Building the Case for Andrew Bynum Being Superior to Dwight Howard

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic drives on Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the third quarter of Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There aren't many Lakers fans who want to hear that acquiring Dwight Howard was a mistake, and—to be fair—there aren't many analysts who will tell them as much.

But that didn't stop the Philadelphia 76ers' Dorell Wright from saying just that (via ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky):

“[Bynum's] going to need two defenders to stop him; I would say he’s the best big man in the NBA right now, hands down,” said Wright, speaking at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “He’s a guy that can give you baskets with his back to the basket; a guy who makes free throws at 7-feet. You’ve just got to respect him.” 

Now admittedly, Wright is coming from a biased perspective. The last thing he wants to do is say anything even remotely disparaging of his new teammate (and the 76ers' new franchise face).

All the same, there's some truth to his sentiment.

For all the hyperbolic chatter surrounding Howard, the very best arguments for taking him over Bynum rely almost exclusively on career numbers—a problematic tendency given that Bynum's very best and most injury-free campaign was 2011-12.

Arguments for Dwight overlook that. 

When it comes to durability going forward, sure, Howard's record of sustained success and health could very well be a sign of things to come.

We can't be entirely sure about that though. After all, it wasn't as if Kobe falling into Bynum's knee had anything to do with some chronic condition. It could just be that the guy got a bit unlucky early in his career.

Perhaps the tables will turn. Howard is the one coming off back surgery, and he's also the one who relies far more heavily on the kind of high-flying, explosive style of play that's far more likely to incur injury that a more deliberate post-game.

At the end of the day, gauging durability is a highly-speculative venture.

So let's look at another argument commonly advanced on Howard's behalf: his exceptional defensive contributions.

Again, there's no denying that Dwight earned those three Defensive Player of the Year awards, but there's also no denying that Bynum's defense is woefully underrated, especially if we examine his most recent season—which makes sense to do when you're talking about a 24-year-old with his best seasons ahead of him.

ESPN's Ryan Feldman explains that a careful examination of the numbers reveal Bynum to be more effective when it came to giving up points in the post and in pick-and-roll situations:

Howard has a reputation as a defensive force. But Bynum actually allowed fewer points per post-up play than Howard last season. Howard held opponents to a lower field-goal percentage and forced turnovers more often but the difference came on fouls. Howard sent opponents to the free-throw line more than twice as often on post-up plays.

Bynum held the roll men on pick-and-roll plays to a lower field-goal percentage than Howard and sent his opponents to the free-throw line less often.

In other words, Howard may have been the more aggressive defender, but Bynum was more likely to simply use his size to disrupt shots—a factor that's easily forgotten if you ignore those fouls.

And to the extent Bynum's defensive ability relies more on skilled use of his size than sheer mobility and athleticism, you have to be optimistic about how that will translate over the long-term. Just look at how long Tim Duncan's successfully anchored San Antonio's interior defense.

It wasn't because he had Howard-like hops.

You can also argue that Howard's the better rebounder, and the numbers would suggest as much. What the numbers don't tell you is that Howard's front-court partner Ryan Anderson collected almost two fewer rebounds per 48 minutes when compared to Pau Gasol. Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace out-rebounded Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu as well, albeit by slimmer margins.

In other words, you can explain Howard's freakish rebounding productivity at least in part because his team didn't rebound as much.  

Of course, Wright's argument had more to do with what Bynum does as a scorer than what he did defensively or on the glass.

That's where it's hardest to argue with him. Yes, Howard may be the league's very best when it comes to rolling to the basket after pick-and-rolls; and yes, that will look especially good so long as Steve Nash is wearing Purple and Gold.

On the other hand, Bynum is already more skilled in the post, and he's two years Howard's junior. He's also a far better shooter from mid-range, and he made nearly 70 percent of his free throws last season (something Howard hasn't even come close to doing since his rookie season).

These kind of factors won't wow you as much as a rim-rocking dunk, but they will qualitatively change the dimension of games.

For example, feeding Bynum the ball in the last two minutes of the ball game is actually a viable option. He also enables better floor spacing with his range, making it easier for slashers to reach the basket without bigs clogging the lane.

And as nice as Howard will look picking and rolling with Nash, he'll have to rely on Nash's replacement being equally effective soon enough.

Thanks to his success with his back to the basket, Bynum won't rely nearly as much on having a premium point guard (though 22-year-old ex-Bruin Jrue Holiday could become just that).

Does Bynum have a decisive advantage in this discussion?


But nor does Howard, and that's the salient point here. The case for Bynum is much better than meets the eye.


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