Would the L.A Lakers Be a Better Team with a Healthy Andrew Bynum?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJanuary 19, 2013

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 16:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic look on during a break in their NBA game on January 16, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Magic won 109-103.   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

Dwight Howard may not yet be the defensive force that fans of the Los Angeles Lakers expected when the team acquired him in a trade involving Andrew Bynum, but it's hard to argue with the results when you consider that Bynum has yet to play a single minute for his new team, the Philadelphia 76ers.

The knee injuries which have derailed Bynum's career escalated to ridiculous heights with the news that Bynum may have suffered a setback while bowling, and while the lingering effects from Howard's own back injury have prevented him from living up to his promise, the Lakers certainly dodged a bullet by getting rid of Bynum when they did.

I'm not sure if Bynum would have suffered a new injury if the Lakers would have chosen to retain him, but how would the relatively healthy Bynum that grew into a dominant force last season change the look of the struggling 2013 version of the Lakers if he were still around?

Howard was supposed to be the defensive anchor for the Lakers in the middle, but the Lakers of 2011-12 were actually a much better defensive team with Bynum manning the paint.

Last season the Lakers allowed 95.9 points per game and their opponents shot 43.7 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from the three point line. This season the Lakers allow 101.4 points per game, 45 percent shooting from the field and 35.4 percent from the three-point line.

There are numerous reasons for the defensive decline, some of which include a head coach who seems to have no concept of defensive strategy, one of the worst starting defensive point guards in the NBA in Steve Nash and horrible transition defense.

Howard also deserves some of the blame, though no fault of his own, since the back injury he suffered last season has robbed him of the explosion that made him special in the first place.

Howard no longer strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents just because of his presence, and teams who used to think twice before challenging Howard at the rim now venture into the paint with ease.

Bynum rarely received the same acclaim for his defense as Howard, and he certainly didn't have the same physical presence, but he managed to be effective by utilizing his size, footwork and a basic understanding of fundamental defensive principles.

Bynum was not known for his shot-blocking ability but he still averaged nearly two blocks per game in his final season as a Laker, and even when he didn't get the block he usually altered plenty of shots.

A healthy Bynum may not have made much difference on defense for the Lakers since their struggles are complex and multi-faceted, but he sure looks like a better fit on an offense still trying to find an identity outside of Kobe Bryant.

Howard's defensive credentials may trump Bynum's, but the chasm between the two players on the offensive end favors Bynum, and the gap looks even wider after watching Howard's limited offensive game in the paint.

Bynum was capable of playing with his back to the basket and had the ability to score with either hand, and he could turn and face the rim from either shoulder.

Howard lacks Bynum's impeccable footwork in the paint, and his absence of a defined go-to move with his back to the basket often leads to possessions in which Howard is stripped of the ball after holding it too long, or he either passes it out to the perimeter after most of the 24-second shot clock is wasted.

Mike D'Antoni's insistence in turning Howard into a back-to-the-basket post player has also created a negative residual effect for Pau Gasol, who is being wasted in D'Antoni's equally perplexing decision to turn him into a perimeter player.

Bynum and Gasol had no such trouble meshing in the paint, and Bynum's ability to step out and hit the 10- to 12-foot jumper allowed Gasol to get more looks closer to the basket.

I can't recall the number of times I have witnessed Howard attempt shots further than five feet from the basket, but it's certainly not enough to suggest that he can be consistent shooting beyond that distance.

Of course, none of this means the Lakers would be a better team with a healthy Bynum instead of Howard, but it's difficult to see how they could be much worse.

The Lakers ultimately made the correct decision in choosing Howard because even if Bynum is able to return sometime this season the odds say another potential career-ending knee injury is just around the corner.

However, little has been discussed about the long-term effects of Howard's back injury, and what if the explosiveness and strength that was lost never returns?

A recovering Howard on the court is still better for the Lakers than Bynum in street clothes, but the Lakers' current situation should be a subtle reminder of just how good Bynum really was, and the skill set he offered that Howard can't match.