One of the more underrated aspects of Kobe Bryant’s game is his quotability.
From discussions of trips to Pluto, shipping players’ asses out of town, and assessing his co-star’s need to cut down on the carbs, Bryant has never shied away from expressing an opinion. A few days ago, Kobe was at it again with this gem regarding the dynamic between Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum, and PF Pau Gasol in the Lakers’ offense:
“It seems like it’s changed a little bit…Andrew is thirsty to score and he can score. He has more of a scorer’s mentality [than Gasol], so we’ll take advantage of that.”
“We will be going into him a lot,” Bryant continued. “He’s kind of taking over that role. He’ll just get used to the consistency of touches and dealing with double teams and stuff like that. He’ll be fine. He’s a quick learner.
“Pau has to shoot it,” Bryant said. “He’s not a scorer by nature. That’s been the biggest thing with Andrew’s development. Andrew is thirsty to score. That takes a lot of pressure off of Pau. But when Pau has shots, he has to shoot them.
“I think it’s natural. You got to be who you are. Andrew, he loves to score, so we got to feed off of that. Pau is just going to take what the defense gives him.”
In line with Bryant’s passive aggressive leadership style (finely tuned during his apprenticeship under Phil Jackson), he managed to question Gasol’s role on the team, his willingness to be aggressive, and his lack of desire to score all in one three minute postgame interview.
“We have to make plays like that down the stretch where [Kobe] trusts that the open teammate is going to convert and make the right decision,” Gasol said. “I think it’s important for us to make those plays, knock those shots down and then he’ll be more comfortable kicking the ball out when he’s double teamed.”
A nice, innocent-sounding nugget which subtly jabbed at Kobe for not trusting his teammates and taking ill-advised shots while double teamed – just another day in Lakerland. But all of this banter really just brings us to the substantive question: is it in the Lakers’ best interests for Andrew Bynum to be the official no. 2 option?
In this instance, I would say Bryant is 100% correct for the following reasons:
1. Bynum’s activity level is defined by his usefulness at the offensive end.
Any office stiff (including yours truly) knows the feeling: the more that your boss trusts you and gives you increasing responsibility, the more motivated one becomes. On the other hand, if your boss treats you like Milton Waddems at Initech, and has you repeat the same mundane tasks day in and day out, it can have the opposite effect. On the Lakers, this phenomenon tends to vary depending upon the individual. For example, Josh McRoberts will grab 7 rebounds and make 3 hustle plays every night regardless of how many times he is passed the ball. Andrew Bynum, on the other hand, is the epitome of the player that relies on offensive touches to get the rest of his game activated.
This year demonstrates that fact nicely. Mike Brown, realizing how important Bynum’s offensive involvement is to his overall mental make-up, has made the smart move of heavily involving him in the Lakers offense. As a result, Bynum’s 20 ppg average has been accompanied by a whopping 16 rpg and 2 bpg. Furthermore, he has become the dominant low-post presence that the Lakers have been waiting years for.
Gasol’s energy, on the other hand, seems to maintain at a more steady level even when he is not as involved in the offense, his numbers of 17-9 only slightly off the 18-10 double-double average he posted last year.
2. Gasol is the better passer.
By forcing Bynum into the no. 2 option, Gasol is further thrust into a facilitator role, an area in which he clearly has an edge over Bynum. Gasol – the de facto “NBA’s most skilled big” until his disastrous Mavericks series last year, has always been an effective passer from most areas around the court. In a high post set consequently, Gasol becomes a threat to pass in down low to Bynum, find an outside shooter or cutter, or make a 15-footer himself.
On the other hand, Bynum this year has turned into The Great Black Hole, racking up all of 3 assists in him first 5 games. This is all fine however, as the roles on this Laker team become more clearly defined, and allow each player to focus on the skills that can benefit the team the most.
3. Gasol cannot be relied when the going gets tough.
Sadly for Gasol, another reason to move over to the number 3 option is his propensity to disappear at critical junctures for the Lakers over the past 4 years. Most glaringly, during his 2 playoff series losses vs. the 2008 Boston Celtics and 2011 Mavericks, Pau was a shell of himself, performing especially poorly in hostile road environments. In these situations, Gasol was neutralized by an aggressive defense that was physical with him early, taking him out of the low post and creating hesitation in his own shot selection.
Primarily because of his size and as long as he remains healthy, Bynum should be less prone to physical intimidation. Additionally as Kobe notes, his “scorer’s mentality” should allow him to stay more engaged than Gasol as he gains more experience in the NBA.
4. Bynum is the heir apparent, not Gasol.
If it’s not already clear to everyone paying attention (outside of Spain perhaps), as long as Bynum is in LA, he is the future of the Lakers. At 24 years old, Bynum has at least 5-6 years left as a dominant force in the NBA (assuming the early returns of this year are no fluke).
Consequently, it is in the Lakers’ best interest to expedite Bynum’s development as an alpha dog. The only way to realistically do this is by forcing Bynum up the food chain to take on additional responsibility sooner rather than later. The learning experiences that Bynum gets today (however forced they may be at times), will allow him to make this seamless transition in a couple of years as Kobe’s scoring begins to slow down.
5. Increased leverage in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes
Even if none of the other reasons were valid, this reason alone is enough for the Lakers to make Bynum a heavily featured item in their offense. An Andrew Bynum averaging 20-15 is immensely valuable in a Dwight Howard trade offer against increasingly limited competition – and make no mistake, if Orlando came back to the table with a Bynum-for-Howard straight up trade offer, Andrew Bynum would be on the first flight out to Disneyworld. Don’t be shocked if it turns out Mitch Kupchak lobs regular reminders in to Mike Brown to keep Bynum playing at his current levels.