Hall of Fame Comparisons for NBA’s 25-and-Under Stars
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The NBA is loaded with fresh, young talent, although it’s easy to get déjà vu when watching some of today’s stars.
This could be due to the fact that so many young players today either grew up watching the Hall-of-Famers of yesteryear or can easily access their highlights online. There can be real comparisons made to players like Luka Dončić, Anthony Edwards, Victor Wembanyama and other 25-and-under stars and some of the greats that came before them, even if small tweaks need to be made to the comps here and there.
These are 10 of the best NBA players today and the current Hall of Famers they remind us of.
LaMelo Ball: Taller Pete Maravich
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Perhaps the best word to describe Ball and Maravich would be “magician”, as both players truly put on a show whenever they have/had the ball in their hands.
Maravich was one of the best players of the 1970s, continually dazzling crowds with his ball-handling, never-before-seen passes and scoring ability. While he played nearly the entirety of his career without a three-point line, Maravich wasn’t afraid to let it fly from deep. Opponents had to respect his shot or fall victim to one of his brilliant drives to the basket, ones that often finished in a no-look pass to a teammate.
Like Maravich, Ball is one of the best playmakers of his generation and a talented scorer as well. Be it full-court scoop passes, no-look lasers to the corner or spin-cycle dimes that somehow end up in a cutting teammate’s hands, Ball is as creative of a passer as the NBA has today, much like Maravich a half century ago.
Ball does stand two inches taller than the 6’5″ inch Maravich and is more of a true point guard, although he’s yet to reach his comparison’s scoring ability. Maravich led the NBA in points per game in 1976-77 (31.1) and dropped 68 against the New York Knicks on Feb. 25, 1977 with no three-point line.
If you’re looking for pure entertainment from a guard, it doesn’t get much better than Ball or Maravich.
Evan Mobley: Less Vocal Kevin Garnett
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- Player A: 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 blocks, 50.2 percent from two, 28.6 percent from three, 77 games
- Player B: 16.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 blocks, 59.5 percent from two, 21.6 percent from three, 79 games
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Quick, can you identify which player is which from their sophomore stat line?
Mobley and Garnett had remarkably similar second seasons in the NBA, making an impact with their interior scoring, rebounding, underrated passing and rim protection. In this case, Player A is Garnett and Player B, Mobley, although it would be perfectly understandable to have mixed up the two.
Physically, the two are similar as well.
Both are 7-footers with lean frames and long wingspans, combining athleticism and length to smother opposing wings while contesting everything as the basket. While he would eventually add muscle, Garnett entered the NBA at 220 pounds while Mobley was listed at 215 last season. He too could benefit from continuing to add some mass.
Garnett was probably a little more advanced offensively than Mobley at this stage in their careers, although Mobley has the edge defensively. While Garnett didn’t earn his first All-Defensive team honors until his fifth season, Mobley was a first-teamer and third-place finisher for Defensive Player of the Year in his second.
Personality-wise, the two couldn’t be more different, however. While Garnett is infamous for his trash talking and intense personality, it’s hard to find a player more laid back than Mobley.
Trae Young: Steve Nash with a Green Light
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Young and Nash represent two of the greatest passers of their generations, both packed into smaller, defensively-limited frames and topped with a clean shooting stroke.
Naturally, it should come as no surprise who Young studied growing up.
“Steve Nash is my favorite player of all time,” Young said in 2018. “With his size and my size, we’re very similar. He’s very cerebral, he can score from all three levels, he knows how to get his teammates involved and he’s a winner. I feel like a lot of his characteristics are similar to mine.”
It’s hard to argue with Young’s synopsis here.
While it took Nash nine years to reach a double-digit assist average over a season, Young just reached this milestone in his fifth season. He holds a narrow lead over Nash in career assist average (9.3 to 8.5), although the Hall-of-Fame floor general ended his career with five assist titles while Young is still hunting for his first.
Young also has far more of a green light than Nash ever had, as even Nash’s career high in scoring (18.8 points per game in 2005-06) is lower than Young’s worst season (19.1 points as a rookie in 2018-19). Young has been the offensive focal point of his Hawks teams, while Nash had other All-Stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Kobe Bryant to defer to.
Both are/were prolific three-point shooters, with Young getting the edge in range and Nash the advantage in accuracy.
Zion Williamson: More Athletic Charles Barkley
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The Williamson-Barkley comparisons have been floating around for years, and for good reason.
Both power forwards stand a bit undersized at 6’6″ yet pack a ton of muscle into their frames. Calling Williamson a more athletic Barkley isn’t a shot at Chuck, but rather a huge compliment to Zion given that the Hall-of-Fame forward had a ton of bounce in his prime as well.
In addition to their size, there’s a lot of similarities to each’s game as well.
Williamson and Barkley are/were nightmares to stop in transition, with both possessing the ability to grab a rebound and take it coast to coast before freight-training their way through traffic for a thunderous dunk.
Using strength and athleticism to make up for a lack of height, both are/were experts at catching an entry pass and backing down an opponent before simply going through them for two.
Of course, like basketball fans in the 1980’s never saw a player quite like Barkley, we’ve never seen a talent like Williamson, either.
When healthy, the 23-year-old Pelicans forward is still one of the most dominant forces in the league, just like Barkley was 40 years before.
Ja Morant: Bigger Allen Iverson
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Few NBA players have possessed more athleticism than Morant and Iverson, two of the most gifted guards of the past 30 years.
We’ll acknowledge the obvious difference between the two first, as Morant’s 6’3″, 174-pound frame makes him noticeably bigger than the 6’0″, 165-pound Iverson. Other than that, the two have possessed the same fearlessness and on-court aggressiveness that’s been difficult to match by any of their peers.
It’s one thing to constantly attack the rim and willingly drive into the teeth of the defense if you’re a 6’8″, 220-pound wing. Going toward 7-foot, 275–plus-pound humans when you don’t even tip the scales at 175 yourself is quite another.
Still, this is what we’ve seen from both Morant and Iverson, who move remarkably similar on the floor.
Iverson gets the nod as a pure scorer here, as he led the NBA in points per game four times while Morant is the better passer of the two.
In terms of aggressive guards with style and flair who prefer getting to the basket over settling for a three-pointer, both Morant and Iverson are some of the best we’ve ever seen.
Anthony Edwards: Dwayne Wade with a Better Outside Shot
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The Edwards-Wade comparisons began during the former’s rookie season, when Wade himself declared that Edwards could end up being a better player than he was.
The past few years have only given validity to these lofty projections, as Edwards is coming off his first All-Star season and averaged 31.6 points per game against the eventual-champion Denver Nuggets in their first-round series.
“It’s hard to look at Anthony Edwards and not see Dwyane Wade,” Erik Spoelstra said while helping coach Edwards with Team USA this summer. “And I’m not a guy for comparisons, I’m not. But the way he moves, the way he competes, the way he electrifies the crowd, yes, that reminds me of No. 3. I have told Anthony that. I feel like I’m going back in time, it’s making me younger again, I’m really enjoying it.”
Physically, the two players are similar as well. Both are/were elite athletes with their 6’4″ muscular frames, looking part shooting guard and part running back while driving the lane. Edwards is a little stronger than Wade, although Wade was the quicker of the two overall.
Edwards has also shown a greater outside shooting ability than Wade, although this era of play has essentially necessitated it. While only 10.6 percent of Wade’s career shot attempts came from three (with 29.3 percent accuracy), 42.5 percent of Edwards’ overall attempts have come from the outside at 35.2 percent accuracy.
Edwards still has a long, long way to reach Wade’s standing as the third-best shooting guard of all time, although having only just turned 22, he could have another 15 years or more to build up his résumé.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Smaller Clyde Drexler
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It’s difficult to draw a great comparison to Gilgeous-Alexander, as the 25-year-old is a big combo guard who does nearly everything well and often looks smooth doing it.
The same can be said about Drexler and his time with the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1980’s. The two have similar frames (Gilgeous-Alexander at 6’6″ and Drexler at 6’7″) and possess a certain gracefulness to their games that’s rare to find from big-time scorers.
Gilgeous-Alexander may have been given a nickname as sweet as “The Glide” just yet, although one would certainly be justified. The Thunder guard can snake his way through a defense, putting defenders in a spin cycle before reaching up and gently finger-rolling a layup into the basket. Like with Drexler, what is an incredibly difficult sequence of events to pull off can actually appear to look quite easy.
Both guards make/made their impact in a number of areas as well.
Drexler’s career averages of 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.7 blocks on 47.2 percent shooting overall are quite similar to Gilgeous-Alexander’s 21.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks on 48.4 percent shooting, highlighting the contributions both guards can have on either end.
Given their silky-smooth styles of play and preference to get into the paint over shooting the three-ball, it’s easy to see a lot of Drexler in Gilgeous-Alexander’s game.
Victor Wembanyama: Perimeter-Oriented Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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While he’s yet to play in a regular season NBA game, Wembanyama should soon establish himself as one of the best young stars in the league. While he’s made basketball look easy thus far, finding a good comparison for him is anything but.
Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale and Grant Hughes correctly acknowledged all of the different pieces, parts and skills that make up Wembanyama, primarily using modern-day players. When looking for a Hall-of-Fame comp, Abdul-Jabbar most closely fits the bill with his similar size, massive wingspan and ability to control a game on both ends of the court.
Abdul-Jabbar stood 7’2″ and weighed in at 225 pounds, not far off from Wembanyama’s 7’4″, 209-pound frame. Unless he develops a sky hook (could you imagine??), Wembanyama’s offensive skill set is noticeably different from Abdul-Jabbar’s, of course.
There was no three-point line for the first 10 seasons of Abdul-Jabbar’s career, and even after one was added in 1979-80, the GOAT big man only went 1-of-18 from deep over his final 10 years. He did almost all of his work in the paint, operating with his back to the basket and using the glass to perfection.
Imagine if someone Abdul-Jabbar’s size could handle the ball like a guard, attack off the dribble and shoot fadeaway threes at will. This is what Wembanyama could be now.
Defensively, Abdul-Jabbar led the NBA in blocked shots four times (and possibly more given that this stat wasn’t even recorded his first four years in the league), making 11 All-Defensive teams in the process. Wembanyama could have a similar impact on that end, as his 8-foot wingspan and overall mobility is going to wreak havoc on opponents from all over the court.
Jayson Tatum: Better All-Around Paul Pierce
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The Celtics being led by a big, strong and incredibly skilled wing happened not so long ago, with history repeating itself now. In this case, the sequel is even better than the original, as Tatum is on a path to be everything Pierce was and more.
“I see a lot of things Jayson does, how he creates space, gets to the hole deceptively, the way he knocks down shots — he’s a real shotmaker, he can get his shot off on anybody,” Pierce said via Boston.com in 2018. “He’s smart. He uses his body well, the way he pushes off with his shoulder to get an open shot. He has a lot of craftiness to his game, and that probably reminds a lot of people of me.”
Tatum’s numbers over his first six seasons (22.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, four All-Star appearances) look quite similar to Pierce’s (23.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, three All-Star teams), although the former has been far more efficient (52.9 effective field goal percentage vs. 48.0 percent).
Both stars use/used footwork, body control, tempo and all three levels of scoring to break down opponents. Neither Tatum nor Pierce are viewed as being super athletic, highlighting each’s pure skill level even more.
There’s nothing Tatum can’t be better than Pierce at, however, as he’s already a superior scorer, rebounder and three-point shooter.
Luka Dončić: Magic Johnson/Kobe Bryant Hybrid
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While there’s an obvious Dončić/Magic comp given their respective size and playmaking abilities, Johnson never displayed Dončić’s pure scoring or isolation skills.
To form a more perfect comparison, we need to combine Johnson and Bryant together.
Dončić’s 6’7″ frame and ability to see the whole floor while snapping no-look passes to teammates is incredibly Johnson-esque. There’s just a certain buzz around each player when the ball is in their hands, knowing that a show is about to start.
Johnson’s career scoring mark of 19.5 points per game is a far cry from Dončić, however, a player who just put up 32.4 points in his age-22 season. This is where Bryant’s part of the comp comes in.
Dončić and Bryant are/were both masters of iso ball, taking opponents off the dribble while finding a creative way to put the ball in the basket. This could mean taking an in-your-face three, a fadeaway jumper or even throwing a dunk down in traffic.
While Bryant was far more athletic than Dončić, both are/were able to control the tempo of the game to their desire, forcing the defensive to try and make adjustments.
Dončić is a combination of both Lakers legends and should be considered a top-3 player in the NBA already now at age 23.