HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That offseason work with famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach should come in handy for Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who will be the last player to experience the changes made to the team’s system by new coach Mike Brown.
With his body fat down to 5.1% from 9.5% and his 290-pound frame still intact, Brown will demand much more on both ends of the floor from his low-post anchor. Of course, the Lakers won’t get to unwrap their belated Christmas gift until this afternoon, when they unleash a new and improved Bynum on the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center.
Bynum began this season serving the four-game suspension handed down after his take down of then Mavericks guard J.J. Barea during the Lakers’ final game last season, the fourth and final game of an ugly sweep at the hands of the eventual NBA champion Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals.
So even with all of this proposed changes to Bynum’s body and the system, he won’t be able to answer any lingering questions about what he might be capable of until today.
Brown has already raised the bar, mentioning Bynum and the words All-Star in the same sentence (to The Los Angeles Times):
“From the outside looking in, you see him getting better every year and you’d think that he would get to the point where he is that,” Brown said.
With Yao Ming retired and Tim Duncan’s skill set in decline, All-Star voting will be wide open at the center position for the Western Conference.
There’s no question the Lakers are a different team with a healthy and focused Bynum on the floor.
According to NBA.com StatsCube, the Lakers allowed just 100.7 points per 100 possessions with Bynum on the floor over the previous four seasons, compared to 102.4 when Bynum was on the bench. Grated, their best defensive big-man combination during that stretch was Bynum and Lamar Odom (since traded to the Mavericks). They allowed just 97.6 points per 100 possessions with that combo on the floor from 2007-08 through 2010-11, compared to 100.8 with Odom and Pau Gasol on the floor and 103.2 with Bynum and Gasol on the floor.
Of course, the Lakers have been doing fine defensively without Bynum and Odom. Through Friday, they rank fifth in the league (behind Indiana, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Portland), allowing just 93.7 points per 100 possessions.
We’ll have to wait and see if Bynum’s return produces the sort of benefits the Lakers expect or if he continues to be the sort of enigmatic force that has drawn the ire of Lakers star Kobe Bryant at times throughout their tenure together.
There are some in Los Angels questioning the new and improved Bynum, namely Times columnist T.J. Simers, who skewered Bynum in his column after the big man ran into repeated troubles with the city’s traffic cops in recent days, and questioned if Bynum has the drive to grow up and reach his full potential on and off the court:
I had written about the need for Bynum to report back to work as a grownup after his four-game suspension. Obviously I’m not clairvoyant.
I was unaware he had been stopped by the police a day earlier as well and given a “fix-it” ticket for improperly functioning taillights and having no license plates.
Kids are known for lapses in judgment, so maybe he hasn’t grown up as much as I had hoped. The guy owns 13 cars at last count and he’s picking the one with the bad taillight and no license plates?
I am guessing it’s the toughest decision he has to make every day: Which car do I take? Can you imagine keeping track of 13 different sets of keys?
When I wrote about Bynum, I thought we’d have to wait until his return Saturday to see if he’s matured.
But after Bynum was stopped twice by the police in a span of two days while on suspension, I was curious to know whether he was holding himself accountable as an adult.
We’ll have plenty of answers to all of these questions and more after Bynum gets his season started, which couldn’t come at a better time for the Lakers.