Nov 4, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum (21) waits to enter the game in the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Fans need to listen to Andrew Bynum instead of dissecting a small sample size

Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum’s return to the hardwood in Wine & Gold came as a surprise to many on opening night in Cleveland. There were speculations being thrown around hours, even minutes, before Cleveland’s contest with the Brooklyn Nets that Bynum would see playing time in some capacity off the bench.

Fans got to see Bynum play on that night in October for a whole eight minutes, but he probably received the loudest standing ovation of any player checking into the game that night. Fans were more excited to see the fragile Bynum get his first minutes as a Cavalier than the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Fans, despite months of pessimism that we wouldn’t see Bynum donning the No. 21 on the court before the All-Star Break, acted like they were expecting the big man to suit up that night at Quicken Loans Arena all along.

This may have instilled false hope in us. That Bynum is going to be able to return to form quicker than everyone had expected. Now all reporters and fans want to do is know if there is progress being made in that department.

So far, according to Bynum himself, things seem bleak as far as a full recovery goes. To gauge what we can expect from Cleveland’s big free agent acquisition of the 2013 offseason, we can either a.) Take a magnifying glass to his small sample size of four games or b.) Use personal narrative to guide our (the fan base’s) hypothesis on Bynum. Let’s take a look at both.

A.) Take a magnifying glass to his small sample size of four games

So Andrew Bynum is averaging 5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks since returning to the hardwood as a member of the Wine & Gold. He hasn’t played any back-to-backs, missing the contest against the Indiana Pacers this past Saturday. He has averaged 12.8 minutes as well, while shooting 28 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the line.

Bynum had one of his most active games against Minnesota, shooting the ball six times (converting on two shots) and getting to the line on three separate occasions, hitting all six of his attempts. That, by itself, is a good sign, as it shows that Bynum isn’t hesitant to get hit down low despite a lack of pop in his jump.

In his past performance against Milwaukee, Bynum took over six shots for the third straight game. He even almost topped 20 minutes against the T’Wolves (which may have only been because of the lead Cleveland had built up and almost withered away). For him to last that long and play 15 minutes with one day’s rest is a sign that we should take as a good one.

But his body didn’t feel good after the 109-104 loss to the Bucks on Wednesday night. In an interview in Philadelphia in preparation for the 76ers game on Friday, which Bynum says he will play in, we found out more about where the two-time NBA champion is at in terms of how he feels about himself.

This, in my opinion, tells much more than any four games in the beginning of a season will.

B.) Use personal narrative to guide our (the fan base’s) hypothesis on Bynum

In an interview with Sixers Dish, a Philadelphia 76ers blog for The Delaware County Daily Times, Christopher Vito talked with Bynum on returning to Philly, frustrations about last season and the extent of his injuries. When Bynum was asked about his thoughts on his injury being career-threatening, he responded:

Yeah. It’s still career-threatening. I’m a shell of myself on the court. I’m just struggling mentally. I’m trying.

Even though he’s playing, Bynum still feels frustrated with himself. For any player who used to be at the 20/10 plateau and now has to work themselves up from 10 minutes a game to hopefully starter minutes, there is going to be frustration. Whether Bynum uses the frustration to motivate himself to return to form or dwells on it and comes across another injury is yet to be determined, but if players on this team see a veteran sulking  in the locker room (which hasn’t happened yet, and, actually, Bynum has been a commanding and positive force in the locker room according to teammates) at any point, younger players may lose focus.

Another interesting quote I found in the Vito interview with Bynum was how healthy the Cleveland center thinks he is. Bynum had this to say:

I think I’m out of the rehab phase, but I think the stat was I’ve missed 567 days or something like that. I still can’t jump or slide or anything. I’m just going out and trying to play.

While many pointed to Bynum as skipping out on the 76ers last season, the center now just wants to get out on the court to avoid being ridiculed for his past decisions on a nightly basis. He loves the game of basketball, so to even consider retirement after the surgeries is a sign that we can’t take anything we see on the court right now as progress:

It’s a serious thought. It still is. It’s tough to enjoy the game because of how I am physically.

After that, he added, “I’m certain I’ll work through that.”

Although Bynum seems down, I still think there is a way that he can reach his goal of becoming a double-double center in the League again. Baby steps, however, are the only way he can make the climb back up successfully. So when it comes 2014, don’t make a cry for action that Bynum should have already worked his way up to starter status and 20+ minutes a night. That may or may not be the case in early ’14, but making checkpoints for when we should see him at or near 100 percent, calling for him to see time as a starter or wanting him to blast an opponent’s shot into the stands and dunk on the regular will only leave us an even more disappointed fan base.

He wants to be back as much as we want him back in full form. We just need to give him the space and time to do so. He’s back on the bike now. We just need to let him ride it how he pleases.

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