How Andrew Bynum Transforms Cleveland Cavaliers' Starting Lineup

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How Andrew Bynum Transforms Cleveland Cavaliers' Starting Lineup
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It was only a matter of time.

Having spent his first five games with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a reserve, Andrew Bynum has once again established himself as a starter in the NBA. This is truly a remarkable feat for someone who went 527 days without playing in an NBA game, much less serving as a starter and go-to scorer.

Bynum now joins a starting five led by All-Star Kyrie Irving. Bynum and Irving could quickly become one of the best point guard-center combos in the league.

It may take some time for Bynum to adjust to his new teammates, but if you think the big center joining the Cavs' starting lineup isn't a big deal, think again.

Here's how he'll impact the Cavaliers when it comes to...

 

Double-teams

Besides Kyrie Irving, there isn't a single player on the Cavaliers worth double-teaming.

At least, that was the case before Bynum came to town.

At 7'0" and 285 pounds, Bynum is much larger than today's average center.  We've already seen a player like Joakim Noah (6'11", 232 pounds) struggle to combat Bynum's size in the paint.

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Teams will be forced to double-team Bynum if he should get too far into the post, thus resulting in an open man somewhere else.  Here's an example of just such play against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 11.

Bynum gets the rebound and is in good position to back down Noah while still surveying the floor and looking for open teammates.  Luol Deng slides over to help Noah, while his man, Alonzo Gee, makes a strong cut to the basket. 

Bynum finds him for an easy dunk.

 

Creating Open Shooters

Going along with the whole double-team thing, we should now see more open shots from the Cavs' starting group.

Be it Irving, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Earl Clark, Gee or whomever else Mike Brown tinkers with, they could now find themselves with more space to shoot thanks to a Bynum double-team.  Even the best shooters can get rattled with a hand in their face or a quick close out from an opponent.  Now defenders will have to choose whether to let Bynum take their (likely undersized) center one-on-one or cheat down and risk leaving their man open.

Irving and Miles are already excellent three-point shooters, while Waiters, Clark and Gee are all developing their outside shot. (Waiters will probably still look for someone to guard him so he can chuck another off-balance contested jumper, but that's neither here nor there.)

Bynum needs to be aware of his surroundings, and recognize a double-team so he can pass out of it to a teammate.  It's also his teammate's job of letting him know when their man is cheating down and shifting over to where Bynum can find them with a pass.

That will essentially be half of Mike Brown's offensive playbook, right there.

 

Being a Defensive Anchor

Bynum may not have the hops he once possessed, but he's still shown the ability to be a quality shot-blocker.

Early in the season, Bynum is averaging 1.3 blocks in 15.9 minutes per game.  For his career, Bynum has averaged 1.6 blocks to go along with 7.8 rebounds per 25.8 minutes per night.

How does this impact the team around him?

The past few seasons, the Cavaliers lacked any sort of a shot-blocking threat.  Seriously, Tyler Zeller led the team as a rookie last season with less than a block (0.9) per game.  When wing defenders know there isn't a lot of help behind them, they tend to be less aggressive on defense.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Zeller is a fine young player but shouldn't be a team's leading shot-blocker.

Less aggressiveness on defense typically means fewer turnovers generated, which in turn means fewer fastbreak points and points off turnovers.

A good example of this is in Memphis with the Grizzlies.  The Grizzlies' two starters at guard, Mike Conley and Tony Allen, combined for 3.7 steals per game last year.  Their center?  2012-2013 Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol.

Cleveland's two starters at guard, Irving and Dion Waiters, racked up just 2.5 steals per game, while Irving was constantly scrutinized for his defense, or lack thereof.  With no dominant center behind them, both players' individual defense was very lackluster.

With a shot-blocker like Bynum, however, those guards and small forwards can gamble a little more for steals, knowing they've got a solid backup protecting the rim behind them.

 

Anderson Varejao

Varejao returns to the reserve role he excelled in with the Cavaliers prior to the 2010-2011 season.

Hopefully, this move acts as a sort of preservative that keeps him on the court for more than 25 games a year.

Varejao was starting at center and playing 36 minutes a night before splitting a muscle in his leg that caused him to miss 57 games last season.  All together the past three years, Varejao has taken the court just 81 times due to various injuries.

Bringing Varejao off the bench should be a blessing for the 31-year-old.  You can't ask Varejao to turn down his motor, but head coach Mike Brown can limit the pressure in veteran forward's engine by limiting his minutes.  Cleveland didn't have this luxury last season, and it should take advantage of it now while it can.

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It also means more opportunity for minutes at power forward and not just center for Varejao.  According to 82games.com, Varejao is holding opposing power forwards to just a 13.7 PER compared to a 19.3 PER against centers.

A healthy, starting Bynum means less pressure on Varejao and, in turn, more games played.

 

Tristan Thompson

One of the shining spots for the Cavaliers in a dark start to the season, Thompson should also benefit from Bynum's presence.

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Thompson should no longer have to go against true centers like Hibbert.

Earlier in his career, Thompson was forced to guard the opposing center despite his 6'9", 225-pound frame.  During his rookie season in 2011-2012, Thompson had to start 25 games at center for the Cavaliers and was often overmatched by larger players like Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Tyson Chandler.

Playing alongside a true center like Bynum, Thompson can stick to his specialty of guarding power forwards, players that he's holding to just an 11.2 PER this season, according to 82games.com.

 

Kyrie Irving

What Bynum can do for Thompson on defense, he can do for Irving on offense.

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Irving now has a true post scorer to dump the ball down to.

Having a former All-Star and 18.7 point-per-game scorer should help to take a lot of scoring pressure off of Irving.  So far this season, Irving has seen a dip in his shooting numbers and has appeared tired and out of gas at the end of games.

This could be partially due to his increased effort on defense.  Having Bynum in the game at the same time as Irving will help alleviate some of that fatigue and keep him fresh in the fourth quarter.

Having a target like Bynum should also increase Irving's assist numbers, especially with the latter's ability to penetrate and set up talented finishers around the basket.

Consider this, in Irving's first 77 assists this season, only 12 (15.6 percent) were classified as "close assists," those assists that are to a player who converts near the basket.  This adds up to 9.4 total assists per 48 minutes, per 82games.com.

How will Bynum do as a starter?

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Looking at Chris Paul, he's seemed to master finding his big men (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) for easy dimes.  In Paul's first 128 assists this season, 37 (28.9 percent) were classified as "close assists."  His total stretches to a whopping 17 assists per 48 minutes, also per 82games.com.

Note that these numbers don't even include assists leading to dunks.

Irving can make himself an even better point guard by utilizing Bynum the way that Paul and other top point guards use their big men—by finding them in the post, ready to convert a high-percentage shot.

Overall, Bynum should have a dramatic effect on the entire starting lineup and hopefully snap the Cavaliers out of their early-season funk.

After all, it should only be a matter of time.

 

GS

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