Is Dwight Howard a better option than Andrew Bynum?

Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) put an idea in my head right after my post on how even experienced bartenders fall prey to overvaluing height. Here’s Ethan’s question:

Most Laker fans are in favor of trading Dwight Howard for Andrew Bynum, as Dwight’s the better player. What they don’t know is that Dwight is really 6-9 (He’s listed at 6-11), while Bynum is really 7-0. I wonder if they’d be so in favor of this deal if Dwight’s ESPN card said “6-9.”

Many people think Dwight Howard is a good replacement for Andrew Bynum because although Bynum is a talented seven footer, Howard is a great 6′ 11” center. Or his he?

While it’s true that Dwight Howard is an insanely talented center, there’s more than a few inches between him and Bynum. It’s possible that stats nerds that just read the box scores and trust the “official” measurements may be coaxed into buying that there’s not a big size difference between Bynum and Howard. That’s simply not true. Following the same direction, there’s actually a bigger question – Would Howard over Bynum improve the Lakers? I’m actually leaning towards no.

Their numbers aren’t that different!

Coming off their 2010 title the Lakers faltered. In the 2011 season Dwight Howard was a top three player in the league and put up 18 wins. Compared with Andrew Bynum, who only put up 9 wins, Howard was the “superior choice”. Or was he? On a per-minute basis both players were similarly productive. Here’s a breakdown from the NBA Geek

Per 48 minute numbers for 2010-2011 Dwight Howard vs. Andrew Bynum

Howard 2933 .302 18.4 29.2 12.9 5.1 1.8 4.6 3.0 1.8 4.2
Bynum 1501 .281 8.8 19.6 10.8 5.4 2.3 2.4 3.4 0.6 4.5
Average C 1372 .099 2.8 18.2 8.7 4.1 2.4 2.6 2.0 1.2 5.4
Howard 59.7% 0.0% 59.6% 61.6% 17.1 0.1 15.0
Bynum 57.4% 0.0% 66.0% 60.6% 13.2 0.0 6.7
Average C 51.1% 31.4% 67.9% 54.8% 14.3 0.3 5.4

The overall impact was that Howard was on a per-minute basis a slightly better player. This came from his amazing offense. Not only did he shoot better than Bynum, he took around four more shots per 48 minutes and eight more free throws per 48 minutes. To make this up Bynum was much better on turnovers, better on assists and great at blocks. The biggest difference between Bynum and Howard though, was minutes played. At almost twice the time on the court, it’s no surprise Howard had over twice the production.

Let’s fast forward a year, shall we?

PER 48 MINUTE NUMBERS FOR 2011-2012 Dwight Howard VS. Andrew Bynum

Howard 2070 .243 10.5 25.8 13.6 4.6 2.4 4.1 2.7 1.9 3.7
Bynum 2112 .208 9.1 25.5 11.8 4.4 1.9 3.5 2.6 0.6 2.4
Average C 1141 .099 2.4 17.9 9.0 4.2 2.3 2.7 2.0 1.3 4.8
Howard 57.9% 0.0% 49.1% 57.3% 56.9% 16.8 0.2 13.3
Bynum 56.0% 20.0% 69.2% 55.8% 59.4% 18.1 0.1 7.7
Average C 50.5% 25.0% 67.5% 50.2% 53.7% 14.5 0.4 5.0

On a per-minute basis Howard actually improved a little over Bynum. However, as Bynum actually managed to play a full season healthy, the difference between the two shrunk. On offense, Bynum made up significant ground, scoring almost as many points per 48 minutes on more efficient shooting (because Howard is just terrible from the line!) Even on rebounds, the difference is fairly minor. The only major thing Howard brings to the table over Bynum is he is much better at steals. That said, looking at both per-minute production in the last two seasons, it’s hard to say Howard is a sure-fire win over Bynum. Looking at totals from the last season, it’s even harder.

Younger, bigger and less injury prone

As Ethan already pointed out, Bynum is actually much bigger than Dwight Howard. There’s another key consideration: age and how that impacts player performance. Howard will be turning 27 this season and will be 28 when his contract expires. This means he will just be exiting his prime. Andrew Bynum will be 25 this season and 26 when his contract expires, mean he will be entering his prime. As both Howard and Bynum will probably command top dollar, a good strategy is to go for the in-prime player.

Additionally, when we look at injuries, Bynum may be the better choice! I know what you’re saying: “But Bynum is injury prone!” Here’s a rundown of Bynum’s injuries via Wikipedia

  • On January 13, 2008, he suffered an injury during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Bynum partially dislocated his left kneecap when he landed awkwardly on teammate Lamar Odom‘s left foot while attempting to grab a rebound.
  • While playing against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 31, 2009, Kobe Bryant had an off balanced shot, fell and collided with Bynum’s right knee, resulting in a right knee sprain. On February 2, 2009 it was revealed that Bynum had suffered a torn MCL in his right knee and would be out 8–12 weeks
  • In the 2010 NBA playoffs, Bynum injured his knee in Game 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

All of Bynum’s injuries have been in-game injuries. Sure he’s unlucky, but it’s not like Yao Ming, who’s foot kept falling apart or Greg Oden, who has no knees. And given the fact that he played all of last season well, it’s a bit hard to bet against him. Additionally, Howard is currently dealing with injury. Also via Wikipedia

  • On April 19, 2012, Howard’s agent said that Howard would undergo surgery to repair a hernitated disk in his back, and would miss the rest of the 2011–12 season, as well as the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

So Bynyum has had some bad luck in games that have resulted in injuries. He played last season healthy. Howard, is coming off of surgery. From a health perspective, I’d actually bet on Bynum!

Summing up

My advice to the Lakers is to be patient. The Nets had an aging star in Jason Kidd, who was also demanding trades and Bynum was on the block. The Lakers held off and Bynum helped them to two titles and is the key reason they defeated the Nuggets in round one this year. The Magic also have an aging star demanding a trade. If the Lakers are impatient they may actually downgrade themselves at the center. Despite complaints about Bynum’s attitude, the fact is his on court production is great. The Lakers have ignored off the court distrations before to keep a star, they should do the same here.


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