Dorell Wright is now Andrew Bynum‘s teammate in Philadelphia. Let’s ignore that fact for just a minute, because as we saw recently with Chris Paul, a good teammate will never throw his teammate under the bus, and by all accounts, Dorell Wright is a good teammate. We can take his proclamation seriously for just a minute because over the past year, blinded by near 19/12 averages, there were many saying this same thing.
Wright told Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com about Bynum: “He’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.”
Asked about the whole teammate thing, and whether he was just sticking up for his new center, the former Warrior added, “No way. I’ll say that any day because he can put his back to the basket and (score and demand) a double team each and every time. And he makes free throws. He’s younger, too. I think it’s your all-around game when you’re a big man.”
So Wright is making his stance very clear: Bynum is hands down the best center in the world, which also means the seven-footer is hands down better than Dwight Howard. To Wright (as well as many basketball fans), Bynum is more skilled offensively, draws more double-teams and actually makes his free throws. He’s younger, isn’t coming off back surgery and now has an entire team to himself with the Sixers.
Some of that is true. But Bynum isn’t the best center in the league.
For starters, before we even get into the debate over Wright’s statement, Howard is clearly the better fit in L.A. He’s the best pick-n-roll finisher in the league, and finished second behind Blake Griffin with 5.2 buckets a game at the rim, which should pay dividends now that he switched Jameer Nelson for Steve Nash, who accounts for more assists at the rim than any player in basketball (and has done that for six straight seasons). Defensively, the Lakers will still struggle against uptempo teams like Oklahoma City and Denver. But at least with Howard, they’ll have a shot.
Bynum should be a 20/10 force in Philadelphia. But he will have growing pains as well. He handles double-teams about as well as T.J. Lang handled Monday night, and now he won’t have Pau Gasol beside him or Kobe Bryant creating easy shots at the rim. He’ll be an All-Star, but will he be a franchise-changer? I’m not sure.
Up until last season, Howard’s true-shooting percentage was above 60 percent in every season since 2007. Bynum, long considered the more “polished” offensive player, saw his TS percentage fluctuate from year-to-year, from well above 60 percent to below it. Much of that had to do with his injuries (another point in favor of Howard. Who would you rather have: the guy who missed 166 regular season games in seven years and is coming off knee surgery this summer, or the guy coming off the first major injury in his whole career who missed all of seven games in his first seven seasons in the NBA?), but much of it had to do with consistency as well. Even Laker fans can tell you this: there was no guarantee their young center was bringing it every night.
Despite this comparison arriving at the perfect time – Bynum is coming off a career year where he also stayed healthy while Howard spent last season doing just enough to get by, ultimately in a big “F YOU ORLANDO” mode – Howard still came out as the better player (higher usage rate, better PER, accounted for more wins, All-NBA First Team).
And then we get to the final point, the kill shot. The last time these two matched up in January, not only did Orlando win the game, but Howard dropped 21 points and 23 rebounds while saddling Bynum with foul trouble and ringing up 17 free throws. Bynum had 10 and 12, playing just 26 minutes.
Their previous meeting, in March of 2011, ended with a L.A. win but Howard again won the one-on-one matchup, finishing with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Yes, Bynum scooped up 18 boards in only 28 minutes, but was neutralized offensively, scoring just 10 and finishing with only five free throw attempts.
Or how about the time before that, in February of 2011? Orlando won again, this time by 14. Howard ran through Bynum all night for 31 points and 12 rebounds. Bynum had a respectable 17 and nine, but finished with only two free throw attempts in 30 minutes (sense a theme here?).
If we go back as far as 2010, it just gets laughable. In two games against Howard, Bynum finished with a COMBINED 13 points, 14 rebounds and four free throw attempts.
There’s no need to get back any further (the earlier you go in Bynum’s career, the less the comparison makes sense because of his lack of touches in L.A.). You can catch the drift. Howard went out every night intent on destroying Bynum, and his physicality consistently limited the younger Laker center. As a big man under constant pressure from perimeter players – both offensively and defensively – there are two things you must control if you have a hope of being a franchise player. One, you can’t get into foul trouble. Bynum did that in almost every matchup with Howard. And two, you must get to the line. Even if you don’t make them, the threat alone causes double-teams, breaks down defenses, and forces a shift in a team’s substitutional patterns. Howard doesn’t always make them, but against Bynum, he gobbled them up while the Lakers center rarely had free shots.
Whatever way you look at it, there’s absolutely no way a sane person can realistically say Andrew Bynum is “hands down” the best center in the world. What would you do if I wrote a piece arguing Patrick Ewing was the best center in the world during the mid-’90s? You’d pull out tapes of Hakeem Olajuwon, call me a fool and swear to never come back to DimeMag.com again. Ewing was a great player, but he wasn’t the best in the league. Bynum’s a good player, a sometimes great player, but Howard is not only the most dominant inside force in the league and one of the best defenders of the modern game (it’s true), he destroys Bynum whenever they matchup together.
Which player is better?
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