Will Andrew Bynum Work? – Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Jason Richardson, SF Evan Turner, PF Spencer Hawes, C Andrew Bynum

Key Bench Players: PG Royal Ivey, SG Nick Young, SF Dorrell Wright, SF Thaddeus Young, PF/C Lavoy Allen, C Kwame Brown
Notable offseason additions: C Andrew Bynum, SF Dorrell Wright, PG Royal Ivey, SG Nick Young
Offseason subtractions: F Maurice Harkless (15th overall pick), C Nikola Vucevic, G Willie Greene, F Andre Iguodala, SG Sam Young, G Lou Williams
It’s no secret that THE GREAT MAMBINO holds Andrew Bynum in great esteem. To say the least, he’s an extremely complicated young man whose insistence on constant improvement to his game is remarkable considering his injury history. Bynum has moved along relatively anonymously the past years under bigger stars in Los Angeles, whose personalities have outweighed even Andrew’s idiosyncrasies. However, Lakers wouldn’t have won the 2010 title without the 2012 2nd Team All-NBAer, nor would they have been in contention from 2008 until 2012. When he wants to be, he’s one of the truly dominant two-way players in the league, scoring at will and exerting his full dominance on defense. Other than his health problems (which have already manifested themselves in training camp), there’s no reason why Andrew can’t be one of the top twenty players in the NBA.

But Bynum is moving onto Philadelphia. The city that’s done this:

Or this:

Needless to say, Philadelphia’s not the type of city to put up with Andrew Bynum’s bullcrap. Episodes like postponing surgery in order to attend the World Cup. Or double parking in a handicap spot. Or shooting a three-pointer in transition. Or sitting on the bench during huddles. Or proclaiming that “close-out games are actually kind of easy”, and going on to lose the next two contests.

Andrew has largely been able to live life as a care-free twenty-something, because frankly, the town was always too busy roasting Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Phil Jackson, Pete Carrol, Frank McCourt, Donald Sterling and so forth and so forth. Even if Bynum was the biggest attraction in town, which is an impossibility because of Staples Center’s proximity to Hollywood, the truth is that the intensity from the west coast fanbase could never reach the every day heights from our east coast brethren. This is a completely different discussion altogether, but I don’t need to convince anyone that Chargers, Niners and Seahawks fans are decidedly less venomous than Jets, Steelers and Patriots fans on the whole.

After the four-way trade in August brought Drew to the Atlantic Northeast, any question surrounding the Sixers had to revolve around the team’s new center. There’s no doubt that the most vicious fanbase in American sports won’t stand for Bynum’s peculiarities, nor will they let him escape blame for something as arbitrary as injuries–just ask Michael Vick. Already, Andrew’s got two strikes on an at-bat that tolerates none. So how would this ever work? Will this work?

Yes, it will. For a little while, at least.

What I’ve learned about Andrew Bynum from watching and writing about him since draft day in 2005 is that he’s an extremely competitive person, and enjoys being great. I’ve written before that I think that Drew doesn’t so much love the game of basketball nearly as much as he loves being very, very good at something. For his new team in Philadelphia, I think they’ll reap the benefits of the afro-laden human mystery box finally getting a chance to star on a team. Andrew has answered so many criticisms thrown at his feet, whether it was him winning the Keenan Thompson look-a-like contest as a fat 17 year-old or his constant comparisons to the last great center in Los Angeles. Bynum has gotten better every single year not just because of natural gifts, but also because he wanted it. The challenge laid before him is now to be the focal point of the offense–the man who hit a basket when the team needs it most, a go-to player who isn’t afraid of any moment. Not sure Bynum can handle it? Look no further than when Pau Gasol’s role diminished last season, and Andrew was getting crunch time baskets and calling for the ball in the fourth quarter, night after night.

Bynum wanted this. He wanted to prove to himself that it could all fall on him, and yes, he could be the man to lead a team to the playoffs, not just serve as a glorified role player. Offensively, I see him responding to this challenge immediately. An average of 22 points per game wouldn’t surprise me in the least, with field goal percentages hovering around 60%. Bynum is a rare big man who can hit his free throws, making him nigh unstoppable as long as he can stay on the court.

Defensively? Bynum is stepping into a Philly system that was near the top of almost every single defensive metric possible last year. The Sixers under coach Doug Collins were an extremely disciplined bunch who rarely made mistakes, especially on the perimeter. They’re team defense was every bit as good as Miami’s, starting with the departed Andre Iguodala. Overall, I can’t expect the team will be as effective without AI or Elton Brand and with Bynum, Nick Young and Jason Richardson, but Collins is a very intelligent schemer who was able to make up for the shortcomings of Lou Williams. Luckily for Andrew, who often disregards defense as much as he does traffic signs, the Sixers will be able to make up for a lot of his mental limitations. A bit more burden should fall on him as the team lost their most talented perimeter defender, but as I said, even Bynum’s defense should step up in the face of so many doubters.

The trouble here isn’t this season; I fully expect Bynum to be engaged within his new system, especially seeing as Philly was one of the worst offensive teams in the league last year. However, after he starts an All-Star game in the East and drops his nightly 22/12? I can’t say I’ll be surprised if Drew becomes bored and stops playing hard. But that’s a topic for another day.

As for the other Sixers, the ceiling for success lies within Evan Turner. Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and even the young Jrue Holiday are almost all what they ever will be on the basketball court. In other words, we’re looking at a bunch of role players. However, Turner, the former number two draft selection, must be able to be something other than a great rebounding Kermit the Frog sound-a-like. The swing man must develop a more consistent jumper and reliable decision-making if he’s ever to fulfill his All-Star potential. Turner took huge steps in the team’s playoff series against the C’s last year, but if the Sixers are going anywhere this year and we assume Bynum will be great, than it’s all on the back of Evan Turner. I expect some progress, but he’s not there yet.

It’s important to remember that the Sixers are rebuilding, despite their summer All-Star acqusition.

Best case scenario: Andrew Bynum is what he should be–a dominant force on the floor, a combination of Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal. Miraculously, he seems to give more than a crap on the defensive end, and the team remains a defensive powerhouse even without Andre Iguodala. Evan Turner continues to blossom, turning into a borderline All-Star with seemingly unlimited potential. The Sixers sneak into the four-spot in the East, falling to the Heat in round two. The future looks a big and glorious as Bynum’s hair.

Absolute apocalypse: Bynum can’t stay on the court with recurring knee problems, to the surprise of no one and the satisfaction of all of Southern California. Evan Turner is looking more and more like a draft bust, while Jrue Holiday presses to fill the void, but can’t get anywhere close to the star player the Sixers need. The team doesn’t make the playoffs, but lingers around 10th in the conference thanks to their team defense. Philly doesn’t look to have any bankable stars, nor do they have any high draft picks immediately. There aren’t enough batteries in the world to properly illustrate the fanbase’s frustration.

Expected outcome: 4th in the Atlantic Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference

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