Andrew Bynum: Is the Los Angeles Laker the Best Center in the NBA?

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IIJanuary 17, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 19:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers turns as Brian Cook #34 of the Los Angeles Clippers falls during the game at Staples Center on December 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2011 NBAE  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Shaquille O'Neal is a big man with a big mouth, and his latest proclamation is that Los Angeles Lakers' center Andrew Bynum is the best big man in the NBA.

Throughout the young season, Bynum has been playing the best basketball of his career in a league that is thin at the five-spot. However, Dwight Howard is still dominating around the rim, and his play suggests that he has no intentions of relinquishing his spot as the game's premier low-post player.

To Bynum's credit, he has left the competition behind, and along with Howard, the two are the best the NBA has to offer at the position. To Howard's credit, he is still a better player than Bynum, and the top center in the league.

Howard is leading the league in rebounding at 14.8 boards per game while also putting up 19.4 points and blocking 2.25 shots. Bynum is not far behind him with 13.9 rebounds per game, 16.5 points and 1.9 blocks.

An argument for Bynum is that the statistical discrepancies can be explained by considering each players' role on their respective teams. Bynum is the second, and sometimes third, scoring option on his team behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Howard is the top scoring option on his team, with Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu as the Magic's next two scoring threats.

Bynum also has to compete with Gasol for rebounds, and the All-Star power forward is averaging 9.5 boards a game, whereas Anderson is the Magic's second leading rebounder at just 7.3 a game.

However, Howard has only attempted six more shots than Bynum this season and has been more efficient on offense. Howard is shooting 58 percent from the field, while Bynum is making 53 percent of his shots.

Moving away from statistics, Shaq explains his claim by saying that Bynum has the offensive game of a true big man, whereas Howard's offensive arsenal is incomplete. Bynum has been on point this season with jump hooks using both hands, while Howard is still limited to the running jump hook with his right hand and just overpowering smaller, weaker defenders.

Bynum has shown the ability to have a more refined and fluid offensive game, but it has yet to translate into statistical success. However, with Lamar Odom's departure freeing up room for Bynum to operate, his offensive game will continue to grow.

On defense, Howard is without question the better player. He is the three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year and the most dominant defensive presence in the league. Bynum is an elite shot-blocker and a formidable presence in the lane, but has not played at a Hall of Fame level as Howard has. 

Bynum is still a step behind Howard as a defender and a rebounder and a half-step behind him as a scoring threat. 

The area which tips the scale in Howard's favor is durability. Howard truly has been Superman throughout his career. He has only missed eight games and is playing in his eighth season. In contrast, Bynum has missed significant time due to injury in the last four consecutive seasons and missed 124 regular season games over that span. 

While Bynum has the potential to overtake Howard as a low-post scorer, Howard is a generational defensive talent and will continue to be the NBA's best defender through his prime. Bynum's injury history also hinders his consistency, and until he can play for a full season, he will continue to be the second-best center in the NBA.