This week, the basketball world celebrated the career of one of the most influential players in NBA history, Kobe Bryant, as the Lakers retired both of his jersey numbers. For those who grew up watching Bryant play or settled into the Mamba Era, it is difficult to imagine a player who could revolutionize and influence the game of basketball as much as he did. The same can certainly be said for Michael Jordan or LeBron James. As time goes on and more and more players make the jump to professional hoops, we become acquainted with more and more players who continue to exceed our expectations and change the way we see the game. Kevin Durant has influenced countless young players to ditch the weight room and develop ball skills, players like Giannis Antetokounmpo have revolutionized the guard positions with length and athleticism the likes of which we have truly never seen before.
Looking at the rookie class, there are a few players who have already set themselves apart as NBA superstars. While many, Magic Johnson included, put immense pressure on rookie Lonzo Ball to emerge as one of the all-time greats in Lakers history, pulling the spotlight right on the rookie’s path, other, less expected players have emerged, apparently ready to take over for Kobe or even LeBron as he ages.
Any player who faces LeBron struggles to adequately describe the challenges associated with guarding him.
“Watching him doesn’t do him justice,” Lonzo Ball stated after facing James for the first time.”It’s very hard to stop him with that size, that speed. That’s why I say he’s the best player in the world right now, and it’s hard to deal with.”
While I believe that it’s impossible to truly compare LeBron and Michael Jordan, simply because the NBA in Jordan’s time is a wildly different animal than it is now, it’s difficult to justify naming anyone else the best player in the world. I’m of the same belief system as Colin Cowherd when he argued that nobody else should be the MVP as long as LeBron keeps doing what he’s doing.
The only real comparison to LeBron in the league is 76ers forward/guard Ben Simmons. At 6’10”, the rookie out of Australia has already demonstrated the same strength, athleticism, and court vision that King James has shown his entire career. As he matures, Simmons will likely become a more reliable scoring threat to pair with his dazzling passing skills, and Philadelphia will be a tough team to handle.
This one is definitely a way-too-early comparison, especially considering that Westbrook is only 29, but the similarities are definite. Westbrook has brought a new level of athleticism to arguably the most athletic position on the court. Mitchell has been able to match Westbrook’s intensity and strong finishing skills around the rim. At 17.7 PPG and 3.4 APG, he is certainly a scoring guard, and is only .4 PPG behind the Jazz’s leading scorer, Rodney Hood.
This comparison, apart from being way too early, could be manipulated by the fact that Mitchell plays on one of the more underwhelming teams offensively in the league. Despite this, the athleticism and scoring ability makes Mitchell a threat all too similar to Westbrook.
Hidden away in the southwest desert of the United States is one of the best young stars of the NBA. Booker was a solid but relatively (relative to Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein) unheralded player out of Kentucky. Now in his third season, he has established himself as one of the top shooting guards in the league. He became the youngest player in NBA history to score more than 60 points in a game when he dropped 70 on the Celtics near the end of last season, the highest point total in a game since Kobe’s 81.
Booker shows a similar skillset and killer mentality that the Mamba did, highlighted by a smooth and sure shooting stroke. If he keeps this up and gets some more media attention outside of Phoenix, Booker has the potential to not only be a superstar but to impact the game in the same way Kobe has.