Andrew Bynum: Injuries, Not Kobe Bryant, Have Stunted Star Center's Growth

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

Oct 01, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum (33) poses for a photo during media day at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If Andrew Bynum wants to know the real culprit of his "stunted growth," he needs to find a mirror and stare directly down at his own balky knees—not across the bench at former teammate Kobe Bryant.

It's those knees that have caused Bynum to miss 24 games this season with the Philadelphia 76ers and will likely cause him to miss many more. But prior to the Sixers' game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the 25-year-old center seemed more fixated on Bryant and the past than his ongoing health problems.

Here is what Bynum had to say, via ESPN's Dave McMenamin

I thought it really helped me a lot obviously at first, because he draws so much attention it's hard for guys to double team and key on you, so it helped me tremendously. Later, I felt I was able to get the ball more and do more things with the ball, so I could definitely see how it could stunt growth.

Under normal circumstances, Bynum would not be wrong. Bryant's ball-dominance is something that is the ultimate gift and curse. Sure, it makes things easier without the constant double-downs, but also leaves one thinking "hey, man, I was open" far more than a co-superstar would like. 

Bynum's not alone. I'm sure somewhere in the back of his mind, Scottie Pippen wonders if he would be more respected by the mainstream had he not played with Michael Jordan. These things happen. 

In fact, Bryant even said he agreed with Bynum's assertion:

For sure, because when you're playing with me you obviously have to sacrifice something. Same thing with me and [Shaquille O'Neal]. You kind of off-set each other to a certain extent. So, I mean, that's true. When he gets back and he's healthy, he'll come out here and he'll be the focal point of their attack and he'll be getting the ball more and you'll see big games from him more consistently.

There is a focal point of Bryant's quote that we're all glossing over: "When he gets back and he's healthy."

When he gets back and is healthy, Bynum is undoubtedly a star. He's a seven-foot, 300-pound behemoth, but has nimble feet in the post and above-average athleticism for someone who has gone through so many injuries. Bynum is also a good (not great) defender, someone who won't rotate on help very often, but has elite shot-blocking ability and the strength to push fellow bigs out of the post.

One problem: Bynum is never healthy. Starting on Jan. 13, 2008, Bynum's career has been a never-ending string of setbacks, all knee-related, that have prevented him from truly becoming a superstar. It was on that date that Bynum partially dislocated his knee against the Memphis Grizzlies, setting up an all-too-familiar career path for the young center.

A little over a year later, in possibly the biggest déjà vu moment of Bynum's life, he tore his MCL, missed nearly three months and hobbled his way through the 2009 NBA playoffs.

In the 2010 playoffs, Bynum again tore a knee muscle, this time a meniscus, but misguidedly played through it as the Lakers won a title. That injury wound up being more serious than originally thought and cost him nearly 30 games of the 2010-11 season.

Since that initial injury, the 2011-12 season was the only happy ending on his individual journey. Bynum finally put all the talent and physical gifts together, averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 rebounds per game. It was just the second time in his career he had averaged a double-double a night and he even turned into a crunch-time marvel

More importantly, Bynum stayed on the court for 60 of the Lakers' 66 regular season games and had no major injury problems all season. It was the first time Bynum had played 80 percent of his team's regular season games since his second year in the league and just the third time in his career that he broke the 70 percent plateau.

The 80 percent window has already passed for Bynum in 2012-13, and unless someone sprinkles some fairy dust on his knee before Tuesday night, playing in 70 percent of the Sixers' games this season will be out of the question as well.

Every single time, it's been knee injuries keeping him off the court. Not Kobe Bryant.

So while Bryant may set up a convenient excuse and make a headline, it's a totally false narrative. Bynum's "stunted growth" on his professional journey is not a unique story, but one that's torpedoed the careers of many seven-footers: the failings of his own body.