Player A: 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.9 BPG, 55.8 FG%, 59.4 TS%, 22.9 PER, .183 WS/48, 100 DRtg, 23.8 Usage Rate, 13.3 FGA per game
Player B: 23.4 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 3.4 BPG, 50.8 FG%, 55.4 TS%, 23.8 PER, .189 WS/48, 99 DRtg, 26.8 Usage Rate, 17.8 FGA per game
Look, I know you’ve read the title to this column. You know Player A is Andrew Bynum in his age-24 season (his last as a Laker). Before I tell you who the other guy is, I want you to remember how close they are. Besides blocks (and to be fair, the guy I’m about to name is the greatest defender of the modern era) and assists, they’re virtually identical. Player B averaged more points, but remember, he had a higher usage rate, attempted more shots, and shot a lower field goal percentage. In rebounds and all-encompassing advanced metrics, the two are almost even. So, ready for the big reveal?
Player B is Hakeem Olajuwon. That’s right, you didn’t realize how freaking good Andrew Bynum was until just now. Bynum’s age-24 season was pretty much as good as Hakeem’s. So, what’s the difference between the two? Well, there are two.
First of all, Hakeem came into the league as a man, Bynum came into the league as a child. That’s not even metaphorical: he was literally 17 when he was drafted and hasn’t done much growing up since. He’s just as lazy and immature as he was back then.
The bigger issue? I’ll use numbers for this one, too. Here are the pertinent numbers: 242 and 228. What’s 242? The total number of games Bynum has missed since his career began. 228? The total number of games Blake Griffin has played, period. Don’t believe me? Go look it up. A 25-year-old center who hasn’t even hit his prime yet has missed more games in his career than a three-time All-Star (who, for the record, is only 18 months his junior) has played in total.
Bynum is the hardest property in the league to quantify; the best true center in a league starving for big men, someone who has shown off Hall of Fame potential while simultaneously engaging in purely Artest-ian antics (and yes, I could absolutely see a name change in his future), a constant health risk who might give you a decade of dominance or three disappointing years and an amnesty. Nobody has any freaking clue how much Bynum is worth, much less what he’ll actually get on the open market.
Going forward, there are exactly two true centers in basketball capable of giving you 20 and 10 for a full season: Bynum and Dwight Howard. That’s the list. Gasol and Hibbert don’t score enough; Lopez can’t rebound. Kevin Love isn’t a center, and Zach Randolph is too old. Meanwhile, the entire theme of the playoffs we just watched was how the league is heading back towards size and real bigs. A healthy Andrew Bynum gives you a chance to contend if you have a decent GM.
If you’re the 76ers, and you have a promising young core and the cap flexibility to find a decent replacement, Bynum probably isn’t worth the risk, especially considering all of the bad blood between him and the fans.
But let’s say you’re the Bobcats. Your fans have nothing to get excited about. Your team is awful. If Bynum misses the next three years, nobody would even notice. Isn’t he worth the risk then?
Hell yeah he is! Let’s say you sign Bynum and he works out. Suddenly you have a core of Bynum, the Lion King (aka Kemba Walker), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and a top-five pick in next year’s loaded draft. Can’t you contend with that if the rookies pan out?
And suppose Bynum keeps getting hurt, the Bobcats keep sucking, and the whole thing turns out to be a disaster. Who really cares? Remember, this is their only real chance to bring in a star via free agency. Nobody else is considering Charlotte, and it’s not like they’re blowing up an ultra-talented core or trading an established All-Star to get him (sorry Philly fans).
Signing Bynum is Charlotte’s ticket to relevance. He’d embrace being the man, leading his own team, and I have to believe Michael Jordan would be able to smack some sense into him. Fans would actually have a reason to go to games. For the first time since they were dumb enough to pass on Chris Paul (yes, this happened, they could’ve traded the Felton/May picks for him), the Bobcats would actually mean something on a league-wide scale.
Of course, we know it’s not gonna happen. NBA free agency tends to be fairly boring in non-LeBron years. Realistically, he’s going to re-sign with Philly for a fairly insignificant sum, miss parts of two or three years, and then fade into obscurity. Just know that the Bobcats had a real shot to turn things around and are passing it up in favor of whatever plan Michael Jordan is pretending to have.
Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers, three years, $30 million
By: Sam Quinn