It has become an annual rite of spring, like the azaleas at Augusta or the Undertaker winning a Wrestlemania match. Yes, for the third straight year, Lakers center Andrew Bynum is missing late-season time with an injury. These injuries, combined with the nagging aches and strains that have plagued Bynum throughout his career bring to mind the question: is it time to give up on Andrew Bynum?
Bynum has been labeled as the "next great center" since his high school prom. At 7-0 and 285 pounds, Bynum has the size and athleticism to be at least a reasonable facsimile of Dwight Howard. And Bynum has shown flashes, starting with an 18-9 against Phoenix just days after his 19th birthday, and regular double-doubles before he was old enough to drink. While the Lakers have dangled everyone and anyone, Kobe included, in trades over the past few years, Bynum has always been the team's untouchable player in trade rumors. He is potential personified.
That potential, however, has been dwarfed by Bynum's propensity to suffer major injuries over the last few years. His injury problems started in January of 2008 with a left patella subluxation, followed that up with a torn right MCL in 2009, and now he's out with an Achilles' issue. On top of those, Bynum has missed time this year with elbow, ankle and hip problems. Over the last three years, Bynum has missed a total of 84 regular season games, with more expected through the rest of this season. That's not even including the playoffs, which have been affected the last two years by Bynum injuries, and figure to do so this year as well. He simply can't stay on the court.
But has Bynum even been that good when he has been healthy? This year has possibly been his best year, with only the injury-shortened 2007-2008 year comparing. Bynum's numbers this year: 15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 57|PERCENT| field goal shooting. Good, but not "late-90s Shaq" by any means. Bynum had nine double-doubles in his last 30 games, again good, but not blow-away great. Bynum has a career 69|PERCENT| free throw average, and only gets to the line three times per game. Stats-wise among centers he's slightly behind Brook Lopez, and about even with Marc Gasol. Emeka Okafor is beating him in blocks and rebounds, Kendrick Perkins shoots better from the field and has more blocks. Lopez-Gasol-Okafor-Perkins. No All-Stars among them, and certainly not the company that most expected Bynum to keep. More importantly, all of these centers make significantly less than Bynum, and could have been had much later in fantasy drafts.
Granted, Bynum is the second low-post option for the Lakers, but with Pau Gasol's recent contract extension, that situation doesn't look to change any time soon. Lamar Odom was recently extended as well, so the idea of Bynum as a growth stock or as someone who will suddenly see an influx of offensive touches seems to be wishful thinking for his fantasy owners. 15-8 seems to be Bynum's healthy ceiling, at least for the next two or three years. Of course the operative word in that sentence is "healthy," as knee, ankle and Achilles' problems on a 285 pound man are never exactly a good sign for future success. So make this latest Bynum injury be a sign for next year's draft, and let someone else in your league take a risk on Bynum. Let that guy worry about him while you're watching the Undertaker.