick and roll (he had just 43 PnR possessions in 2012-13), but if your passing big man is, you can still get Bynum involved. You just saw Varejao hit Zeller after receiving the ball on a pick and roll and here you'll see Gasol hitting Bynum on the same type of play.
Gasol sees Serge Ibaka getting ready to swat his shot attempt into the 5th row and instead opts to drop it off to Bynum. Again, it's a really good pass from Gasol and not one that many 7-footers will make. But based on the outrageous production from Bynum when he's that close to the basket (in a non-postup situation), it's probably a good idea to get him the ball.
Anderson Varejao is a joy to watch when he's healthy and I already wrote about him at length. It'd be smart to use him in pick and rolls and then give him the freedom to make a play once he has the ball. Unlike most of the other clips that I've provided so far, Bynum doesn't have a wide-open shot once he receives the pass. Ibaka is coming to contest the shot, but Bynum does a tremendous job of adjusting in midair and laying it in. That kind of body control for someone that big is impressive. I have no idea how mobile and agile Bynum will be once he comes back from injury, but if he's anything close to what he was like in 2011-12, he's going to be a huge upgrade.
I hate to pick on Tyler Zeller again, but this play shows another good example of what Andrew Bynum does so much better. Here's a clip of Zeller not doing a very good job at finishing near the rim when contested.
When you compare how Zeller deals with the shot blocker to how Bynum deals with the shot blocker, two things jump out at you. First, Bynum makes an adjustment with the ball in the air while Zeller does not and Bynum goes up with two-hands while Zeller goes up with just one. Of course, those two things are related. It's nearly impossible to adjust in the air if you're only going up with one hand like Zeller. But those aren't the only reasons that Bynum is successful while Zeller is not.
Another factor is Bynum's superior positioning. In this case, positioning is two-fold. It involves where the player physically is on the court and which way the player is facing in anticipation of the next move. When you're able to see where each player is set to receive the ball, it's easy to recognize why one approach is so much more successful.
Bynum is a good distance from the baseline, has his shoulders square to the basket, and is able to see his target (the hoop) and the passer at the same time.
Alternatively, Zeller is far too close to the baseline and has basically buried himself underneath the hoop. It's going to take much longer for him to start his move towards the basket once he receives the ball. Not only does Zeller have to change his body position to get out from under the basket, he has to first find his target and then start his approach. He's making it unnecessarily difficult for himself by being in a position where he can't see the rim when he looks at the passer. If he positioned himself closer to the block and squared his shoulders towards the far sideline, he'd have a more direct route to the basket, be able to see Kyrie Irving while facing the rim, and would effectively box out Maurice Harkless and keep him from blocking his shot.
What does all of this mean?
It means that Andrew Bynum is really good at scoring off cuts (1.53 PPP). And according to Synergy, the Cavaliers were dead last on cuts last season at just 1.05 PPP in 2012-13. Many of the things that Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson struggle with will improve as they get more comfortable and get more reps. But the addition of Bynum will instantly improve the Cavs in this area.
It also means that you don't have to just give Bynum the ball in the post for him to be effective. Bynum will still get his fair share of straight post-ups, but he can still be a factor in the offense when the guards are attacking the defense by creating off the dribble. He doesn't need plays to be run for him. On most of these plays, it looks like Bynum is just standing around near the paint -- but in reality, he's paying close attention and is almost always ready when his number is called. If they so choose, the Cavs can still focus the offense around Waiters, Jack, and Irving creating while Bynum is on the court. His mere presence and ability to finish plays like this add an entirely new dimension to Cleveland's attack.
And finally, it means that defenses are going to have their hands full when Varejao and Bynum are on the court together. Varejao has become a viable option in pick and rolls and improved as a passer. Bynum benefits greatly from a big man that can feed him with interior passes.
This is probably the aspect of Bynum's game that I am most excited about. If he's healthy, he can truly be a devastating option in the Cavaliers' front court. Now let's just hope he's healthy.
If you have questions, comments, or just want to insult me, feel free to email me at ConradFTS@gmail.com. Be sure to follow us on Twitter at both @FearTheSword and @ConradKazNBA. Also, like us on Facebook.
(all PPP stats from mySynergySports and all video from nba.com)
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