"I read the good book. It's called the Bible," said the Oklahoma City Thunder's MVP candidate. "And it says, ‘Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.'" As a professed Christian, Kevin Durant chose to reference Proverbs 27:17 when asked about his oft-discussed and, sometimes, criticized offseason workouts with LeBron James. From the three-time scoring champion's perspective, the grueling summer sessions he spent with the Miami Heat's superstar would only serve to further refine the skillsets of both basketball phenoms, which is why he later added, "So if you look at it that way, either way you're playing against a guy who's at the top of his game and is only going to make you better."
... "Iron sharpens iron." That is not an outcome that most outsiders probably would have expected to arise when the Indiana Pacers chose to sign former All-Star and NBA Champion, Andrew Bynum. Rather, the focus was, and has been, either entirely fixated on his health status; or, his potential to disrupt the Blue and Gold's highly vaunted team chemistry. After all, how could someone that never suited-up for Philly and was suspended and waived by Cleveland, suddenly make a positive impact and/or change in Indiana?
For strategic, as well as, purely functional reasons, some applauded the Pacers' addition of the alleged malcontent. From the viewpoint of those in the pro-Bynum camp, the Pacers had done the impossible by managing to keep a supposed low risk-high reward asset out of the hands of Pat Riley and the Miami Heat. Still, there were others salivating over the prospect of adding additional size, depth, and physicality to the Pacers' already old-school, throwback-style roster.
Yes, some were weary of the seven footers' addition, while others, perhaps, prematurely praised it, but few, if any, predicted that Andrew Bynum's mere presence in the Pacers' locker room would make one of his teammates almost instantaneously better. Yet, that has been precisely the reality for Roy Hibbert's current back-up.
..."So one man sharpens another." Since the Pacers' signed Andrew Bynum on February 3, it is hard not to notice the positive change in Ian Mahinmi's play on the court. When evaluating only the last five games of February, Mahinmi averaged 5.4ppg, 3.6 rpb, 1.4bpg, and 1.6spg - all improvements over every other monthly average this season. Over the entirety of February, Mahinmi reached his season-high scoring average (4.4ppg), per basketball-reference. On the surface, that number may seem inconsequential, but it becomes more meaningful when coupled by the fact that the Frenchman's plus/minus has also reached its season high at +14.4 during the last month, nearly a ten point swing from the month of January (+4.9), and an impressive sixteen point difference from December (-2.5). All month's compared, Ian's February plus/minus (+14.4) is also the highest mark he has achieved during his entire two-year tenure as a Pacer.
On the defensive end of the court, Mahinmi swatted away 14 shot attempts while only collecting 30 personal fouls, which, again, is a marked improvement over January (15 blocks; 43 fouls). Over the past twelve games, Ian's defensive rating has also reached a season-best, allowing only 93 points per 100 possessions. For reference, (although not completely comparable given that Mahinmi does not play starter's minutes) DPOY candidate Roy Hibbert's DRtg in February was 98 and Paul George's DRtg was 97.
With a new competitor in his rear view mirror, Ian almost seems to possess a renewed sense of energy. As of late, he has, for lack of better words, just been solid for the Pacers - protecting the paint, setting good screens, and earning key deflections. In fact, during crunch-time against the Boston Celtics, Frank Vogel decided to insert his more agile option at center to check the midrange shooting talents of Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries, and Jared Sullinger.
Is it purely a coincidence that Ian's scoring average, plus/minus, and defensive rating have all improved since Bynum's arrival; or, is it a direct product of a back-up center looking over his shoulder at a new addition hungry for a comeback?
When the Indianapolis Star asked members of the team to react to the powers that be's signing of the former Laker, Ian Mahinmi somberly responded, "My only concern is for the team. Whatever makes us better as long as we keep winning and we keep taking steps toward the championship, I'm fine with that." Who knew, that nearly a month after Bynum's addition, the new seven footers' biggest impact for the Pacers would yet to have actually come on the court, but, rather, be measured by the way his presence has motivated the back-up center many presupposed he would demote?
Ironically, Mahinmi's been better than "fine" with the signing, he has been better.
Fortunately, in the same way that Bynum's arrival has "sharpened" Ian, the Pacers' interactions with the former All-Star seem to have "sharpened" Andrew.
The Pacers have no plans to rush the oft-injured center back to the court until they have assurances that he is as healthy as can be reasonably expected. During the interim period, there will be no pressure from his new team, only encouragement and a welcoming atmosphere.
According to 1070 the Fan's Conrad Brunner, Roy Hibbert looks forward to the day he will share the court with his new teammate, "I want to see him get on the court and compete because I think he'll help. Until then I'm just going to keep on supporting him. He works really hard."
Just as the Bynum-effect impacted Ian for the better, the Pacers-effect seems to have produced positive change in Bynum. No doubt, watching Hibbert and Ian compete on the court in the midst of their quest for a championship, has stirred the former All-Star's competitive juices. Recently, he confirmed to the Indianapolis Star something many around the league were not shy to question, stating, "I want to play."
It was September of 2012 that both Kevin Durant and LeBron James really opened up about their private workout sessions that took place in Akron, Ohio the past two offseasons. With regard to their training the first summer, LeBron told ESPN, "We pushed each other every day." Meanwhile, OKC's star had tweeted, "I got better today! That's all that matters!! Move'em."
Certainly, it is difficult to compare the natural talents of Mahinmi and Bynum to that of two perennial MVP candidates, but Durant's referenced scripture verse says it all about the impact of the Pacers' new addition.
"Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." - Proverbs 27:17
Where many expected, at worst, a disruption of chemistry, and, at best, an insurance policy, both iron blades have already sharpened one another and become better prepared for, not only, their battle to win minutes on the court, but also their mutual goal of winning a NBA championship.