The Philadelphia 76ers managed to snag themselves something that they had been searching for since the days of Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins. They hadn’t been able to find a quality big to compliment the rest of their roster for years. It was as if they were cursed. They paired Allen Iverson with names like Derrick Coleman and Tom Chambers. They even gave Chris Webber a shot in the twilight of his career. However, to no avail, they couldn’t find a quality big man to anchor their team.
That is, until a few weeks back. By now we’ve all seen the deal that landed Dwight Howard in Los Angeles and Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia. The 76ers finally got what they’d been searching for for decades now, and are looking to become contenders in the Eastern Conference. However, before they do that they must go through the division.
The Atlantic division is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in basketball. At the top sit the Eastern Conference runner-up Boston Celtics. Andrew Bynum may be the best pure center in the division, however he’s going to be defended by one of the greatest defenders of all time, statistically, in Kevin Garnett. Even in Garnett’s old age, he’s still able to get the job done defensively. This past season there were many campaigns to get him Defensive Player of The Year. He’s one of the best at single covering bigs in the paint in the league today.
This season, Garnett will see a lot of time at center which means that he will be matched up against Andrew Bynum four times this season barring any unforeseen injuries to either player. It will be a fun match-up to watch for sure.
Starting off with the numbers, in the two match-ups vs Kevin Garnett that the Lakers played last season Bynum averaged 16.3 points per 36 minutes and also shot 50% which is six percent down from what his normal average is per game of 56%. On the flip side, Garnett averaged 4.5 fouls per 36 up from his 2.7 average during the season (these wonderful numbers are brought to you by NBA.com’s stat tool).
Garnett also has a significant drop in field goal percentage and point production while seeing an increase in rebounding. This shows us that Garnett is more focused on defending Bynum and getting the ball back into the Celtics hands. Bynum, while still putting up very good numbers, did see a decrease in his normal averages when playing against the Celtics. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a good sign, but I would say that the Celtics should be able to trust Kevin Garnett with the heavy task of guarding Andrew Bynum.
What makes Kevin Garnett such a great post defender is that he does his work early on the player that he is defending on the low block. He uses his hands to push them outside of their comfort zone. He’ll push and shove until he gets as much space as the player he’s going to defend is going to allow him to get. Whenever someone is looking to post Garnett up, its always a fight.
He’ll position his feet in a way that he won’t lose any leverage and firmly plants them into the floor. Its kind of like a lineman blocking in the NFL–as soon as the initial contact is made that’s when Garnett will use his footwork to gain leverage. This is why he isn’t called for many of the fouls that some think that he should get for his post defense.
However, Andrew Bynum is the best at gaining deep post position in the league. He makes what Kevin Garnett does that much more difficult. Bynum is so gargantuan that getting leverage against him is very difficult. He also improved his footwork to the point where it benefits him and keeps him from staying too far out of the paint. Andrew Bynum made 4.8 out of 6.5 shots at the rim per game last season, and that’s not for no reason.
His 73.2 shot percentage at the rim comes from him pushing his man further and further under the basket. He steps in between his man’s legs and will slowly use his large physique to push them underneath the basket. Once that happens there’s an open window to throw him the ball in the paint. He has a plethora of moves that he can go to, but his most deadly move is the drop step. Bynum is able to step inside of his opponent upon picking up his dribble. Once he makes that turn, he’s right at the rim. Then he uses his height to simply put the ball in the hoop. If he misses, he’ll snag the offensive rebound and put it back up again.
There are very few people who can defend against that, including Kevin Garnett. The best defense against Bynum is a double team. He tends to struggle with double team’s because of his lack of vision as a big. He isn’t a very good passer out of the post unless its a relatively simple one. If the defense attacks him from a certain angle, he isn’t able to have a clear path of vision to an open man and he’s going to turn the ball over more than likely.
The only way for Garnett to be an effective worker against Bynum is holding his ground strong and knocking him back every chance he gets. He has to get extra physical, even if it means pushing his foul total to the limit. Once Bynum gets within about 5 feet of the bucket he can get to the rim as easy as any big in the game. Its very reminiscent of what Shaq used to do in his prime. He was able to use his physical prowess to get easy looks at the rim at all times. Though he was a much superior athlete to Bynum, their techniques are very similar.
The double team will also be a key factor when Boston plays Philadelphia this season. With their lack of shooting at the guard position outside of Nick Young and Jrue Holiday, Boston will be throwing a hefty amount of doubles at Bynum.
How often these strategies will work will be how often Bynum allows them to. His growth as a player could lead to him being able to counter these defensive threats as a big.
Either way, this is going to be one fun match-up to watch this year.