There’s currently an erroneous debate being held nationally on sports talk radio and television on the subject of who is the better NBA center: Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard or the Los Angeles Lakers’ Andrew Bynum. The conversation was spurred just a few days ago when Chris Webber, former NBAer turned analyst said that “Bynum was the best big man in the NBA.” Soon as the comment hit the wire it seemed that everyone instantly picked the side of either Bynum or Dwight. So here I am not only picking the side of Dwight Howard, but confidently saying that any answer other than Dwight Howard is dead wrong. Let it be known (if it isn’t already) that I am a die-hard Lakers fan, and would love for nothing more than to be able to say honestly that Bynum is the league’s best Big. But he’s not, and here’s why.
First of all both Dwight and Bynum have been in the NBA for nearly the same amount of time. Dwight is now in his 8th season, while Bynum in his 7th, so it’s a comparable sample size. Right off the bat you have to mention how Dwight Howard is and has been the # 1 option for Orlando, and Bynum is now just becoming the # 2 option in L.A. Not only has Dwight Howard been the go to guy, he’s been that guy on one of the best teams in the Eastern conference for years. Being the best player on a perennial playoff team that finishes in the upper half of the East can’t be undersold. Night in and night out D12 has shown that he is the horse that Orlando thought he could be when they drafted him #1 overall in 2004. Not only that, but Dwight nearly single handedly led the Magic to the NBA finals in 2008! Who else was on that team? I equate that season similarly to the way LeBron brought that group of vagabonds in Cleveland to the chip against the Spurs in 2007. Meanwhile, Bynum has never been the first option. That’s not because Lakers coaches and players have all been a part of some grand scheme to hold him down, but rather because A) The dude hasn’t developed at the rate they hoped and B) The dude hasn’t been on the court long enough to be in that top dog position! Think about it, Bynum is in his 7th year and in only 2 of those seasons has he played 55 games or more. TWO! That said, Dwight Howard in his 8th year has never played less than 78 games! As a matter of fact, in 5 of those 8 seasons for Dwight, he’s played all 82 of his games. You actually have to be on the court for stretches of time to be considered the best.
The consistency factor aside, lets address what both players are doing on the court right here and now (since comparing career numbers would be laughable). Andrew Bynum is having his best season ever as a pro, averaging 17 points per game, nearly 14 boards, 2 blocks, and shooting 51% from the floor. Those are all-star numbers without question, and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t in a ‘West’ uniform at the season break, but that’s not what we’re debating here. He’s clearly an elite center, but better than Dwight Howard? Even in Bynum’s best season with gaudy numbers, he’s still not on the level of D12. Dwight is averaging 20.5ppg (to Bynum’s 17), an NBA leading 15 rebounds (to Bynum’s 14), 2 blocks, and shooting an incredible 58% from the floor (to Bynum’s 51%). If we thought Bynum’s 21-point 22-rebound performance against Houston back on January 3rd was special (which it was), where do we put Dwight Howard’s performance from Thursday (1/12/12) against the Warriors? One rebound more and MORE THAN TWICE AS MANY POINTS! 45 points, 23 boards. That’s what the best center in the league does.
Let’s cap off my argument by mentioning the forgotten end of the floor. Defense. Dwight Howard is far and away the most dominant defensive presence in the league, and in my opinion is the biggest defensive game changer since Shaq was in his prime. With feet vastly quicker than Bynum’s, Dwight rotates over from the weak side for blocks and distracted shots as good as anyone that’s ever played in the league. Bynum on the other hand is a good defender, sure. Dwight is a great one. They give out an award every year for the best defender in the Association. Bynum has not only never won the award, but is never even on the ballot. Actually, Bynum has never been named to a first, second, or even third All-NBA defensive team. That being said, Howard’s Orlando home is running out of space on the mantle for his defensive hardware. Not 1, not 2, but 3 straight Defensive Player of the Year honors running from the 2008-09 season up until last season. Who else does that? Dennis Rodman? Hakeem? Ben Wallace? Mutombo? No, no, no, and nope. Since they created the award in the early 1980’s, nobody has won the award 3 consecutive seasons. Besides Dwight Howard.
So there you have it. What else could you possibly want to hear? The durability, ability to carrying his team, how effective he scores the basketball, and the all-time great defense makes Dwight Howard a slam dunk choice (also leads the league in dunks every year, just saying) for the best center in the league. But hey, nothing wrong with being # 2. Hopefully for Lakers fan like myself, Bynum can keep playing well enough where these kind of conversations are at least worth the energy of having. As for right now though, 10 times out of 10 I’d take the most athletic center in NBA history who truly dominates both ends of the floor year after year as my “best big in the NBA.”