Will Bynum may be most famous for his mighty mite dunk power that led him to challenge the world to “Dunk Like Will.” His style of play was born out of a Chicago upbringing where, as he says, there wasn’t time to mess around. You either went straight to the rim, or you didn’t. Even as Bynum is turning 30 in January, his calling card is still his straight-ahead speed toward the rim. In every season but one of his five-year NBA career, Bynum’s shot attempts at the rim are more than any other spot on the floor, per hoopdata.com. If the Pistons had a position akin to a third-down running back, the 6-foot Bynum is that player — he gets you points in spurts.
He’s averaged 7.7 points, 3.1 assists and 44-percent shooting in his 233 career NBA games, a career he’ll be playing to extend past this season. Bynum is in a contract year, with his three-year deal for $9.75 million expiring this summer. Maybe more important year-round to Bynum is his hometown of Chicago, and the fixes he believes need to be made to stop the inner city from tearing itself apart. In just the weekend of Oct. 22, five people were killed and 24 wounded in shootings, and that came after a bloody summer. He feel every report as if he were still in the city. Bynum is as passionate about finding solutions for Chicago as he is about anything else. He talked with Dime this week about basketball, the Windy City and who is the best baller on on Detroit’s other pro teams.
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Dime: You’re so close to the season, is this an anxious time or does it feel like this always at the start?
Will Bynum: It’s a new feeling only because it was kind of a shortened season and we didn’t have much time and were rushed so this year is kind of about starting on time, working at the right steps and right process that we usually do.
Dime: How thrown off did you feel last year?
WB: It was just different because we had a new coach and new system and we had to learn it pretty quickly. Being a point guard you have to learn so much and you have to know everything frontward and backward and what coach (Lawrence) Frank is thinking at the same time so it was difficult for us and I think that was part of the reason we started off kind of, kind of bad last season. But this season, with a year experience of knowing what he wants and what he don’t want, it will make the process a whole lot better.
Dime: In talking with Brandon Knight earlier he was very excited about Greg Monroe’s work at forward, and Andre Drummond, too. Are there guys you’re excited about from the Pistons?
WB: Yeah, definitely. Greg’s made great strides from last year to this year and it’s something you’re going to see more of this year. Andre, he’s something that we haven’t had here in Detroit. Athletic big man who can block shots, it makes it so much easier for us defensively, now we’re about to pressure guards and not worry about if I get beat because I understand I have Andre behind me. He makes a huge difference. He plays above the rim for alley oops coming from me and Brandon, and puts a lot of pressure on the defense and makes reads a little easier.
Dime: After that initial losing stretch for Detroit last season, I never got the sense you guys were regressing. Did you feel you were getting better?
WB: Yeah. We were working hard every single day. Us starting out 4-20 and finishing 21-21 or something like that, we knew that we were going in the right direction. I think it just took some time. Coach Frank installed a new system. We had to get those things out of us and carry on with what he wanted us to do. I think this year will be totally better than last year.
Dime: You mentioned “If I get beat on defense” earlier. I know you spent a lot of time with Tony Allen this summer working on perimeter defense. Were there a few specific keys you worked on?
WB: Me and Tony have been best friends our whole life so he related it back to a mentality of how we grew up with how to grind it out, nothing’s ever been given to us type of person and that’s the kind of mentality you have to have on that end. He tapped that in to relate to him that way. Then he broke down the top four sets of other teams, understanding that in any kind of set another team is running, they usually pass away to a four man or a five man up top and then it’s a screen away and the guard pretty much comes back from the other side. He was just telling me that those are the times when you want to be more aggressive, when your man’s off the ball and they give it up to a four man because four or five men aren’t used to making the right pass or playmaking, those are the times you can be more aggressive and get steals in the passing lanes and fake out big men who aren’t used to having the ball like that. It was a number of things that he told me.
Dime: You train with just him mostly?
WB: I trained with Shawn Marion, Bobby Simmons, Enes Kanter from Utah, Rodney Stuckey a little bit. I pretty much train all over Chicago.
Dime: What’s Kanter like?
WB: He’s real good at pick and roll, he’s tough on the offensive boards. He’s just a tough guy. I didn’t know that his footwork was that well on the block and he’s a bull down there.
Dime: Last year you had a hard time shooting the ball, I have to think that was a part of your offseason regimen. Were you trying to focus on your mid-range, or the three?
WB: I shot a ton of shots. I had a shooting instructor come in and fine tune what we were doing. I kind of sharpened up in that area as well and got my reps up. My thing is I try to stick to my strengths. I’ll shoot the mid-range and make a few and then step out for three but that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking to attack the basket and get into the paint and collapse the defense and get guys open for shots.
Dime: You’re in a contract year, does that add the stress this season, or is it fun in a way knowing this is your chance to put up or else?
WB: (laughs) I’m kind of used to seeing that area because my whole life has been do or die. Growing up in Chicago, the area I grew up that’s been the thing with me, I’m comfortable growing up with my back against the wall. I thrive in those type of situations and it’s nothing for me. I focus on what I can control and let the rest work itself out.
Dime: Speaking of Chicago, the whole summer there were so many shootings and many of them were centered around basketball, parks, etc. That has to be horrible for you to see.
WB: It’s hard man, it’s hard. A lot of the young kids are doing these things, there’s no guidance, there’s no hope, and lot of people aren’t coming back. I mean I try my best to get back and to talk to kids as much as possible but they have their values confused. They think money is everything when really the conversation I may give them is better than money or whatever. My main thing is that I try to go and talk with them and instill the values it took to get me where I’m at and the mentality that I had to have so that maybe whatever they’re trying to do they understand that they can do it if they have the right values and have everything in line.
Dime: Anytime you’re in Chicago do you try to set up times to meet with groups like that, or do you give advice as kids come up to you?
WB: I grew up in the city so I pretty much know everybody in the city of Chicago, west side and south side. I’m playing in all the summer leagues in Chicago so I’m there all the time and kids see me all the time and ask me questions. I know what’s going on in neighborhoods and know the people so I’m well in tune with what’s going on in different areas. People come up to me all the time and for that reason I’m able to go everywhere because they respect me, I’m humble and I’m a straight shooter. For those reasons I’m able to go back but for those reasons it’s hurtful for me, too. I can understand both sides and the way it’s going, it’s tough. There’s no leadership so therefore the little times they do see me it’s not enough times to instill something that’s been for them every day seeing it, every single day, for them seeing violence every single day. Being there for a summer, it’s not enough. They end up going into music or they’re violent and the music nowadays is violent. It’s one on top of another. It’s just crazy.
Dime: You have an interesting perspective on this, as you said, you can go a lot of places with your status. I feel like you should be running for mayor in the next 10 years.
Dime: Have you ever thought about politics and helping Chicago that way?
WB: The things I do and how I am it’s just the way I am from my heart. I can’t be talking to someone, looking them in the eye, and telling them a lie about something that’s important as kids growing up or what’s going on in the neighborhood. I can’t do that if I’m not a part of the neighborhood. I couldn’t see myself just telling the kids what I think or lying to the kids about going through it. It would be hard politically … (pause) some political people have to say whatever they have to say and I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t see myself lying to people because we’re all human and we all make mistakes and I couldn’t give someone advice without actually me walking the walk and knowing what I’m saying is true. You know what I mean?
Dime: Absolutely. It’s powerful when people go back with your social standing like you do and affect change instead of holding the status quo.
WB: Yeah but it has to be more than just one person, though. It has to be everybody, no matter if you’re a singer or whatever you are you should feel obligated to come back and speak to the kids and the public school kids and the kids in the community that aren’t doing well, the homeless teens, it should be mandatory. We made it out so we understand how hard it is to make it out. You knowing that, it’s much more important to go back and try to instill that in those kids so that the world can be a little bit better than what it is man, because the way we going it’s crazy man.