The Indiana Pacers made the move to sign Andrew Bynum earlier this season, but he has yet to step on the floor. Ian Mahinmi seems to have taken notice over the past couple weeks and has stepped his game up to a higher level. Which center gives the Pacers the best chance to compete for a championship for the remainder of this season?
Bynum averaged 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game earlier this season in 29 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was inconsistent for the most part, but did show the ability to score at a high level in the post in a few of those appearances. If he is completely healthy and buys into the Pacers’ offense, there is no doubt that he would be an offensive upgrade over Mahinmi.
Frank Vogel has alluded to the fact that Andrew Bynum has the ability to be one of the NBA’s best back-to-the-basket big men and that would add a lot to the second unit. Perhaps the biggest concern about Bynum for the Pacers, is his ability or his desire to play on the defensive end. There were glimpses of greatness earlier this season with the Cavaliers where Bynum would make an effort to defend the rim, but it wasn’t on a consistent basis. The Pacers are built around defense and Bynum has had issues defensively in the past, but if he buys in he would be just fine.
Mahinmi has played in 55 games with the Indiana Pacers this season, averaging 3.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. He is a more athletic option than Bynum, but quite frankly isn’t a threat offensively. Given how he has performed since they traded for him, the Pacers probably cannot complain with the effort, energy and rim protection that Mahinmi brings to the table, and especially with his recent improved play, the team may not be opposed to sticking with Mahinmi as the backup center for the remainder of the season.
One thing that Bynum has on Mahinmi in particular is the ability to catch the basketball in traffic. Lance Stephenson is the type of playmaker with the second unit that makes tough passes to handle and Mahinmi mishandles quite a few passes. The Pacers have had big issues with turnovers this season and dropping passes in the middle of the defense that would turn into points have been tough to swallow. All that being said, when Mahinmi is able to catch the ball in traffic, he has an athletic ability that Bynum simply does not possess.
Both of these big men have the ability to impact the game in a different way. The Pacers hang their hats on the defensive side of the basketball and Mahinmi has proven that he can act as a reasonable facsimile of Roy Hibbert in the defensive scheme that Indiana runs. On the other hand, the bench could use more scoring and that is what Bynum brings to the table.
So which big man is the better fit for what the Pacers are trying to do down the stretch of the season?
The answer simply has to be Andrew Bynum, if he is able to stay healthy and get back into NBA condition. Indiana would be a much more dangerous team with a center like Bynum coming off of the bench. If Bynum is able to come back and play even at the level that he played at with the Cavaliers, the Pacers could continue playing inside-out with the bench just like they do with their starting lineup.
Another interesting piece in the Pacers’ frontcourt is Lavoy Allen, who was acquired in the Danny Granger trade. Allen is a very athletic power forward who could compete for some minutes at the power forward spot should Luis Scola continue with his recent struggles. He certainly gives head coach Frank Vogel another option to switch some things up if he decides to go that route.
Overall, the Pacers have a good problem: having either Ian Mahinmi or Andrew Bynum back up Hibbert for the remainder of the year isn’t a bad prospect. We all know that, talent-wise, Bynum is the better all-around player, and would give the Indiana Pacers a better chance at a championship, but he has to be 100 percent healthy in order to do that. This is certainly going to be an interesting situation to keep an eye on down the home stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Evan Massey is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com. Follow Evan on Twitter at @Massey_Evan.