The Demise of the ‘Big Man’ in the NBA

Pau Gasol is an underrated all-around player who has drawn comparisons to Kevin McHale, and is the perfect sidekick to Kobe Bryant. However at this age, what you see is what you get and he likely won’t improve much more throughout the rest of his career.

June 13, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02200618 Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum makes a slam dunk in the first quarter of the NBA Finals Game Five at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 13 June 2010. The best of seven series is tied at two apiece.

Andrew Bynum is the other piece to the puzzle for the LA Lakers. In his first two seasons in the league (as an 18 and 19 year old), Bynum played sparingly. He got a few minutes here and there and mostly rode the bench as a backup to Kwame. But in the little playing time he did get, here’s what I noticed:

He’s big and athletic. Legitimately 7 feet tall with a long wingspan and strong build, he has the size to be an all-star center. As a rookie (and before his injury problems), I actually thought Bynum was an extremely explosive player. Not quite on the level of Dwight, but I’d put him closer to Tyson Chandler than Eddy Curry. He’s got a quick enough second hop and he can explode for alley oops.

He’s got good hands and feet. Unlike Kwame, I immediately noticed Bynum gobbles up almost every pass thrown his way. His footwork was still something to be desired, but he’s light on his feet and has potential for improvement.

He’s raw, but he has good touch around the rim. I don’t wanna keep bagging on Kwame (no really, I don’t), but every time Kwame caught the ball down low and squeezed off a shot, I felt like he was either rushing it, not aiming, or both. He rarely threw up a shot which went above the rim, bounced around, and then dropped in.

In fact, for some reason I have memories of Kwame tossing up layups which bounced off the backboard and didn’t even hit the rim. Bynum’s the opposite—he tosses his shots up lightly and they all have a decent chance of dropping in.

I’m just gonna go ahead and say it. He’s no kitty cat. This is probably the biggest factor that kept Kwame from being a good player. Both Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson had called him out on it before. Although Bynum isn’t Shaq or even Dwight for that matter, he’s a lot more aggressive than Kwame ever was. (It’s the same knock on Yao, although Yao’s talented enough to score with his finesse moves. Besides, Yao has gotten better over the years, sorta).

Over the next two years or so, I saw the breakthrough of Bynum as he went from a “wasted lottery pick” to an extremely talented player with loads of potential and nearly limitless ceiling. He went from being a no-name to gradually becoming more and more hyped to the point where he was overhyped and everybody was talking about him carrying on the legacy of great Lakers centers.

Now? I think he’s judged at about the right level. He still has the potential to be a great all-star player, but he’s more likely to be one of those fringe players who’s a great starter and makes the all-star team every now while averaging 18-10 than a superstar center that drops 25-12.

He still has many holes in his game, on offense he has yet to develop counters to his go-to moves, he rarely overpowers defenders even when he has smaller players guarding him, his footwork and passing are mediocre, he doesn’t utilize fakes, he doesn’t re-post if the first post is unsuccessful, and most importantly he often doesn’t react to what the defense gives him.

Next: The Development of the Next Great Center…

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