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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Andrew Bynum Benefited from Kobe Bryant's Mentoring

For several years, many media members tried to manufacture some kind of alleged conflict between Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. While there is no doubt that Bryant became exasperated at times by Bynum's immaturity and inconsistent effort, Bryant clearly was a much better mentor to Bynum than Shaquille O'Neal was to Bryant when O'Neal was the top player in the league and Bryant was a young, emerging star. Early in the 2007-08 season--the season which concluded with the first of the Lakers' three straight NBA Finals appearances in the post-O'Neal era--I asked Bryant about his approach toward mentoring Bynum:

As the other reporters drifted away to file their stories, I asked Bryant this follow-up: "At one point, you were in Andrew's position on the team--you were the young guy out of high school on a veteran team and now this is almost a role reversal. What did you learn from your experience of being the young player on a veteran team that helps you know what to say, when to say it and how to say it to Andrew? It's not just giving the right information; how you present it to him affects how open he will be, as a young person, to receiving it." Bryant answered, "I understand how to communicate to him a little bit more because I was in that position and a lot of times I felt like people really talked down to me, you know what I mean? 'This kid this' and 'this kid that,' that sort of thing, and it just rubbed me the wrong way. So, from my experience of going through that I understand now that I don't want to put him in that position. I want him to feel like he can come in and contribute, that he is valued on this ball club and that all I am trying to do is help him out to be the best that he can be."

I then asked Bryant, "Do you give him advice about how to relate to other players, from your own experience as a young player that maybe you did things, not intentionally, that rubbed veterans the wrong way in some sense?"

Bryant replied, "It's funny, because when I came into the league the age range was completely different. If I came into the league nowadays out of high school I never would have had that problem (because there would be plenty of other young players to interact with). People don't understand that's how young kids behave. This team is different (than the Lakers team that Kobe first joined). We have a lot of young guys here and also I'm here to help him out a lot. We bring him into the group; if we go out to dinner or whatever we do, we include him in it and that is part of it."

Next, I asked, "Do you feel like you weren't included as much when you were a young player? Was that partially because the age difference was much greater?"

Bryant answered, "It's all about age difference. Those guys were 28, 29, 30 years old, married--and I was 17, 18 years old, couldn't go anywhere. A lot of times I felt like I was a burden to a lot of guys and they didn't want to deal with that burden. I don't want Andrew to feel that way."

O'Neal never wanted a mentor/student relationship with Bryant; O'Neal always viewed Bryant as a rival and treated him as such, even though they were teammates and even though their team needed each player to perform at a high level in order to be successful. Bryant has taken a different and much healthier view about mentor/student relationships ever since he became old enough to assume the role that O'Neal failed to fill for Bryant when Bryant was young. Bryant embraced the opportunity to serve as a mentor during Andrew Bynum's seven year career with the L.A. Lakers and Bryant--through both words and deeds--set an example for Bynum about what it means not just to be a professional but to be a professional at the elite level. Bynum has not yet completely matured either as a person or as a player but Bryant indisputably played a major role in the strides that Bynum has already made.

O'Neal publicly feuded with Bryant and rarely missed an opportunity to criticize Bryant for both real and imagined shortcomings. In contrast, Bryant has privately critiqued Bynum but publicly supported him, even when Bynum fell short of reasonable performance expectations. After the Lakers' 99-84 game three loss to Denver in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Bynum candidly admitted, "I wasn't ready to play. That's really it. I just wasn't really ready." Bynum failed to score in the first half as the Lakers fell behind 55-39, so the truth of his statement is self evident but Bryant refused to publicly bash his teammate: "That's not what cost us the ballgame," Bryant said when asked about Bynum's lackadaisical effort. Bryant knew that the media would blast Bynum--and rightly so--and Bryant understood that no good would result from him adding his voice to that chorus of criticism.

Although Bynum has made significant strides, his development is clearly still a work in progress; he does not play hard on a consistent basis, he frequently says and does boneheaded things (on and off the court) and he complains about his touches even though he frequently does not battle for good low post position and even though he is far too often befuddled by double teams. Prior to game five of the Denver series, Bynum boasted that closeout games are "kind of easy" and then he proceeded to sleepwalk through most of that contest as Javale McGee--who spent most of the season "starring" in Shaquille O'Neal's "Shaqtin the Fool" segments on TNT--outplayed him at both ends of the court. The Lakers trailed by as many as 15 points before a late Bryant-fueled rally almost stole the game but Bryant--who finished with 43 points in the 102-99 loss--put things in proper perspective: "I wouldn't say the energy kicked in in the fourth quarter. I almost bailed us out, is what happened. That's something you can't rely on if you're going to win a championship."

Bryant gets it; he understands what kind of preparation it takes to perform like a champion and he understands the delicate balance between inspiring a teammate to work on his game and beating a teammate down through relentless verbal sniping that destroys camaraderie instead of creating it. Will Bynum use the lessons he learned from Bryant in L.A. to become a veteran leader for the Philadelphia 76ers and a legit number one option on a contending team? That remains to be seen but Bryant provided a nice blueprint for Bynum if Bynum is smart enough and mature enough to use it.

There is an impressive list of players--ranging from the sublime (future Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal) to the ridiculous (legend in his own mind Smush Parker) who played for at least two teams and had the best season of their careers while playing alongside Bryant. Bynum emerged as an All-Star last season and had the best season of his career in part because of Bryant's patient tutelage; it will be interesting to see if Bynum continues the growth process that Bryant helped to start.


Partial list of players who had career-best seasons as Kobe Bryant's teammate

Shaquille O'Neal (2000 regular season MVP)
Pau Gasol (2011 All-NBA Second Team)
Lamar Odom (2011 Sixth Man of the Year)
Sasha Vujacic (Career-high FG%, eighth in NBA in 3FG% in 2008)
Chris Mihm (Career-high RPG, FG% in 2005)
Brian Cook (Career-highs in PPG, RPG, FG% in 2006)
Chucky Atkins (Career-highs in PPG, RPG in 2005)
Slava Medvedenko (Career-highs in PPG, RPG in 2004)
Kwame Brown (Career-highs in BPG and FG%, second best PPG average in 2007)
Smush Parker (Career-highs in PPG, RPG, APG, SPG, FG% in 2006)

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:28 PM



At Wednesday, August 22, 2012 2:29:00 PM, Blogger Hikaru said...

thanks for this post! huge laker and kobe fan but glad to support young bynum too!

At Thursday, August 23, 2012 7:04:00 PM, Blogger Paolo S. said...

I like this article, especially how you pointed out that Shaq did not want to embrace the mentor role with regards to Kobe.

Also, Silverscreenandroll.com linked to this article

At Friday, August 24, 2012 10:03:00 PM, Anonymous Itachi Uchiha said...

Hi David,

Great article! I think that we will see Bynum have a pretty good year in Philly. (If he stays healthy.) However, he is not going to get the crazy amount of easy shots that he enjoyed playing with Kobe and Pau.

I was wondering if you were planning on writing something up about the Princeton offense and your thoughts about how much we will run it along with the Nash PnR.

Love your site man!

At Saturday, August 25, 2012 12:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Itachi Uchiha:

I'm glad that you enjoyed this article. I will have more to say about the Lakers' offense (and defense) as we get closer to the start of the season.

At Monday, August 27, 2012 6:05:00 AM, Anonymous Raymond said...

Would you say that their improvement benefited as much from the triangle compared to Kobe's presence?

At Monday, August 27, 2012 12:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Triangle is not a panacea; other teams have run the Triangle (for example, the Dallas Mavericks under Jim Cleamons) without much individual or collective success.

No single factor or player can entirely explain the success of the players I listed at the end of this article but the point is that it is noteworthy that a large number of players enjoyed their best seasons playing alongside Bryant. Part of this is because of the extra defensive attention Bryant draws but another part of this is the example that he sets with his work ethic and training regimen.

At Monday, August 27, 2012 2:27:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Any idea why so many people are so high on Andrew Bynum? He seems to be a good-but-great player who was given plenty of chances to prove that he was a "dominant big man" but came up woefully short, especially in the playoffs.

While Bynum did benefit from playing with Kobe, I remember him doing next to nothing in the two championship seasons then disappointing mightily in the last two postseasons even as Kobe encouraged him to take on a larger role.

Frankly Bynum has never been and likely never will be as effective a big man as Pau Gasol was in his prime. I think Bynum is in for a rude awakening in Philadelphia as he will put up big stats but the team will not progress beyond being a ~45-win team that will perform its customary early exit from the playoffs. Losing Iguodala will likely hurt Phildelphia just as much as Bynum will help, making the trade a wash.

At Monday, August 27, 2012 3:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

Bynum is an injury-prone player whose effort is inconsistent and who displays immaturity at times but he has also developed from a raw talent who came to the NBA straight out of high school to an All-Star who averaged 18.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg last season. Bryant played an important role in Bynum's development process, unlike Shaquille O'Neal who refused to be a mentor for Bryant when Bryant came into the NBA straight out of high school.

Bynum is more physically dominant than Gasol but does not possess Gasol's overall skill set or maturity. The Sixers rightly feel that they need a legit superstar--and a major presence in the paint--in order to progress from being a just a solid playoff team to being a championship contender. It remains to be seen if Bynum can fill that role for the Sixers. I share your skepticism about this but that does not change the reality that Bryant's mentoring helped Bynum and laid the groundwork for Bynum to fulfill his potential if Bynum is willing to put in the work.

At Tuesday, August 28, 2012 6:52:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

You might be right about the Sixers' needs but the Lakers obtained the one player who is capable of filling that role - Dwight Howard.

Truly dominant big men are few and far between. Plenty of very good players (Gasol, Robinson, Ewing, etc.) have tried to assume that role in the past without success.

Hoping Howard will fill that role for the Lakers and that Kobe will play his role as the facilitator, as the Lakers transition from being Kobe's team to Dwight's team.


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