Los Angeles Lakers: Will Andrew Bynum Ever Be Better Than Dwight Howard?

Howard RubenContributor IJune 7, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a shot in front of Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 19 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Andrew Bynum may already be better than Dwight Howard.

But he still is not the right fit for the Los Angeles Lakers, and probably never will be.

Note to Jim Buss: Get over your personal affection for the 24-year-old All-Star and trade him now while you still can. 

He's your best asset and could fetch several young, athletic players and a first-round draft pick, all necessary ingredients for a Lakers team that, in its present state, is old, slow, lacking depth and way over the salary cap.

For those of you who love to quote and rely solely on statistics, Bynum does makes a great case for greatness. He was the starting center for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game and finished the regular season with an 18.7 points per game scoring average on 56 percent shooting, a remarkable seven points better than the previous year.

Bynum's numbers this year in 60 games, including 12 rebounds and two blocks per game, are close to Howard's career numbers of 18.4 points (58 percent), 2.2 blocks and 13 rebounds. D12 was averaging 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds this year after 54 games when he was forced to shut down his season due to a back (herniated disk) injury.

Bynum has certainly closed the gap and, on some nights, is the better player than Howard. A very young Andrew Bynum (21 at the time) looked awfully good playing against Howard and the Orlando Magic during the 2009 NBA Finals that L.A. won in five games. He's come a very long way since then, and his court skills are often a thing of beauty.

Bynum is a more skilled offensive player than Howard, while Howard is the premier defensive center in the league. As great as Howard is defensively, he has tremendous shortcomings on the offensive side of the ball if he's further than a couple feet from the basket.

ESPN NBA Analyst John Hollinger writes of Howard:

His kryptonite is the rare opponent who can push him two feet further out on his catches. Although he's a much better athlete than, say, Jason Collins or Kendrick Perkins, he struggles to score consistently against centers such as those two. And because they can single-cover him, it breaks down Orlando's entire offense.

One could argue all day as to who really is the better all-around center, Howard or Bynum.  Personally, I think it's a toss-up, with Bynum having the better offensive skill set and Howard controlling the paint as a defensive specialist. 

Yet I'm not so sure that having one of the top true centers in the game translates into a championship contender. Take a look at the teams still playing basketball in early June: Miami, Oklahoma City, Boston, San Antonio. None of them have an old-school center. Rather, they utilize athletes who can play multiple positions—interchangeable parts, so to speak.

Wall Street Journal reporter Chris Herring wrote about this very aspect in a June 7 story this week: "In baseball, a shortstop is and will always be a shortstop. In football, a center will never be confused with a quarterback. In basketball, though, the traditional team formula of two guards, two forwards and a center is going the way of the canvas sneaker."

Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are both skilled passers and outside shooters who, at 6'11", can crash the boards, but prefer to play facing the basket. The Spurs played five forwards at times during their series with the Thunder. The Heat use LeBron James at multiple positions and rely more on athleticism than traditional roles. The same goes for OKC.

So yes, I think Andrew Bynum is very close to surpassing Dwight Howard for "top center" honors in the NBA.

And no, I don't believe he's the answer to the Lakers' problems. The best scenario for this team today is to leverage Bynum's arrival as an All-Star and make a trade for a top point guard, small forward and other assets. 

That will be the best way for the Lakers franchise to acknowledge his status as a premier center.