Commentary

How Andrew Bynum trumps Howard

Steeled for the truth? He's healthier, more productive and has less coach baggage

Updated: April 16, 2012, 12:53 AM ET
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Pau Gasol won a brief 3-point shootout with Dirk Nowitzki on Sunday afternoon, and that wasn't even the most surprising development in the world of NBA big men this weekend.

Andrew Bynum has now played in more games than Dwight Howard this season, and if Howard's bad back is going to keep him sidelined this will be first season ever that Bynum finishes with the higher number of the two in the "G" category.

So if Bynum's numbers since the All-Star break are comparable to Howard's (21.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, 58 percent shooting for Bynum; 21.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, 61 percent shooting for Howard) and Bynum is suddenly more durable than Howard, while his whims and transgressions don't rise to the level of franchise-altering as Howard's have, it follows that Bynum has become a more valuable center than Howard.

Even if everything in that last paragraph turns out to be fluke -- especially the durability part, given Howard's healthy history and Bynum's penchant for having people roll into his knee -- there's something Bynum was Sunday that Howard has yet to develop into: a reliable option in crunch time.

According to 82games.com, Bynum is 23rd in the NBA in points per 48 minutes of crunch time (the last five minutes), with 29.5 points. Howard is 44 spots below, scoring 20.2 points per 48 minutes.

In a game with major playoff seeding ramifications (even if it was without Kobe Bryant), the Lakers went to Bynum repeatedly in the fourth quarter and overtime. He delivered eight points in the fourth, and in overtime he hit a big jump shot from by the free-throw line in the fourth quarter that elicited a swooping, Tiger Woods-style fist pump from him.

His baskets were all more conventional than Gasol's who hit two 3-pointers sandwiched around a Nowitzki 3, a shootout Gasol conceded he would win only one out of 10 times.

Bynum, on average, is going to score about six out of 10 times he shoots.

It's why his teammates kept looking for him even though he was only 5-for-18 in the first three quarters Sunday. Matt Barnes was especially determined. In the midst of a near-triple-double (11 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists), Barnes kept passing in Bynum, kept "making sure he eats," as Barnes put it.

"It's great, they have confidence in me," Bynum said. "Tonight I couldn't buy a basket, but we got it done somehow."

It's worth going to Bynum even if his shot isn't falling because he'll still draw double-teams that leave shooters open on the weak side of the court. His presence will create driving lanes that new acquisition Ramon Sessions can exploit with the extra gear no Laker guard has possessed in years.

Quite simply, Bynum gives the Lakers the best inside option in the league. Oklahoma City doesn't have an answer for him, although the question in that playoff series would be whether the Lakers can keep up with Russell Westbrook and the speedy Thunder. Bynum dominated the San Antonio Spurs last week to the tune of 30 rebounds.

Even if he doesn't repeat the statistical feat in their next meeting Tuesday night at Staples Center, if he controls the paint again it could leave the Spurs praying they don't see the Lakers in Round 2 of the playoffs. A Lakers-Grizzlies matchup in the first round could be San Antonio's solution, since Memphis can go inside to Zach Randolph while harassing Kobe with their Tony Allen-led perimeter defense.

Is it possible that as good as Bynum thinks he is, as many perks as he believes he's entitled to, that he doesn't fully comprehend how great his impact on the playoffs could be? He has never been asked to carry a team in the playoffs. He won't automatically get the most shots anymore when Kobe comes back from this shin injury ("sooner" currently has better odds than "later," from what I hear) but maybe he will leave Kobe and the rest of his Lakers teammates with no choice.

As the streamers fell to the floor immediately after this 112-108 victory Mike Brown stopped Bynum on the court to make sure he understood the implications of his 23-point, 16-rebound game. He told Bynum much of the same things he told the media a few minutes later.

"Andrew Bynum was a monster today," Brown said. "He was an absolute monster today."

He told him he could be that good whenever he wants, he can be as important a part of what the Lakers do in the playoffs as he desires.

That's a big jump from a player who saw limited action in his first two playoffs, limped to the finish in his third. All of those hours of rehab, all of that work to develop his footwork and post game, it's a shame he hasn't let that become the narrative, rather than his immature outbursts.

"I'm just focused on what's coming next," Bynum said. "Just living, playing in next breath, next play, next minute."

His petulant moments have to give the Lakers some hesitance before entrusting the franchise to him post-Kobe. If he's acting this way in his first season as an All-Star, what will he do a season from now with free agency looming knowing that the team will be desperate to keep him?

So far his transgressions have been limited to acting up on the bench and disrespecting his coach. But he hasn't asked for the coach to be fired, as Stan Van Gundy said Howard has done. He hasn't paralyzed the team by sending alternate signals that he wants to leave and wants to stay. Given what each has put his team through, the answer for who you'd rather have could be just as simple as who you'd rather give the ball to in the fourth quarter. Right now, it's Bynum.