Andrew Bynum may be one of the most talented true centers to enter the NBA in some time, but it's hard to tell because so far his brief career has been defined by injuries.
When the Los Angeles Lakers selected Bynum with the 10th pick of the 2005 draft, general manager Mitch Kupchak envisioned a player in the mold of Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar, but that hasn't been the case.
Kareem has instilled his knowledge of the game in Bynum, and the youngster is blessed with plenty of fundamental talent, but his body has not been a willing participant in Bynum's quest to be a great center.
It may seem like Bynum has been around forever, but some people forget he was the youngest player ever to appear in a NBA regular season game. During his brief periods of health, Bynum has shown flashes of his potential.
I stress brief, because out of a possible 410 NBA games Bynum has appeared in only 278, and his 10 points and 6.7 rebounds per game during the course of his career would likely be higher if he were healthy.
Bynum played in 65 regular season games during the 2009-10 season and averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while shooting an astounding 57 percent from the floor.
Before falling victim to yet another knee injury in the postseason, Bynum had established himself as a pivotal member of the Lakers, and his ability to play through the pain of a torn meniscus may have been the difference in the Lakers' second consecutive championship.
Bynum's ability to recover from this latest knee injury is as important as ever, because combined with Pau Gasol, Bynum is one half of the NBA's best front line, and the strength of the Lakers' team.
Some observers would be hesitant to place Bynum among the NBA's elite centers because he is injury-prone, but considering the shallow pool of talent at the position, it's a hard argument to make.
The Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard is universally recognized as the NBA's top center, the league's most dominant physical force, and the defending NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
In terms of pure athleticism, Howard wins the battle easily, because he is simply the most intimidating post presence in the game today, but when it comes to the merits of a true center, Bynum has a place in the argument.
Bynum is much further along in the fundamental development of his game than Howard, and he has absorbed the tutelage of Abdul-Jabbar very well.
Bynum has a true back-to-the-basket game, great footwork in the paint, and he can spin to either shoulder and finish at the rim with either hand.
His true value however lies on the defensive end, because he has become an intimidating presence in his own right, and while Howard's defense is based on vicious blocks, Bynum's is rooted in philosophy.
Bynum's purpose on defense is to keep his opponent in front of him, and to defend the basket once the perimeter has been breached. He is not overly quick, but Bynum's seven foot frame lessens his recovery time if he is beaten in the post.
But protecting the basket was the area Bynum excelled in last season, and although he didn't account for a ton of blocks, he did alter the trajectory of numerous shots.
I would give the edge to Howard simply because he is a more dominant player than Bynum, but in truth Howard doesn't really fit the profile of a true NBA center.
Howard would rather play facing the basket as opposed to his back to the basket, and although he blocks numerous shots, his man-to-man defensive skills are suspect.
A better comparison for Bynum would be Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks and Brook Lopez of the New Jersey Nets.
Lopez and Bogut can match Bynum's size in the post, and Bogut may actually hold an edge in the category of fundamental skills.
However, Bynum is arguably stronger than both Lopez and Bogut, and although all three are around the same age, Bynum has a distinct edge in experience.
But if Bynum can manage to stay healthy for a full season there is a chance he could separate himself from the league's other centers, and draw a little closer to Howard in the process.
Bynum's numbers were decent last season, and that was accomplished as the third scoring option behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, so a season of health could see those numbers increase.
True NBA centers are nearing the point of extinction in the NBA, but Bynum has a chance to prove that real low post centers are not yet remnants of the past.
Bynum's game has steadily progressed as his time on the court has increased, and it's tantalizing to envision what type of player he could become if his body would allow him to do it.