Lost amid the hype and heralding of Dwight Howard's Los Angeles arrival is the very real possibility that Andrew Bynum will be the better player next season. Much to the great joy of the (admittedly, few) Philadelphia 76ers fans, Bynum has already publicly leaned towards re-signing in his first press conference.
In the presser, Bynum's disposition was unfamiliar to most Lakers fans. He was enthusiastic and excited, and spoke of the future with actual optimism, as opposed to monotone vagaries.
Perhaps this is the set-up for a letdown season—it is quite conceivable. The Philadelphia media was nice to Drew upon arrival, but this could be phase one in Praying Mantis courtship. It's a notoriously irascible talk-radio town, and Bynum's abrasive ways could light a conflagration.
Bynum also has actual basketball issues to address as well. He struggles with double teams and the kid should see plenty of them now that he's option one, two and three in Philadelphia. This is a sink-or-swim test, as Drew could either collapse under the weight of all the defensive attention, or be forced to grow new aspects of his game.
With the Lakers, he got many of his points off of lobs from Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, plays that were made possible by the attention drawn to those two other stars. In Philly, unless Jrue Holiday gets creative, such opportunities should be fewer. Bynum will need to create them.
And then, of course, there are the injuries. The new Sixers center just had his first injury-free season since 2006-07. I don't believe this was luck or coincidence, Lakers trainer Gary Vitti has helped revamp Bynum's stride and body. But the big man is going to be with a whole new training staff. He's already raised some concerns by electing for a "precautionary" knee surgery (via The Philadelphia Inquirer) in Germany.
Okay, that's enough with the caveats. Andrew Bynum stands a great chance to make the Lakers regret this trade.
Last season, Drew went for 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while being shot-starved by a Lakers offense that relied heavily on Bryant and Gasol. Though he shot more often, his true field-goal percentage remained steady at .594. This would bode well for his chances of maintaining efficiency in a bigger role. We've certainly seen flashes of dominance when Bynum gets the rock.
His aggregate "advanced" statistics amounted to a 22.9 PER and a .183 win-share average. For comparison, Dwight Howard claimed a 24.2 PER and .179 win-share average last year.
Dwight still has an edge on Bynum on account of his defense and how quickly he handles offensive possessions. But that edge could evaporate as he returns from major back surgery. We're two and a half months from the season and Howard has yet to start running again. I don't mean "running" as a euphemism for basketball; I mean it as literally propelling oneself faster than a walk (via Slam Magazine).
There is also an age difference between the two. Bynum is 24 years old to Howard's 26. Two years might not seem like a lot, but consider how much of Dwight's game is based on superior athleticism. This speaks to another difference: Drew is taller than Dwight.
Though Howard is listed as 6'11" on his player card, his Draft Express combine height reveals that Dwight is really 6'9" in socks. When I asked the Lakers on the matter in July, they claimed that Bynum's height is 7' in socks.
If Howard's athleticism wanes next year, a still-improving Bynum could catch him. This is why people shouldn't be wringing hands over how the Lakers got such a sweet deal. Los Angeles took a risk in trading their 24-year-old big man, and it's a risk that could easily come back to haunt them next season.