Ever since the retirement of basketball heavyweights like David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo, Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming, many have pondered the question as to whether or not the big man in the NBA is extinct.
Experts have suggested that Dwight Howard is arguably the sole heir to the throne of dominant big men. However, in this lockout-shortened season a new player has emerged into the conversation.
Under the new defensive-minded system of Mike Brown, Andrew Bynum has come into his own as second banana behind superstar teammate Kobe Bryant.
That being said, many fans and analysts have been quick to give the title of “Best Big Man” to Bynum over Howard. Personally, I wouldn’t be so quick to come to that conclusion. However, I do feel like this is a very interesting and legitimate discussion–much like the Kobe-LeBron argument.
Let’s take a look at both players and compare the pros and cons of their games to make a final decision on which big man reigns supreme in the NBA today.
The fact that this is even a conversation shows how far Bynum has come. He’s had his minutes increased and in return has provided Coach Mike Brown with solid production all around. A big man on a championship caliber team should provide hard nose defense, consistent offense, and a sizeable contribution on the boards. His numbers this season would suggest that he is right on Howard’s coattails in all three aspects.
As the team leader in rebounds and blocks, Bynum sits third in rebounds per game (13.9) and sixth in blocks per game (1.9) and is tied with Howard for second in the league with a total of eight double-doubles on the season.
The one aspect of his game that truly sets him apart from Howard is his offensive prowess. Through 15 games this season, Bynum has shown a much better touch around the basket and a wider variety of post moves than his counterpart in Orlando (but let’s be honest, that’s not really saying much).
He has taken up a sizeable amount of the scoring load this season putting up a career high 16.5 points per game (third amongst centers) and has eased himself into the role of the number two option after Bryant on the scoring pecking order. While his scoring average may not suggest it, he has proven to be a better low post scorer than Howard. As Shaq indicated during TNT’s Inside the NBA Bynum is a “true big man”. He has the ability to finish with either hand and has begun to develop his footwork down low as well.
Being that Bryant is the leader and primary scorer of the Los Angeles Lakers, Bynum is fairly limited in his ability to impose his will on the offensive end. Although he has shown that he is capable of putting up big numbers after his season-high performance of 29 points against the Denver Nuggets on New Year’s Eve.
However, being that Bynum has only played in all 82 games once in his 7-year career, his durability remains to be a rather large red flag.
The 6’11” Superman in South Florida has continued to perform at a high level all across the board. The 3-time Defensive Player of the Year has utilized his athletic superiority and intimidating size to become a very efficient player in recent years. He currently leads the league with a career-high in rebounding (14.9) and is fourth in blocks per game (2.38).
His quickness on the offensive end allows for him to make the most of his athletic advantage over other big men to create easy baskets for himself as he currently sits tied for third with Rudy Gay for most dunks in the season (25).
His points per game has dropped off slightly and prior to his 45-point record-breaking night against the Golden State Warriors last Thursday, he was averaging only 18 points per game on the season. Nevertheless, his presence on the defensive end has always been the driving force of his overall skill set.
Howard is such a force on defense that he has the ability to affect shots just by his mere presence on the court. Although, being that athleticism is his marquee trait, it remains to be seen how long he will be able to sustain his title of premier big man in today’s NBA.
Bynum seems to have the most long term appeal moving forward as he continues to become more comfortable in Mike Brown’s new system and develops more post moves. However at this point in his career he has not yet surpassed Howard for sole claim to the title of best big man in the NBA.
Howard’s tremendous ability to impact a game on the defensive end of the floor and through his rebounding efforts makes him a much greater asset to any team than Bynum. Given both are still in the earlier stages of their careers (Bynum, 24 and Howard, 26), the playing field could be made more even in the near future.
But for now, Dwight Howard is still the best big man in the NBA.