L.A. Lakers: Comparing Andrew Bynum with the Lakers' Best Centers of All Time

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L.A. Lakers: Comparing Andrew Bynum with the Lakers' Best Centers of All Time
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Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum started the season serving a suspension, but since he returned for the fifth game of the Lakers' season, Bynum has been outstanding.

He's averaged a solid 16.3 PPG, 12.8 RPG and 2.0 BPG and made his first All-Star Game in the process. For the Lakers' big man, it was the first but certainly won't be the last.

Throughout the team's spectacular history, the center position has been a special one in the Lakers lineup, and if he keeps progressing, Bynum can become the next in a long line of greats.

It's a little premature to put Bynum in the class of the great Lakers centers of the past, but let's take a look at how he compares at this point in his career.

 

Andrew Bynum

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One thing that great Lakers centers have in common is longevity in Los Angeles, and that's something Bynum has going for him. If he can dominate in the purple and gold for the better part of a decade, then maybe we can put his name in the next group of players.

It's hard to believe that this is Bynum's seventh NBA season already, and until late last season, he hadn't been that impressive.

His career numbers of 10.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 1.6 BPG suggest he's more like a James Edwards instead of one on a list of Lakers greats, but former coach Phil Jackson started going through Bynum last season. The result was a 17-1 stretch for the Lakers, and the team suffered on the offensive end when it stopped making him a focal point.

New coach Mike Brown's system is even better for Bynum.

Bynum is a throwback type of big man who invites contact and has a fearless attitude down low. His play this year says great things are in store, but there is always the fear that his fragile body could break down once again.

 

Vlade Divac

Divac played his first seven seasons in Los Angeles (1989-96), averaging 12.1 PPG and 8.6 RPG in a Lakers uniform before being shipped to Charlotte for Kobe Bryant.

While he was known for his flopping, Divac had outproduced Bynum by this point in his career, even though Bynum is the more physical and the more prototypical big man.

It won't be long before Divac is in Bynum's rear-view mirror, but Bynum needs to sustain his dominance before he gets there.

 

Shaquille O'Neal

Comparing Bynum's first seven seasons to those of Shaq (1992-99) is like comparing apples to oranges.  

O'Neal came into the league dominant and maintained that pace, averaging 27.0 PPG and 12.0 RPG in that time frame. The final three of those seasons came in a Lakers uniform.

The one thing that Bynum has over both O'Neal and Divac is an edge in championship rings; Bynum has three, while Divac won one, and O'Neal hadn't won any at that point in his career.

Although Bynum didn't play a big role in winning those championships, he still has some jewelry.

It's yet to be determined if Bynum's career will ever reach the greatness of O'Neal's, but at this point, you can't compare the two.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Abdul-Jabbar played only one of his first seven seasons with the Lakers (1975-76), but there's never been any doubting his place in history.

He averaged 30 PPG and 15.5 RPG through his first seven seasons, which dwarfs what Bynum has done so far.

His sky hook was the most unstoppable shot in NBA history, but more than that, he was clutch and underrated in the toughness department.

He was the starting center on six championship teams and had the presence of mind to defer to (and get along with) stars like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and James Worthy when he had to. But even though the Lakers had other stars around him, Abdul-Jabbar was as consistent as they came.

He’s the all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, was named to the All-NBA Defensive team 11 times and is the only player in the modern era to lead the league at least once in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, minutes played, field-goal percentage and PER.

There's no shame in Bynum not measuring up to Abdul-Jabbar's accomplishments. Not many have come close.

 

Wilt Chamberlain

Chamberlain only played the last five years of his storied 14-year NBA career in a Lakers uniform, but he's still among the all-time Lakers greats—even though the final five years of his career were his worst.

But having averaged 40.2 PPG and 24.7 RPG throughout his first seven seasons in the league, it's understandable that his numbers would go down a bit with age.

As a Laker, Chamberlain wasn't too shabby, averaging 19.3 PPG and 19.1 RPG from 1968 to 1973.

Overall, he was as dominant as they come, finishing his career holding a ton of NBA records.

There's no real comparison here with Bynum. It's hard to compare players from today with those from the early days, but if you could, Bynum wouldn't be in Chamberlain's class.

 

George Mikan

Mikan got the tradition of dominant Lakers big men started in 1948, and while he played only seven seasons, he was as dominant as any of the guys that followed him.

Posting NBA averages of 22.3 PPG and 13.4 RPG, Mikan was the game's first dominant big man.

He's viewed as a pioneer of the great game we get to enjoy today, and his dominance resulted in several rule changes along the way.

As is the case with Chamberlain, it's impossible to make a fair comparison between Mikan and Bynum, but Bynum would get the short end of the stick if we could.

 

There's a lengthy tradition of big men who have proudly worn the Lakers uniform, and we shouldn't knock Bynum for not yet measuring up. There were some great Lakers big men that paved the way for him, and it's a little too early to crown him among the greats just yet.

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