Andrew Bynum's Reported February Return Gives Sixers Hope for Turnaround

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

Nov 16, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum (33) watches the game from the bench during the third quarter against the Utah Jazz at the Wachovia Center. The Sixers defeated the Jazz 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 summer acquisition of Andrew Bynum by the Philadelphia 76ers sparked an unbridled optimism for the franchise and its passionate fanbase.

It was the kind of euphoric bliss that had largely eluded the organization since the first departure of Philly legend Allen Iverson, despite the team having played postseason games in four of the past five seasons.

Bynum's opening season in the City of Brotherly Love hasn't quite gone to plan, with knee injuries still delaying his 76ers debut.

But after spending months in the spotlight for everything other than basketball (be it hair experiments gone wrong or the dark side of bowling), the big man's finally generating some hoops hype:


Heard from a league source that he believes February for Bynum return, before or after all star.

— john mitchell (@JmitchInquirer) January 23, 2013


While a nondescript timeframe for his return might not sound like much, the significance of the news cannot be overstated.

The 76ers may not know exactly what they're bringing back in Bynum, but they have witnessed some pleasant developments in his absence.

Point guard Jrue Holiday is as close to a lock for an All-Star reserve role as anyone in the Eastern Conference. His team-leading 19.0 points (on 45.4 percent field-goal shooting) and 9.0 assists per game may have highlighted the real reason the franchise was willing to gamble on the injury-prone Bynum.

With Andre Iguodala (the team's biggest subtraction in the four-team trade that landed Bynum with the Sixers and Dwight Howard with the Los Angeles Lakers) removed from the equation, Holiday hasn't simply crept up the vaunted class of 2009 point guards, he's moved among the league's elite floor generals.

Meanwhile, former No. 2 pick Evan Turner has continued distancing himself from the dreaded "bust" label. Though he always displayed a well-rounded game (career 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per), Turner has flashed moments of brilliance this season with the increased opportunities (4.5 assists per). His 41.2 three-point percentage has been as valuable as it was unexpected.

But the 76ers (17-25, ninth in the East) have some noticeable voids on the roster, most of which a healthy Bynum would fill.

Offensively, this team has largely lacked for consistency. Outside of Holiday, there isn't a player with the combination of aggressiveness, handles and quicks to create the kind of looks that affords sustainable runs. Their 44.2 team field-goal percentage (tied for 18th in the NBA) highlights their forced reliability on their collection of streaky shooters.

When he's been healthy enough to play, Bynum's been as steady an offensive threat as the league has seen. Although offensive touches weren't always easy to come by in the Lakers offense, Bynum made the most of those that came his way. Save for his rookie season of 2005-06 (when he was all of 18 years old), Bynum has never shot below 55.8 percent from the field.

He's never enjoyed being the focal point of an offense, but that hasn't stopped analysts from wondering where his numbers could go in the right situation. And we'll all soon find out as there appears to be no major roadblocks standing between Bynum and as many offensive chances as he can handle.

If he looks anything like the 2011-12 version (18.7 points per game, 55.8 percent from the field), Philly coach Doug Collins may keep Bynum on redial.

Holiday's the best scorer on the active roster, and still a willing passer. There will be no butting of the heads if his career-high 16.6 field-goal attempts per game gets dialed back.

Not to mention he's a threat every time he puts the ball on the floor, as is Turner. When defenses are forced to help stop penetration, Bynum will be lingering about the basket for bunnies. If defenses opt to close off the lane, they'll be at the mercy of Collins' collection of marksmen.

Defensively, the career 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes will help shore up what has been tied for the league's 12th-most generous defense (45.5 field-goal percentage allowed). Bynum will be the missing piece on the glass for the 76ers, who have suffered a minus-2.76 rebounding differential (23rd) for the season.

Coach Collins' team has its work cut out for them, but just 3.5 games separate this club from the eighth seed in a Manute Bol-thin Eastern Conference.

There's no sense in rushing Bynum back (they've already waited this long), but don't blame Philly fans for counting the days to his return.

There won't be a more impactful player moved at the trade deadline than the one their squad is about to add.