Breaking Down How Andrew Bynum Will Transform Philadelphia 76ers
Unfortunately for the Sixers, Bynum still has yet to suit up for the team as of Feb. 4, 2013.
Ongoing troubles with both knees kept the big man sidelined through January, but his oft-delayed return finally appears to be impending. Barring any further setbacks, he's aiming to return "right after the All-Star break," Jason Wolf of USA Today Sports reported on Jan. 28.
That's only good news for the struggling Sixers, who have limped along to a 20-26 record without him.
When the Sixers traded for Bynum in August 2012, the team imagined having one of the most dominant inside forces in the league anchoring the post for them.
Instead, a bone bruise in one knee caused Bynum to miss all of the preseason and the first few weeks of the season. An ill-timed bowling trip in November damaged the other knee and kept him sidelined through January.
In the final week of January, though, Bynum started dunking and sprinting for the first time since joining the team, according to Spike Eskin of CBS Philadelphia.
For a team lacking a true No. 1 option, that can only be a sight for sore eyes.
Offensively, the 2012-13 Sixers were constructed to be an inside-outside team with Bynum surrounded by shooters. The team signed Nick Young and traded for Dorell Wright in July (pre-Bynum trade), then acquired Jason Richardson in the four-team megatrade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia.
When healthy, Bynum is a 20-10 machine waiting to happen for the Sixers, who otherwise lack a true post presence. His career-high per-game averages of 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for the 2011-12 Lakers only teased at his potential.
Having Bynum in the middle, theoretically, was supposed to open shots for the rest of the Sixers. If opponents decided not to double-team Bynum, he'd go to work in the post and make them immediately regret that choice.
Once the double-teams started flying Bynum's way, he would have dumped the ball to an open man on the perimeter.
In Bynum's absence, that offensive vision hasn't quite come to fruition. With Spencer Hawes, Kwame Brown and Lavoy Allen manning the middle, opponents don't have to direct nearly as much attention their way.
That only makes life more difficult for the Sixers' perimeter shooters, as evidenced by the team's season averages.
Despite ranking 12th in the league in terms of three-point shooting percentage (.358), the Sixers only attempt 17.7 three-point field goals per game, according to ESPN.com. That has the team tied with the Phoenix Suns for 23rd in the league in three-point field goal attempts.
The Sixers also rank 27th in points per game (93.3), according to ESPN.com.
Given the team's slow pace, the low PPG mark isn't necessarily a huge red flag.
What's the real red flag offensively? The Sixers average 101.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 29th in the league, according to Basketball Reference. The Washington Wizards are the only team with a worse offensive rating.
When Bynum returns and starts drawing double-teams, his teammates should have more freedom on offense. A quick Bynum pass out of a double-team could lead to an open shot on the perimeter; otherwise, his teammates will have more space to drive to the rim and create shots for themselves.
That's a win-win situation for a team that's struggling on offense in 2012-13.
Defensively, Bynum will be just as much of a game-changer for Philadelphia.
The Sixers have struggled on the glass without Bynum. The team allows opponents to corral an average of 2.9 more rebounds per game (43.8 total) than they grab (40.9 total), according to ESPN.com.
To put that in perspective: Bynum's 11.8 boards per game from 2011-12 trumps the 2012-13 per-game rebounding averages of Spencer Hawes (6.0) and Lavoy Allen (5.2) combined.
Bynum will only help the team boost both of those ranks upon his return.
He's not a shot-blocking menace like Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka or Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, but Hawes is the only Sixer currently averaging over one block per game.
The one place Bynum will make his impact felt most clearly: post-up defense. Currently, the Sixers rank 27th in the league by allowing 0.89 points per possession on post-ups, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Having Bynum in the middle will make opponents think twice about working their way into the post. Suffice it to say, Hawes doesn't quite inspire such fear.
Sixers coach Doug Collins told reporters on Jan. 31 that the team wouldn't change its style of play upon Bynum's return, according to Chris Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times.
Unless Collins is deliberately trying to get himself fired, that's a bold-faced lie.
When Bynum returns, expect the Sixers to become more balanced offensively and defensively tougher in the middle. Until then, pray the team doesn't completely fall out of the weak Eastern Conference playoff race.
Note: All statistics and records are current through games played on Feb. 3.
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