HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is a dangerous game to play with such a small sample size and this penchant of ours to rush to judge based on the emotion of what we’ve just seen, as opposed to what history has taught us and reality will in the future.
But after watching Andrew Bynum serve as the Lakers’ primary option for the fifth straight game (while Kobe Bryant rests) and Bynum look and play like the No. 1 option the Lakers hoped he would when they gambled on the 7-foot higher schooler years ago, the thought has crossed our minds a time or two.
Is Bynum ready to assume the position as the future centerpiece of one of the proudest franchises in all of sports? And, perhaps even more importantly within the realm of the NBA, is he ready to seriously challenge Dwight Howard as the league’s premier center?
TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal has been making the argument for a while now, that Bynum, and not Howard, is the league’s best big man. We’ve pushed back on that theory for obvious reasons leading up to now. Howard has served as the focal point of a franchise, the leader (whether you he realized it or not) of a team that was capable of playing for a championship in 2009.
Bynum has always been an accessory, to Bryant and Pau Gasol … until this season. He has clearly moved ahead of Gasol on the Lakers’ pecking order. And his work in Bryant’s absence has been a shining of example of what could be, if Bynum shakes the health issues that have dogged his career to this point and continues his rise.
As for challenging Howard, ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande says that if we are scoring the fight this morning, Bynum wins a tight one based on his being healthier (Howard has a bad back that could cost the Magic whatever shred of hope they had left), more productive and having less coaching baggage:
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.”
We’re glad Bynum mentioned next. Because as interesting as it is to wonder who is better now, it really only matters who is better between he and Howard in the future.
They are both young enough that you can project their impact over the course of the next eight to 10 years, when they’d both be in their mid-30s. As they reach what will be their physical primes, who will be the superior player?
Bynum has the edge in skill while Howard has always been the more athletic and more imposing defender.