In his seventh NBA season, Andrew Bynum has played in 53 of his team's 58 games, quite the achievement for someone that has missed 160 of his team's 492 total games entering this year. He's also playing over 35 minutes a contest, after averaging 10 fewer minutes a game for the first six years. Bynum is dropping about 18 points and 12 rebounds per game, and he was voted to the Western Conference All-Star team as a deserved starter.
He's also been benched, just as deservedly, by coach Mike Brown for taking a ridiculous 3-point shot in a game against the Warriors. He's made some smirking references to Brown's coaching style, while sitting out some huddles, and more haughty types like yours truly have taken him to task for his immaturity. The only pro coach that Bynum has had the pleasure to have known before Brown, the recently retired Phil Jackson, went the exact opposite direction recently, taking us to task for asking Bynum to do too much, too soon. In Jackson's own inimitable style, as emailed to the Los Angeles Times:
"Bynum is not quite mature, but everyone should relax and watch him grow up," Jackson said via email. "This year has been a big step for him offensively…nice to see…and when he takes up the mantle as defensive captain the Lakers can get back in the hunt."
With all due respect, two-time champion as a player and 11-time champion as a coach, I'm not going to relax with Bynum. We've been watching him grow up for seven seasons, and though even you were having growing pains with the similarly aged Kobe Bryant in his seventh and especially eighth season, we're just fine for taking Bynum to task.
Because this is his seventh season. He may have been the youngest player to play an NBA game, and he might only be 24 years of age, but this is his seventh season. At some point, you have to stop looking at his age and start expecting something out of all that experience. All that time spent with Jackson and Kobe Bryant, and their 18 total NBA championship rings.
Bynum, unlike Kobe (who had to wait until his fourth season to be coached by Jackson), had the luxury of working with Phil since Day 1. And the apparent line between a seventh and eighth season out of high school and into the NBA is an odd one, since Jackson wrote a book seemingly centering around Bryant's brand of eighth-year churlishness in 2003-04. That book was highly critical of Bryant, and it seemed to do quite well for Jackson. Is year eight the cutoff point, where all kid gloves are off, and we can take a player to task?
As a fan of low-post play, Bynum's ability to stay healthy and on the court has been fantastic to see. He's always been this great, per-minute, and now he's giving his team the sort of healthy wheels and court presence needed to put up All-Star stats. And though Jackson got in a little dig on Bynum's defense, even when Bynum isn't responding and reacting as he should on that end, his long arms and 7-1 frame are factors in Los Angeles' 13th-ranked defense.
That defense is down from sixth, a year ago, when it was helmed by Jackson. And even though Bynum is playing more and Bryant is putting up great per-game numbers, the offense is down to 11th from sixth last year. As it always is with Jackson, even though he's probably right, there's a lot of smirking "I told you so" to be found. Even in a short email to a newspaper scribe.
We're right to criticize Bynum. It has been nice to see him grow up in public, and we're looking forward to a few more years of it until he hits his prime. Even 24-year-olds, though, know not to take that shot. They know not to blast music in locker rooms that don't want to hear it, and they know not to act the part of a brat in public. Whether they're a formerly redshirted 24-year-old NBA rookie, or a seven-year vet, 24-year-olds should know better.
For Bynum to attempt to come of age under Phil Jackson, and with Kobe Bryant's withering glare just one blown assignment or bumbled catch away? There's no excuses. Bynum's come through with so much "right," this season. And we're OK to pounce when he goes about things all wrong.
Shoot me an email if you disagree, Phil. I'd love to learn more.