Los Angeles Lakers: Is Andrew Bynum the Best Center in the League?

Andre KhatchaturianCorrespondent IIIApril 5, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 04:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after his dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 113-108.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Every time Andrew Bynum puts up numbers like he did on Wednesday night, a collective sigh of relief ensues from Lakers fans, management and players. 

Bynum scored 36 points and added eight rebounds and four blocks in a huge 113-108 victory against their in-arena rival—the Los Angeles Clippers

After being drafted at the raw age of 17, it took some time for people to buy into Bynum. Every season, he was involved in some sort of trade rumor. This year, there were talks that he was going to be shipped to Orlando for Dwight Howard, who some regard as the best center of the league.

In hindsight, Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family are geniuses for keeping Bynum. Acquiring Howard wouldn't have really improved the team. It wouldn't have hurt it either, but what's the point of a trade if you're not improving your team?

Both Bynum and Howard are elite centers. At the time of the trade rumors, Howard might've been the better player, but with the way Bynum has been playing recently, is it really shocking to call him the best center in the league? Why aren't there more debates and bar chatter regarding the two big men?

It takes time for a big man like Bynum to develop, though. He also had to deal with a few devastating injuries that stunted his development.

All of that is over now, as Bynum has managed to stay healthy, and he has slowly reached his potential as an elite center in the NBA.

So why is he superior to Howard?

No, it's not because of one 36-point performance against a Clippers team that lacks strength down low.

Let's just look deeper into the stats and we'll find our answer.

When we compare the raw numbers, Howard averages more points and rebounds than Bynum. Is that really a surprise, though, considering that he's the only star player on his team?

Bynum has two other world-class players on his squad, and one of them can be a little bit selfish when it comes to shooting the ball.

Ahem, that's you, Kobe Bryant.

The other elite player on the Lakers that takes away rebounds and points from Bynum is Pau Gasol, another seven-footer, who is naturally going to get his fair share of points and rebounds.

We've seen Gasol defer more and more to Bynum as of late. As a result, Bynum's numbers have shot through the roof while Gasol's have sagged. That doesn't mean Gasol is no longer a great player. In fact, it exemplifies his willingness to win and be a team player.

Gasol understands that Bynum is probably the most dominant center in the game, so why not defer to him? It only makes sense. That said, there's no doubt that if Gasol wasn't on the team, Bynum's numbers would only improve—the same way Gasol's do when Bynum is out of the lineup.

Another reason why it's not right to just look at the raw stats and call Howard the superior center is because Dwight gets a large percentage of his points by heading to the free-throw line. Both Howard and Bynum average near 11 or 12 field-goal attempts per game. However, teams know that Howard is a terrible free-throw shooter, and because of that they foul him more often. Thus, Howard gets more free-throw attempts.

This season, D12 is a 48.8 percent free-throw shooter, and he's averaged twice as many free-throw attempts as Bynum on a per-game basis. While Bynum averages 5.4 free-throw attempts per game, Howard averages 10.6. Bynum, on the other hand, is a 68.4 percent free-throw shooter, which is exceptional for a center.

One may argue that Howard shoots more free throws because he's the more physical and aggressive player, and because of that he gets fouled more often. However, Bynum gets pushed around just as often as Howard. There are many instances where Bynum is triple-teamed in the paint, and he still gets up and scores.

It's just that opponents are wary of the fact that Bynum can actually make his free throws, so they back off and refuse to foul him. In other words, you're not going to see Bynum have a night where he takes 39 free throws like Howard did earlier this season.

It also helps Bynum that he has legitimate teammates, unlike Howard. It's easy to take the Orlando Magic out of a game by just fouling Howard because he doesn't have a Kobe or a Pau to defer to like Bynum does.

When one takes into consideration the aforementioned arguments, it becomes clear that Bynum is Howard's equal, if not better.

Bynum has been showing shades of Shaq this season. He's slowly becoming the focal point of the Lakers offense, and the team is reaping the benefits.

Sure, he may be a head case at times, and he may be falling in love with the three-pointer unnecessarily, but that doesn't hide the fact that he has made unbelievable strides within the last year.

While Dwight's been making a wish list of teams to play for and creating a truckload of drama in Orlando, Andrew has surpassed him as the best center in the league.

Just as long as Bynum is "hoopin'" the way he is, management will be more than happy to tolerate his strange antics.