If there’s one thing Los Angeles fans are notorious for, it’s being the West Coast version of Philadelphia fans. We love our teams with a passion, just like you do, except we are incredibly radical and impatient. We want to win now, and at all costs. Build through the draft or develop young talent? No thanks, we’ll trade our ever-promising youngster for your megastar athlete.
Such is the case with the Los Angeles Lakers.
There’s no doubt that, over the past ten years, Lakers squads have been built via free agency (i.e. Shaquille O’neal, Matt Barnes, Ron Artest/Metta World Peace) or through trades (i.e. Pau Gasol). And though the big dawg/Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has been more than willing to move whatever pieces are necessary to bring in the next big superstar to Hollywood, there’s one important player that has yet to be officially but-no-wait-David-Stern-vetoed-it traded out of Los Angeles: Andrew Bynum.
Sure, there are rumors. There are — and always will be — rumors. And though some have substance, they just don’t make sense.
Lakers fans have been too quick to give up on Drew, not because he hasn’t looked all that great, but because every time the 7-footer soars for a rebound, the entire Laker nation gasps in suspense. Those knees — incredible medical staff be damned — have been known to give out in the worst of situations.
Of course, the chatter and consensus here in L.A. is this: If Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith calls and wants Bynum and insignificant pieces (i.e. draft picks) for Howard, do it. Don’t ask questions. Don’t negotiate. Just do it.
Because people here, in Los Angeles, couldn’t give a rat’s ass what Andrew Bynum could be. Rather, they only see Bynum for what he is now (or, at least, what he was before he exploded onto the scene Saturday against the Denver Nuggets when he racked up 29 points and 13 rebounds). And that is a youngster who has potential, but isn’t Dwight Howard.
Now, I just spent 330 words explaining to you what the general sentiment about Andrew Bynum is. All of them are necessary because it’s vital to understand the mindset of an average L.A. fan is. (That doesn’t make them less of a fan, mind you, but as an L.A. fan myself, I can tell you that we just sound plain dumb sometimes.)
But what do I (and have I, for the past two years) think? Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard is a mistake.
Numbers-wise, OK, Dwight Howard had Bynum’s, um, number(s). DH12 has been a 20/12 machine for the majority of his career and he’s been the sole reason that the Magic have made it to the NBA Finals once and to the playoffs for the past five years. He’s athletic as hell and has never had an attitude problem.
But that’s where Dwight Howard’s advantages end.
Because while Dwight has been the number one scoring option for the Magic during their five-year-long postseason stretch, Andrew Bynum has been buried as the third — sometimes fourth — scoring option during the second Phil Jackson era. With Pau Gasol’s acquisition, Bynum was relegated to playing defense and banging the boards (both of which he did well, averaging a 16.7 percent rebound percentage — while playing alongside 14.7-percent’er Pau Gasol the majority of his career, mind you — comparable to Dwight’s 20 percent rebound percentage). In his career, Bynum’s usage rate (the amount of plays used by a player by percentage) has been a shade under 18 percent, while Dwight’s has been 23 percent. Over the past few years, the biggest difference between Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum is minutes and games played, as well as usage rate.
From a non-stat-geek perspective, there isn’t a doubt that Howard is dominant. Most nights, it looks as if Howard is just stronger, quicker and faster than any man that wants to take him on, one-on-one. The amount of and-ones the dude puts up in one game is ridiculous, because he’s strong enough to finish at the rim while taking a hard foul. But outside of his brute strength? He still needs a lot of work with his post moves (they’ve gotten astronomically better through the years, but they still aren’t amazing). His footwork needs improving, and he needs to be able to take an entry pass further out from the paint and be able to use savvy — not just strength — to get to the bucket. Even further, Dwight’s height is a killer for him. Though his game is perfectly tailored to an All-Star center, his height at 6-foot-10 is damning. His arms aren’t extremely long to help make up for it and though that doesn’t hurt his defensive game, it’s a pain to watch him get shut down by the likes of Jarron Collins and Kendrick Perkins (which happens quite often). Against longer front-courts, Howard is doomed (think back to the 2009 NBA Finals, where Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum nearly negated DH12 for the majority of the series).
Andrew Bynum? He may not be as polished as Howard is in some respects (using his strength to force his way inside, for example, as well as using his athleticism to help out on defense). But his post moves are incredible, because his footwork is gorgeous, despite the fact that he’s a long 7-footer. With Bynum’s back to the basket, it’s a wonder how he doesn’t score because if he isn’t backing you down with conviction, he’s using some sexy spin move off the block and straight into the paint. He uses his long-ass arms well to get up and over defenders to prevent fouling or to draw fouls for seemingly-easy and-ones. His offensive IQ has reached the level of your average veteran center, as he often gets in perfect position to clear lanes for penetrators or for an entry pass into the post where he works his magic.
And this is Andrew Bynum, two years younger and a few inches taller than All-World Center Dwight Howard.
Of course, that’s not to say Bynum is better than Dwight Howard. Howard’s on another level, but just one level above Bynum, as opposed to the several levels everyone thought for the past two years.
Of course, we won’t know who’s better until the two finally get to play one another, one-on-one, on January 20.
And something tells me that this won’t be like other meetings, where Bynum merely defended Howard rather than posted him up.
In just 17 days, we’ll find out if the two centers will put on a show that might change everything come trade deadline.