Houston Rockets: Why They Should Pursue Andrew Bynum In Free Agency

The Houston Rockets have a lot to look forward to this coming summer. With Andrew Bynum set to become a free agent, along with a host of other centers, including Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, Houston has the opportunity to bolster their club with only $51 million committed for the 2013-14 season.

Now, the question is which center will they pursue? Chris Broussard of ESPN reported in early February that the Rockets will target Bynum and Howard in free agency.

Of the two, Howard is the more desirable name. He’s a revolving media machine, for better or worse. Media machine or not, Bynum is the better fit for the Rockets if they’re looking to bolster their frontcourt.

Here are three reasons why:

Bynum Wouldn’t Clog The Lane

The one thing that separates Bynum from most centers is the fact that he can hit a mid-range jumper. This is what made him and Pau Gasol such a dominant tandem with the Los Angeles Lakers and nowadays, his contributions in that area are sorely missed with Howard’s jump shot being all but pedestrian.

The Rockets would be wise to avoid a big man who lacks a consistent jumper because the middle would be clogged for James Harden, one of the NBA’s best penetrators. A stretch 4 isn’t essential, but a center like Howard would hamstring their high-powered offense. Not only would they be stuck with two bigs in Howard and Omer Asik who not only lack even a modest jump shot, but who also live in the paint.

Obviously, Harden would reap the benefits of a less-congested paint, considering that more than 46 percent of his shot attempts occur close to the hoop. No, a wide-open paint isn’t essential, seeing that Harden’s big build enables him to absorb contract and still finish. He has the highest and-one rate in the NBA, per HoopData.

However, a less-clogged middle wouldn’t hurt; he would simply get easier attempts and easier attempts result in more points. It’s really that simple. But without a center who can step out of the paint occasionally, it’s not that simple. Bynum shouldn’t have much of a problem in this area.

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James Harden is averaging more than 26 points per game this season. (Photo Credit: Angel Blue, Flickr.com)

He Would Run a Great Pick-and-Roll with Jeremy Lin/ James Harden

In 2011-12, Bynum evolved into one basketball’s best pick-and-roll partners. In Houston, he could further refine this area.

Bynum hasn’t always been a great pick-and-roll artist, but it’s no coincidence that his pick-and-roll game started to improve when his mid-range jump shot reached the respectable level. Defenders have to respect the fact that he can bury a 14-footer if he isn’t covered, which gave him more space to roam into paint.

Bynum would find himself at ease in Houston. He would have the opportunity to continue to develop his pick-and-roll game next to two of the NBA’s best table setters in these types of situations–Harden and Jeremy Lin. Lin checks in as the 35th-best pick-and-roll ball-handler in the NBA and Harden ranks fifth.

Moreover, since Harden is such a competent and well-regarded scorer, he would be the focal point of a pick-and-roll set-up. Naturally, Bynum wouldn’t be hounded by defenders, giving him a better chance to score.

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The Rockets are one of the NBA’s best three-point shooting teams. (Photo Credit: panamericanonline.com, Flickr.com)

He Would Create Better Shots for Houston’s Shooters

Bynum doesn’t draw Howard-like attention, but there’s still a good deal of spotlight on him when the ball is dumped to him on the block. Asik doesn’t have this kind of respect and frankly, none of Houston’s bigs have the reputation as an elite low-post scorer.

Without clogging the lane, Bynum would fill that need. Harden isn’t always going to penetrate and occasionally, the ball will have to be passed into the paint to keep opposing defenses honest. Indirectly, this will set up easier shots for the Rockets’ perimeter shooters.

One can only imagine how much damage the Rockets could do with more open looks. As a team, they’re shooting 36.7 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks eighth in the NBA. Yes, a shooter would be subtracted from the lineup with both Bynum and Asik on the floor at the same time, but the quality of Houston’s shots would be better. Ultimately, that will benefit them in the long-run.

All Stats Courtesy of HoopData, Basketball Reference and NBA.COM

Tags: Andrew Bynum Dwight Howard Houston Rockets James Harden Jeremy Lin Los Angeles Lakers

  • Walt Coogan

    Houston would receive fewer open looks with Bynum and Asik playing together, not more. The quality of looks generated off the pick-and-roll largely rests on the floor spacing and shooting range of the other three players in the offense (for example, see what Mike D’Antoni’s schemes and lineups in Phoenix did for Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire in the pick-and-roll, or what they did for Jeremy Lin and Tyson Chandler in New York). Thus if Bynum and Asik were playing together, the opposing defense would be better able to jam the lane, to contain penetration and protect against the roll man, and to rotate and recover with less chance of being burned. After all, the rotating and recovering defenders would not need to cover as much space, and since space equals time in basketball, they would be more likely to close openings in a timely manner. And since the opposing defense would be more likely to prevent penetration in the first place, the Rockets would not be able to collapse the opposition and create openings for shooters as frequently.

    And, yes, Bynum can stick a fourteen-footer, but that shooting ability would not help Houston open the floor if he’s playing with a center-type (such as Asik) who lacks shooting range. Open looks don’t just come off post-ups, and Bynum has not proved adept at passing out of double-teams, anyway, recording almost twice as many turnovers (152) as assists (85) last season.

    Moreover, Houston should not pursue Bynum on a lengthy or pricey contract because of his knees and overall health issues. I concur that Bynum actually possesses better pure offensive skills than Howard, but he’s just too much of a health risk. Howard isn’t the best medical bet either at this juncture, but at least his knees appear sound.

  • Frankie Hobbs

    I can see them going for Josh Smith and playing him at the 4. They have a greater gap there than at center. Maybe they could try and bring in both Pekovic and Smith as opposed to just Bynum?

  • Yu-Hsing Chen

    Smith would fit well, but it’s hard to imagine a team of Smith / Asik / Lin / Harden / Parsons winning it all, though it’s certainly going to be a show every game they play and they’ll be really good, top 4 in the west material? likely, beating the best teams in 7 ? questionable.

    I guess another possiblility is to see if Lakers are willing to throw away Gasol on the pennies this off season, it makes sense for them from a contract / tax POV. if Houston can grab Gasol for no serious parts that makes a lot of sense. Gasol’s ceiling is higher than Josh Smith , and whats more is that his relatively short commitment means that they wont’ be doomed for half a decade if he continues to get hurt or simply suck.