Before Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal, the Eastern Conference race was a spiritless two-team contest between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers. The Chicago Bulls bowed out of playoff contention for a year due to the Derrick Rose‘s injury.
The Orlando Magic were non-factors since Howard would inevitably leave Orlando before the season. The Boston Celtics will fall out of the running because Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have timed out as stars who can help a team go deep in the playoffs.
Other teams, like the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks, seemed interesting, but not good enough to contend for a shot at the NBA Finals.
Then, with the deal finalized on Friday, per ESPN, the Philadelphia 76ers hopped into the race by grabbing a big man who’s capable of transforming a team into a contender.
While they handed their long-time swingman Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless to the Orlando Magic, they gained Andrew Bynum, the NBA’s second-best center.
In the 2011-12 season, Bynum reached the small stage of elite NBA centers—one that includes only Howard, Al Jefferson and Bynum.
Bynum had the fifth-highest total rebounding rate (18.7 percent), third-best rebounding average (11.8), sixth-best average in blocks (1.9), fourth-best field-goal percentage (55.8 percent) and fifth-best defensive rebounding rate (26.1 percent).
The Plainsboro, N.J., native was rewarded with a starting spot on the Western Conference All-Star team and a spot on the All-NBA second team.
Furthermore, Bynum, along with Howard, is one of only two centers who are capable of dominating on both offense and defense. Bynum is excellent at controlling the defensive glass and blocking shots.
He’ll transform the 76ers frontcourt. Previously, Philadelphia was expected to start Kwame Brown at center, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Brown, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, is one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history. Brown has averaged double figures in scoring just once and averaged seven rebounds per game once. Also, he’s only averaged 24 minutes per game three times.
Bynum boosts the Sixers’ profile at center tremendously and gives them a promising frontcourt overall. Spencer Hawes is a nice starting power forward who is capable of making a dent on the boards and aggressive in blocking shots.
Reserve big man Lavoy Allen turned the corner in the postseason, averaging 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Thaddeus Young provides a great scoring burst, having averaged 16.6 points per 36 minutes in 2011-12.
This strong frontcourt provides an intriguing counterbalance to a Heat team that lacks anything significant in the frontcourt aside from Chris Bosh. Rashard Lewis is capable of making an impact with his perimeter shooting, but generally doesn’t look to be a high-energy guy.
Udonis Haslem rebounds well, but has seen his role diminish incrementally in the last few years. Dexter Pittman and Joel Anthony fail to catch anyone’s eye.
The combination of Bynum, Hawes and Allen would out-rebound a Heat team that relies on LeBron James to lead the attack on the boards. Each of these three guys would be quicker collapsing on the glass and better at positioning themselves for rebounds.
As for the Pacers, Bynum is capable of neutralizing Roy Hibbert and David West. Hibbert‘s combination of length and quickness are remarkable, but Bynum can overpower him on the glass. West is capable of making an impact on offense, but Bynum can smother him.
The backcourt comparison isn’t as fair for the Sixers as the frontcourt comparison. Sixers guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner pale in comparison to Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade. Also, they’re not as good as Paul George and Danny Granger.
However, the Sixers rival the Heat and Pacers with the balance in their lineup. The balance of the Bynum-led frontcourt and the Holiday/Turner guard duo puts them on the level of the Pacers.
After all, Bynum’s world-beating skills on both ends of the floor make up for whatever the guards lack. When the guards fail to stop a guy up top, Bynum can clean up inside. When the guards can’t find good shooting opportunities, they can simply feed it to Bynum.
Indeed, Bynum and company will face quite the challenge to push their way past the Heat to make the NBA Finals. The quartet of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Allen is difficult to overcome. At the very least, the Sixers can break past the Pacers if they face off in the second round, and compete well with Miami in the conference finals.
Bynum will force the issue on the inside, where the Heat are lacking. That will make things interesting.
Before Friday, the East lacked the intrigue that the Western Conference race had with the derby involving the Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs. Now that Bynum has gone to Philadelphia, the Sixers have added dimension to the race in the “other” conference.
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