First, they had George Mikan. Then, Wilt Chamberlain came along. Next, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar donned the Laker colours after which Shaquille O’Neal carried the franchise on his broad shoulders into the 21st century.
Now, Andrew Bynum appears ready to inherit the legacy of these dominant big men for the Los Angeles Lakers.
And Bynum has done this in true ‘the hare-and-the-tortoise’ parable style.
There was never any doubt of Bynum’s talent. Drafted 10th overall by the Lakers in 2005, Bynum was, at 17 years and 244 days, the youngest player ever to be drafted into the NBA. He was also, at 18 years and 6 days, the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game. But what after that?
In an article posted by our very own Karan Madhok on this forum in January, Madhok wrote of Bynum while comparing him to Kobe Bryant:
“In his first six years in the NBA, Kobe reached the NBA finals three times with the Lakers, winning three championships as the team’s second-best player. In his first six years in the NBA, Bynum has reached the NBA finals three times with the Lakers and won two championships [2009 and 2010]. But the comparison ends there and then: unlike Kobe, who was a major force for his side’s success early, Bynum has been mostly injured, inconsistent, or most recently, suspended. Kobe had the help of a far more talented big man in Pau Gasol when the Lakers won their last two rings. Bynum, while remaining a tantalizing 7-foot prospect, never took that jump from ‘prospect’ to ‘dominant’.”
Then, after Chris Paul and Blake Griffin came together with the Los Angeles Clippers at the start of this season, and Kobe Bryant stacked up points by the dozen at age 33 to emerge the 2011-12 scoring leader, it appeared a three-man show in Los Angeles.
Instead, Bynum has bloomed and made heads turn with his performance.
After going for 15.8 PPG and 15.7 PPG in the months of January and February respectively, Bynum has posted a most impressive 22.2 PPG and 20.6 PPG in March and April. With Kobe injured, Bynum has stepped up and delivered crucial victories for the Lakers against the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks in their last five outings. Against the Spurs on April 11, Bynum had a career-high 30 rebounds, which was only three rebounds shy of the total rebounds made by the Spurs as a team.
Yet, there is a flipside to Bynum’s stellar play. If his clotheslining JJ Barea in last year’s playoffs portrayed a crabby personality, then his response to coach Mike Brown’s benching of him for launching an ill-advised 3-pointer against the Golden State Warriors on March 27, showed that he is completely capable of being selfish. “I don't know what was bench-worthy about the shot, to be honest with you...I guess don't take 3's is the message. But I'm going to take some more. I just hope it's not the same result,” Bynum was reported to have said.
A few nights later, on April 6, Bynum was ejected for taunting the Houston Rockets bench. “I don't have any regrets. Stuff happens. I was ejected for something that happens every game. People talk. It is what it is,” the Lakers center said in response to that ejection.
Even in the victory against the Spurs, Bynum’s conduct in the dying seconds of the contest left his staunchest supporters amazed by the histrionics of their All-Star center.
It is this temperamental behavior on Bynum’a part that leads Andrew Sweat, die-hard Lakers fan, to write on sports.yahoo.com, “The more Andrew Bynum develops as a player, the more petulant he becomes as a person. The combination of Bynum's stellar play and his immature antics are as certain to yield a toxic explosion as a poorly-supervised eighth-grade Chemistry experiment.”
ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne, though, refused to look at Bynum’s behavior in recent months as mere teenage rebellion. Based on her interaction with a number of people around the league, Ramona concluded, “Wittingly or not, Andrew Bynum is testing the Lakers. Testing their boundaries. Seeing what the organization will let him get away with and what it will push back on. Feeling just how deep his power over the franchise is.”
And so, one thing stands clear. While Bynum is already leading some people to suggest that he might be passing Dwight Howard as the best center in the NBA, the ‘Bynum show’ is also threatening to unseat ‘Dwama’ as the leading soap in the NBA.
All stats are after games played on April 17, 2012 (IST)