The Los Angeles Lakers have been blessed with the greatest collection of centers any NBA franchise has ever had.
Most basketball aficionados are aware of this great lineage, George Mikan the first dominant NBA star and five time NBA champ, Wilt Chamberlain who re-wrote the record books and won two NBA championships, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the all-time scoring leader and six time NBA champion, then came Shaquille O'Neal, aka Superman, the self proclaimed "Most Dominant Ever," and four time NBA champ, and we can add power forward and center and seven footer Pau Gasol to this list of great Laker bigs.
Can the Lakers current young center Andrew Bynum fill these shoes and take his place as the next dominant Laker center?
Bynum has shown he has the skills. This postseason he proved his toughness playing hurt, he has had flashes of dominance, and has statistically improved every year. He is the youngest player ever to be drafted and had limited high school experience, but incredible potential.
By the age of 22, Bynum already has won two NBA championships and is on a team that should contend for the next few years. So far the biggest obstacle in young Bynum's career has been injury, so remaining healthy will play a huge part in how much better Bynum will be.
The comparison to the past great Laker bigs is difficult, Mikan's era is not really comparable, and Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq are (along with Bill Russell) in the uber-elite almost untouchable level. Gasol is a hybrid power forward and center whose game is much different than his younger teammate.
I do see Hall of Fame potential in Bynum, it just remains to be seen if his health holds up and if he has the work ethic and hunger to be the best. So if Bynum is not Wilt, Kareem, or Shaq level, what is his upside, his ceiling, what player could we compare him to as an example of how good he can be? For me the player that came to mind was not fortunate enough to win any NBA titles, but he was blessed with good health and a long productive Hall of Fame career...that would be Patrick Ewing.
I'm not saying Bynum is identical to Ewing, I'm sure their are many differences, but when I look at their size and their skill sets I think Bynum could potentially put up numbers similar to what Ewing did. Bynum has played five years in the league and is now 22 years old, Ewing's pro career started at the age of 23, so we can look at Bynum's career so far but also take into consideration that these were in effect, his college years.
Let's compare their numbers:
Age 18) 1.6ppg 1.7reb 0.2ast 0.5blk 7.3min per game
Age 19) 7.8ppg 5.9reb 1.1ast 1.6blk 21.8min
Age 20) 13.1ppg 10.2reb 1.7ast 2.1blk 28.8min
Age 21) 14.3ppg 8.0reb 1.4ast 1.8blk 28.9min
Age 22) 15.0ppg 8.3reb 1.0ast 1.4blk 30.4min
Age 23) 20.0ppg 9.0reb 2.0ast 2.1blk 35.4min
Age 24) 21.5ppg 8.8reb 1.7ast 2.3blk 35.0min
Age 25) 20.2ppg 8.2reb 1.5ast 3.0blk 31.0min
Age 26) 22.7ppg 9.3reb 2.4ast 3.5blk 36.2min
Age 27) 28.6ppg 10.9reb 2.2ast 4.0blk 38.6min
As you can see Bynum with five years of NBA experience is still younger than Patrick Ewing was as a rookie. Ewing came in at age 23 on a team where he was required to play big minutes and be the main option, Bynum is asked to do neither. I am about to play the "IF" game so play along with me...if Bynum were able to stay healthy for a long stretch (say five or more years) and the Lakers increased his minutes and went to him more, I could see his statistical progression looking a lot like Mr. Ewings numbers.
To do this will also take hard work and dedication from Bynum, he should never average below two blocks a game for the next decade and he needs to continue to improve his range and offensive repertoire, he is already more advanced than the reigning best center in the league Dwight Howard. If some of Kobe's work ethic rubs off and some of Gasol's finesse and if he can channel that inner beast we've seen on occasion when he dunks on his opponents with Shaq-like authority (as a 18-year-old NBA baby he did this to Shaq), we then may need to make a new place at the table among the pantheon of great Laker centers.