The NBA offseason has been, for all intents and purposes, a certifiable mess. I won’t even get into the whole Chris Paul trade debacle because I’m afraid NBA Commissioner David Stern might veto my opinion. Instead, I’ll focus on another potential top NBA free agent of 2012, Dwight Howard. Specifically, the main pieces the Orlando Magic would receive should D-12 be shipped to one of the two rumored top destinations for Howard’s services — Brook Lopez from the New Jersey Nets and Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Just now, any Dwight Howard trade has been called off by the Magic. However, the man has demanded a trade and if he really wants to make his money — and who doesn’t? — he’ll want to be traded before January 1st in order to retain his Bird Rights with his new team, whichever it may be, and make the most money possible. If that doesn’t happen, if D12 is still demanding a trade near the deadline, there’s no way the Magic allow Shaq 2.0 to happen and end up with nothing nothing.

Full preemptive disclosure — I’m a Nets fan. This is the same as saying I like punching myself in the face periodically for no reason at all. In any case, when the rumor broke that the Nets offered a trade proposal centered around Lopez to the Magic, there were many that scoffed at the idea that Lopez was anywhere close to Howard’s level. BREAKING NEWS: no one is on Howard’s level. Unless, of course, you’re Skip Bayless and think Bynum can potentially be better than D12.

No one bloviates more than Bayless, so we’ll do a Dikembe and give him the finger wag. But when it comes to the comparison between Lopez and Bynum, from everything I saw last week on Twitter and from NBA writers of the mainstream medias, as well as our beloved NBA blogosphere, popular opinion wasn’t even close — Bynum all the way! When the Lakers jumped into the fray, with rumors of going after both CP3 and Howard, with Bynum being the main cog to getting Superman in forum blue and gold, it was almost like the prophets speaking about the second coming of Tebow in the Lakers big man. Many said that Bynum was a better center to get back than Lopez.

My reply — really?

Really?!?!

So even though the trades are off — for now — let’s take a closer look at how the duo stack up and see how it’s not really as one-sided as some people make it out to be.

OFFENSE

Last season, Lopez averaged 20.4 PPG despite beginning the 2010-11 campaign recovering from mono and playing with a shoot-first point guard in Devin Harris. After the All-Star break, he increased his point production (19.4 to 22.7) and field goal percentage (47.5 to 52.6), which was probably because of feeling healthier and playing a dozen games with Deron Williams. Previous to his 20-point effort in only his third season, Lopez averaged 13.0 points and 53.1 FG% his rookie season and 18.8 points and 49.9 FG% his sophomore year. For his career, Lopez is averaging 17.4 points while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor.

Bynum’s highest points average is 15.0, achieved in his fifth season in the league. Since becoming a starter in his second season, Bynum’s career points average is 11.9. For all six of his seasons, it’s 10.5 PPG, while shooting 56.9 percent from the field. Of course, Kobe Bryant’s scoring ability does put a damper on any of his teammates’ production. That huge difference also allows Lopez (23.9) to have a career Usage Percentage advantage over Bynum (18.5). So we’ll go more in-depth with quality, as opposed to quantity, by looking at where and how these two got their shots.

Looking at shot selection, Bynum is consistently at the rim — 3.1, 5.7, 5.4, 5.7, and 4.0 attempts the past five seasons since starting. From everywhere else on the floor (3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, 16-23 feet), the number of attempts in total are 2.3, 2.5, 4.6, 4.8, and 3.6 in the same span. Up close, Bynum shot 70.7 percent and outside of the rim area, 41.0 percent. He obviously knows where he’s money. However, Bynum is still raw and probably has some upside at 24 years old.

Lopez is a bit more versatile offensively and will shoot from all over the floor, particularly for a big. Lopez is nowhere near Dirk Nowitzki-like, but he isn’t completely unskilled. In his three seasons, here’s a breakdown of his shot attempts and shooting percentage per season: 5.6/62.7 percent at the rim; 3.3/46.0 percent from 3-9 feet; 1.6/36.7 percent from 10-15 feet; 2.7/38.3 percent from 15-23 feet. Last season saw a decrease in shots at the rim (4.8 attempts from 6.6) and an increase from everywhere else, particularly 3-9 feet (5.4 attempts from 2.6). If Lopez actually does feel stronger after recovering fully from mono, he should work closer to the rim once again and increase his attempts near the rim. It also helps that he worked over the summer with Hakeem Olajuwon. Yeah, that Dream Shake guy. Lopez is more polished than Bynum and also has upside to get better, something he seems wont to do. Oh, and he’s only 23 years old.

Despite Bynum having a higher Offensive Rating (117) than Lopez (110)…

Advantage: Lopez

DEFENSE

Partly because Bynum’s Lakers play a bunch on television, playoffs included, the masses will know about his ability to block and affect shots. No doubt it’s a big factor that makes him an attractive player for any team. However, Lopez isn’t so bad himself when you look at career blocked shots numbers — 1.5 blocks per game for Bynum and 1.7 for Lopez. However, Lopez’s advantage in playing about 10 minutes more per game (34.2 versus 24.3) for their respective careers plays a significant factor in their numbers. Per 36 minutes, Bynum (2.3) has the advantage over Lopez (1.8). Furthermore, Bynum’s 103 Defensive Rating bests Lopez’s 109.

It’s not as much of a slam dunk as the general population may think, but…

Advantage: Bynum

REBOUNDING

Every center needs to rebound. It’s one of the most important jobs that a center can do, considering how close to the basket they are. This is where Lopez’s 6.0 rebounding per game average last season really hurts him, as the perception is that he can’t board.

However, if you watched the Nets as I did, I’ll make an excuse here — Kris Humphries. I give up props to him for having that desire to rebound the ball, but Humphries didn’t do his teammates, particularly Lopez, any favors by fighting them for boards. At times I thought he would knock someone out and I am now having memories of him actually swiping the ball out of a teammate’s hands. Of course, that shouldn’t have mattered for a seven-footer like Lopez, so I’ll somewhat dilute the excuse, but let’s not forget that in his first two seasons (prior to mono and the Hump), Lopez averaged 8.1 and 8.7 rebounds. The numbers don’t make him Kevin Love by any stretch, but considering the (somewhat small) sample size, let’s consider last season an anomaly on the boards.

Unlike Lopez, Bynum has averaged double-digit boards (10.2 in 2007-08) in a season, but only in 35 games. To be fair, he also had to share space with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, both of whom rebound effectively. Regardless, because Bynum has played limited minutes and games in his career, we’ll go the Per 36 route where Bynum’s 10.6 trumps Lopez’s 8.0, so…

Advantage: Bynum

DURABILITY

In Bynum’s six-year career, he’s played 82 games only once. In his rookie campaign, Bynum played 46 contests and then 35, 50, 65, and 54 games respectively since his third season. Lopez has played every single game during his three-year career. Most Bynum supporters bring up his ability to change the game when he’s healthy, but will that ever happen? Bynum’s knees are mush and that’s obviously not good for a seven-footer.

Advantage: Lopez

INTANGIBLES

One of the worst things you can say about Lopez is that he’s a little bit too much into Disney — which would actually work out nice if he was traded to Orlando — and might be too chill of a bro. His draft stock dropped because he was aloof.

Some might argue that Lopez plays for a horrible team and has the ability to stack his stats. Maybe he was the main option for the Nets (he wasn’t all the time), but doesn’t that just prove that he could produce? Despite double-downs and being the focus of the opposing team’s gameplan, Lopez still got it done.

However, while Lopez is child-like, Bynum is childish. A prime example is what happened during the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs were leading three games to none and dominating the Lakers 100-68 in Game 4 when Bynum committed a flagrant foul against the diminutive J.J. Barea. Not cool.

Bynum has been limited by injuries, suffered a string of delays when coming back and is surrounded by an exponentially better cast of teammates. So, maybe he didn’t have the same opportunity to produce. Fine, but a lot of that was his fault, whether it be physically or mentally.

Advantage: Lopez

HEAD-TO-HEAD

11.25.08 @ Los Angles Lakers
Lopez: 17 points, 6-15 FG, 5-6 FT, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 PF, 39 minutes
Bynum: 15 points, 6-9 FG, 3-6 FT, 6 rebounds, 1 block, 5 PF, 28 minutes

11.29.09 @ Los Angeles Lakers
Lopez: 26 points, 8-15 FG, 10-12 FT, 12 rebounds, 0 blocks, 3 PF, 35 minutes
Bynum: 8 points, 2-5 FG, 4-6 FT, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 PF, 24.5 minutes

12.19.09 @ New Jersey Nets
Lopez: 18 points, 6-16 FG, 6-7 FT, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 PF, 40 minutes
Bynum: 4 points, 1-3 FG, 2-2 FT, 3 rebounds, 0 blocks, 6 PF, 11 minutes

1.14.11 @ Los Angeles Lakers
Lopez: 35 points, 13-19 FG, 9-11 FT, 6 rebounds, 1 block, 3 PF, 37.5 minutes
Bynum: 2 points, 1-5 FG, 0-0 FT, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 5 PF, 22 minutes

In the potential two other matchups, Bynum was injured.

Advantage: Lopez

CONCLUSION

While Bynum might have all of this potential in people’s eyes, even though he’s six years deep into his career, wouldn’t it make sense to take the three years of production and health from Lopez? I’ll concede that Bynum is better defensively and can really put the ball in the basket point-blank range, but Lopez brings a lot more to a team while not being totally inept in the categories that Bynum can potentially dominate. Well, that 6.0 rebounds per game last season does present a sort of stigma.

That aside, whenever the Magic decide they’re ready to make a move, who should they choose between Bynum and Lopez? For me, that’s a rhetorical question. Give me the healthy younger guy that can score.
Dennis Velasco honestly looked at this objectively, but admits to writing for Nets Are Scorching. Regardless, feel free to discuss the merits of Bynum with him. Just expect a Stephen A. Smith sort of laugh. Follow Velasco on Twitter!