It's been a season of surprises for the Pistons -- and most of them haven't been pleasant. The decision to trade Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson blew up in everyone's face, and a team once marked by consistency was thrown into a constant state of flux as players both struggled to stay healthy and adjust to unfamiliar roles.
Things have finally calmed down over the last few weeks, in part because Will Bynum, a forgotten role player for much of the season, burst onto the scene to provide scoring off the bench and a steady presence in the fourth quarter -- ironically, the role the Iverson was too proud to embrace before shutting it down for the year.
Bynum gained some national attention when he scored an incredible 26 points in a single quarter last week, breaking a team record first set by Isiah Thomas a couple of decades earlier, but for the most part he's still living in obscurity.
I penned his introduction to the casual fan last week, but here are the Cliffs Notes: Bynum, an undrafted former NBDL Rookie of the Year generously listed at 6-foot-0, has been underestimated his entire career. He got a taste of the NBA life with a 15-game cup of coffee in his first year as a pro in 2005, but from there his career took him halfway around the world, playing two years for Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Bynum earned a roster spot with the Pistons after an impressive summer league showing in July but spent most of this season as a complete afterthought, earning a prominent role in the rotation only after injuries ravaged the rest of the backcourt. In the last 15 games, though, he's averaging nearly 15 points in 24 minutes a night. In fact, the late surge has made him the most efficient player on the roster; his 18.1 PER leads the team.
I spent several minutes chatting with Bynum in Detroit's locker room before the Pistons hosted the Nets this past weekend; the Pistons eventually won that game, clinching a spot in the playoffs. Bynum, naturally, scored a game-high 20 points.
Matt Watson: I know a lot of players say they don't pay attention to the media or read newspapers, but you've had about a dozen articles written about you in the last week. Have you noticed that?
Will Bynum: No, I don't really look at it. Kind of from being over in Israel, I actually just stopped really reading the paper. I hear from my mom and some people in my family, but I just try not to because I just want to stay consistent with what I'm doing.
Matt Watson: It's kind of funny because after games it seems the media congregates around whoever had the hot game – it seems like they're always at your locker these days. Is that a strange feeling to be trying to get dressed and you look around and see everybody?
Will Bynum: I don't think – it's nothing. I just try to stay with my rituals. Stay consistent with that and everything else will fall in place.
Matt Watson: I don't know if you remember, but I talked to you out in Las Vegas during the summer league, and I swear, you had the same – like you're saying, consistent – you had the same calm demeanor the entire time. Back then you were fighting for a contract; now you're setting records. Have you always been like that? Is that something that you developed because of the path that you've taken?
Will Bynum: Yeah, I think it's something that I've developed. I think when I was first coming out of college, I wasn't this calm. [When] I was coming out, I was more emotional. But I think I learned to do that – and that's what they say, experience is supposed to teach you and make you a better person. I think my experiences have done that.
Matt Watson: Last summer you were fighting for a roster spot and a contract; now this summer, is there going to be talk of an extension? Have you thought about that at all? I mean, the team option is a given.
Will Bynum: Nah, I mean, I don't even think about it. It's not something that I control. Right now it's a situation that I can't control, so I just worry about the things that I can control, and that's me out here on the court and my family and things of that nature. But I just try not to think about it and leave it in God's hands.
Matt Watson: This season has been such an up-and-down season all along. What's stood out? It's your first full season – you haven't even played 82 games for your career – in your first full season, what's stuck out as the most surprising moment? What was your "welcome to the NBA" moment?
Will Bynum: [Pause.] When Chauncey got traded. When Chauncey got traded it was kind of crazy for me. I mean, not really crazy, but for it to be Allen, one of the players that I looked up to my whole life – and to be on the same team with him was just crazy.
And once I got to practicing against him, it was like, "You know? I'm good!" [Laughing] I've been watching this guy, looked up to this guy my whole career, and to be on the same team with him and playing against him – it's not a word that I can tell you that can explain how I felt.
And just to keep doing it, I was more and more confident, I was gaining more and more confidence as we practiced, as we played, just from being around him. It's kind of crazy, but that's how it was, that's exactly how it went. After that, I just never turned back. I tried to learn as much as I could from him, and I never turned back. I felt like playing against anybody else would be – it's still going to be difficult -- but I felt like it was easier because I got over the thing of playing against Allen. It just helped me out.
Matt Watson: It's funny the way it worked out, because last year it was Stuckey playing behind Chauncey and they're kind of similar builds and stuff like that, and you were playing behind Allen, one of the top small men to ever play the game. It couldn't have worked out any better for you.
Will Bynum: Yeah, I mean, it's crazy how things work out. The people who are close to me, people who call me from back home, used to be like, "Can you believe you're playing with Allen?" when he first got here. They'll be calling, "I can't believe you're playing with Allen!" It was crazy, man. Crazy. It's like looking up to Michael Jackson or somebody and next thing you know you're in a group with him. It's crazy. So this has been good for me. I've just been taking it one day at a time, one step at a time.
Matt Watson: As the more you've been playing – I don't know if you've noticed, but you've got a lot more highlights on YouTube.
Will Bynum: [Laughter]
Matt Watson: There's some sick ones of you over in Israel ...
Will Bynum: Yeah.
Matt Watson: So, you and Nate Robinson, you can take him, right?
Will Bynum: I've been knowing Nate since high school. We've been knowing each other, we've been best friends since high school, so it's never been a competition thing with us. Everybody else always [thinks that] – I mean always, it's been going on for years, since we were in college. Nate is about three or four inches smaller than me. We're both good, so I don't think it's a comparison.
Matt Watson: I mean, what about a dunk contest, you and him?
Will Bynum: He, actually, he got some dunks that I can't do and I got some dunks that he can't do. So it just depends on what you like.
Matt Watson: That's your politically correct answer? [Laughing]
Will Bynum: It's the truth. We had a dunk contest at Nike camp going into my senior year of college. Yeah, we had a dunk contest. I don't know, Ronny Turiaf taped it, he recorded it. ... A lot of people said I won, a lot of people said he won. It was pretty good, though. Everybody was watching.
Matt Watson: Someone's got to get that on YouTube.
At this point our conversation essentially comes to an end; Kwame Brown, never one to pass on a chance to give a teammate a hard time (especially when a teammate is trying to give an interview) interrupts as he enters the locker room.
Kwame Brown: I did an interview about you yesterday. It was on the radio. I said, "Man, forget Will. He won't buy me a turkey club in his room, and I take him to ... all kinds of restaurants, him and all his boys, and he can't buy me a turkey club?"
Will Bynum: [Laughing] You said that on the radio?
Kwame Brown: I said I wanted the world to know he changed! He's got a big head since he scored all these points! Yep, that's what I said.
Will Bynum: [Laughing] What's wrong with you, man?
Kwame Brown: I had a smile on my face while I was doing it.
Matt Watson: You can't see a smile on the radio.
Kwame Brown: They were talking, "How did you and Will become such good friends?" I said, "Wait a minute, who started that rumor?" I said, "I want the world to know right now, he is not my friend."