Whatever you thought about Andrew Bynum when you tuned in to watch the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, you probably saw something in the game to confirm your opinions. Dominant play? Yep. Infuriating petulance? Check.
A bruising, maturing offensive game that makes him one of the toughest covers in the league? Mm-hmm. An indifferent approach to defense that threatens to make him too one-dimensional to be truly indispensable? Sure. The whole Andrew Bynum was on display, out there for the world to see; you'd be forgiven if you went to bed Wednesday night scratching your head a bit as to what the next step will be.
After missing the Lakers' Tuesday night win over the New Jersey Nets, Bynum tested his sprained left ankle in a pregame workout with head athletic trainer Gary Vitti and deemed the balky wheel good to go. Once he got going, he was just about unstoppable, turning in a dominating performance — 36 points on 13-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in nearly 40 minutes of action — to pace the Lakers to a big 113-108 win that gave them a 2.5-game lead over the Clippers for the top spot in the Pacific Division with 11 games to play. (The Clips, now 32-22, have 12 games remaining.)
He was also, again, kind of a jerk.
When Pau Gasol got banged on by Blake Griffin, Bynum turned his back to the play — but not to ESPN's cameras — and winced with glee like a kid who thought it was funny his classmate just got creamed. He missed a dunk late in the first quarter, hung on the rim and left his teammates to face a Clippers break the other way down a man. In the fourth, he again declined to hustle back on defense, leading to an awkward cherry-pick jam when his fellow Lakers turned possession around.
Perhaps Bynum's most defiant move came at the end of the third quarter, though.
With the Lakers leading by 11 and time winding down, Bynum tried to beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer that was blocked by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. More to the point, as Darius Soriano of the excellent Lakers-centric blog Forum Blue and Gold noted on Twitter, Bynum very deliberately pulled the ball out to the 3-point line and even checked to make sure his feet were behind the line before letting it fly.
After all the kerfuffle about the 7-foot-1 Bynum shooting from beyond the arc, his subsequent benching and fining, the slams of his immaturity and the calls for him to grow up, he was throwing up a sign — I'm not budging, because I don't have to. And, realistically, he doesn't.
Kelly Dwyer wrote Monday that Bynum likely sees himself as "the rock" of the Lakers, an unstoppable force and immovable object on whose shoulders the team's fortunes rest and, as a result, whose time to rule has come. It's certainly distasteful to see him act like a little kid about it, but, I mean, is he wrong?
With Bynum scoring 21.4 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting since the All-Star break, the Lakers are 15-6 in the second half. He's averaging 18 points, 12 boards and two blocks per game on the season, he's top-10 in the league in Player Efficiency Rating, and when he's as aggressive and decisive with the ball as he was against the Clips, he's very clearly the most dominant physical force in the middle not named Dwight Howard ... and some nights, on offense at least, he makes you wonder a bit about whether he's more than just a clear No. 2 there. If the Lakers want to make postseason noise, Bynum is going to have to be a focal point of their attack. That's not to denigrate the excellence of Kobe Bryant or the gifts of Pau Gasol; it's just a fact, simple and plain.
Bynum is excellent, he's integral and he's smart, so he knows it. More than that, as Bill Plaschke noted at the Los Angeles Times, the 24-year-old pivot sure seems to know that the Lakers know it:
The Lakers have apparently decided that while it can be occasionally embarrassing to live with Bynum, they cannot risk living without his career-high 17.9 points and 11.9 rebounds average.
Even though sometimes he acts as if he just doesn't care what the Lakers do. [...]
At some point, one would hope that Kobe Bryant would jump in his face and tell him to grow up. That point hasn't happened yet.
I was talking with a friend about that yesterday — why hasn't Kobe, alpha dog among alpha dogs in today's NBA, set everything in order? Maybe the answer is that, as was the case when he refused to speak against Mike Brown's decision to bench him, Bryant doesn't want to bring family business out in the streets.
Or maybe it's that Kobe, who knows as well as anyone what it's like to start feeling yourself when you think it's time to become the man, knows what seems to be becoming evident — that while Bynum might not be the Lakers' best, he's probably their most important. Until that's no longer the case, we can probably expect to see an awful lot more of Bynum making defenses miserable, making fans furious and making all of us nod our heads as our suspicions are confirmed, then scratch 'em in wonder.
Hat-tip to our man @Jose3030 on the Bynum face screenshot.