The NBA has had a number of generational talents over the years, those whose otherworldly skills and sensational abilities make them a cut above their peers.
Though they have shown feats that we have rarely seen on the basketball court, in truth, some of the league’s biggest stars have exhibited qualities similar to legends of years past.
Like looking in front of a mirror, rookies such as Zion Williamson and veterans like LeBron James evoke images of the game’s most revered legends.
But who are the top 10 NBA stars who are mirror images of Hall of Famers?
10. Zion Williamson – Charles Barkley
Speaking of Williamson, he’s been compared to both James and Charles Barkley by many pundits, but the latter may be the most like him.
At a hefty 285 pounds, Williamson weighs about just as much as Barkley did when he entered the NBA as a rookie in 1984. But the comparisons don’t end there.
As big as he is, the New Orleans Pelicans rookie can run up and down the court with ease just like Barkley, who was known for his coast-to-coast forays to the hoop that usually ended in a slam dunk.
Barkley paid the ultimate compliment to Williamson during a recent appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” by saying that the Pelicans’ phenom is better than him in at least one aspect.
“I think he is more explosive than I am,” Barkley said. “It’s fun to watch him play. I think he’s a lot… not a lot… but he is more explosive. He’s got the best second jump I’ve seen in a long time. He gets right up so quickly. I’m really looking forward to his development because he seems like a great kid also.”
9. Luka Doncic – Larry Bird
Larry Bird took the NBA by storm when he entered the league in 1979. In his second year, he had the Boston Celtics hoisting another championship banner.
Though he hasn’t achieved as much acclaim as Bird did in his sophomore campaign, Luka Doncic is already a contender for the MVP award. At 21 years old, Doncic is set to rule the NBA for the next decade or so just like Bird owned the league in his prime.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said that he sees Bird’s game in the Dallas Mavericks floor general.
“He’s got this incredible knack for seeing the floor and being a step ahead,” Kerr said last January. “He reminds me a little bit of Larry Bird in that regard. He’s kind of one step ahead in the chess match. But he’s got this James Harden skill set with crossovers and stepbacks.”
The similarities between Doncic and Bird are uncanny and it’s not just in their skin color. Both players can shoot the rock from long-range, crash the boards with impunity and dish the rock with precision to wide-open teammates.
8. Klay Thompson – Ray Allen
Although their games don’t mirror each other as perfectly as most of the players on this list, it’s the way Klay Thompson and Ray Allen shoot the ball from downtown that make them look alike.
Allen, especially during the early part of his career, was a more creative scorer than Thompson, who is known primarily as a knockdown shooter. As he aged, however, Allen started playing the way Thompson does.
Two years ago, the 2018 Hall of Fame inductee said that he sees himself in the Warriors guard.
“I’ve always been impressed with him,” Allen told Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. “I always thought that he was one of the best players in the league. He mirrors kind of the way I played.”
A 10-time All-Star, Allen is the league’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made at 2,973. He accomplished this in 1,300 games played throughout his career.
Thompson, on the other hand, is already 18th on the list with 1,798 career threes in only 615 games played. With a career shooting percentage of 45.9 from beyond the arc, Thompson is statistically a better shooter than the retired Allen, who nailed 40.0 percent of his shots from deep.
7. Chris Paul – John Stockton
Chris Paul’s leadership and savvy have been evident from the moment he set foot on an NBA hardwood, and it has been in the full display once again throughout the 2019-20 season.
Without another superstar alongside him, Paul had been carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder on his shoulders all season long. With a 40-24 record, the Thunder have surprised everyone with a fifth-place standing in the Western Conference this year.
Paul makes his teammates better with his pinpoint passing, which is a reminder to fans of Utah Jazz legend John Stockton.
Despite his diminutive stature, Stockton could always control the tempo of a ballgame for the Jazz with his incredible court vision. His career total of 15,806 assists (tops all-time) is nearly 4,000 more than the next great playmaker, Jason Kidd.
Paul, at 9,607, is climbing up that ladder as well.
After a controversial statement last season where it appeared as though he was questioning the validity of Stockton’s assists numbers, Paul cleared the air.
“People misconstrued what I said last time about John Stockton,” he explained to the Houston Chronicle. “His record will never be broken because he was so durable. He played night in, night out.”
Stockton was a deceivingly effective defender, too, leading the league in steals twice and is tops all-time in steals by a wide margin with 3,265 for his career.
From assists to steals, Paul is arguably just as good as his predecessor. They have nearly identical steals averages—2.19 for Paul and 2.17 for Stockton.
Mirror images indeed.
6. Russell Westbrook – Oscar Robertson
Before it came to be known as the triple-double, Oscar Robertson quietly went about his business and achieved it night in and night out without any hoopla. So much so that he averaged a triple-double in his first season in the league (1962) without thinking about it.
Regardless, during a five-year stretch in his career from 1962-1966, the Big O averaged double figures in the three major categories—points, rebounds and assists.
For decades, no player came close to Robertson’s feats until Russell Westbrook embraced the challenge in the 2016-17 season and averaged a triple-double.
Then he did something even Robertson couldn’t—he did it again two more times.
Robertson respects Westbrook’s game and his accomplishments. Three years ago, with Westbrook on the verge of breaking his record of most-ever triple-doubles in a single season, the former Cincinnati Royals star complimented his heir.
“When this happened (in 1961-62), I didn’t even know it was going on,” Robertson told USA Today Sports. “No one ever mentioned anything (about triple-doubles). I don’t know who coined the phrase, ‘triple-double’ at all….But what (Westbrook) has done is he’s made people totally aware of what the triple-double is and what he can do with it.”
Though relatively shorter in size than their competitors, Westbrook and Robertson are able to grab rebounds with the best of them.
Moreover, their ability to both score and pass separate them from many of the league’s all-time greatest players.
In the not-too-distant future, when someone brings up triple-doubles, only two players should come to mind—Robertson and Westbrook.
5. Stephen Curry – Pete Maravich
When Pete Maravich patrolled the court in the 70s, he astounded fans with the beauty and creativity of his floor game. It wasn’t just that he scored at will, it’s how he went about making them.
His passes and ball handling were just as amazing, too.
Maravich was a wizard with the basketball much in the same way that Stephen Curry is a joy to behold on the court. Nicknamed the Baby-Faced Assassin, Curry changed the face of the NBA with his knack for making impossible and improbable shots from beyond the arc.
He’s also one of the most creative dribblers the league has ever seen just like Maravich.
Though Maravich played at a time when the 3-point shot didn’t exist in the NBA until his last season, there’s no question that he would have taken advantage of the three-pointer as a weapon like Curry did this past decade.
Remember, Maravich averaged an NCAA record 44.5 points per game during the 1969-70 season. As astounding as that record is, it’s even more mind-boggling when one considers that he did it without the benefit of the 3-point shot.
If Maravich could bomb away with impunity like Curry, there’s no question that he would take advantage of the opportunity nearly every night.
Curry, on the other hand, also led the NCAA in scoring (28.6 in 2009) albeit he did it only once and with a lower average than Maravich’s.
Maravich shot the ball from as far as he could when given the chance, similar to Curry’s unconscious style of challenging the norms of outside shooting.
According to Maravich’s college coach, Tom Nissalke, Curry compares favorably to Maravich.
“If I had to equate a player playing today with Maravich, I would say [Golden State’s Stephen] Curry,” Nissalke said via Eric Woodyard of Deseret News.
To say that Curry is a Maravich clone might be an understatement. Consider that both of them graduated from a school in North Carolina and then went on to lead both the NCAA and NBA in scoring. They were also the last two players to accomplish the feat.
Moreover, both set three consecutive scoring records in their basketball careers. Curry broke the NBA record for three-pointers made three straight seasons while Maravich broke the record for scoring average in the NCAA three straight years.
With Curry, NBA fans are getting a taste of what it would have been like to see Maravich play today.
4. Anthony Davis – Tim Duncan
Former San Antonio Spurs forward Stephen Jackson said it best a year ago in an interview when he said that he sees a lot of Tim Duncan in Anthony Davis.
“I think Anthony Davis is Tim Duncan on steroids,” Jackson said via Fadeaway World. “If he can be that dominant, if he can be that player and he’s never played with a guy like LeBron James, I think Anthony Davis can be the reason the Lakers take over Staples Center.
“He could be the best player in this league.”
Jackson played with Duncan from 2001 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2013 in San Antonio so he knows what he’s talking about from experience.
Davis is more athletic than the former Spurs franchise player, but the Los Angeles Lakers forward is arguably just as fundamentally sound.
Both Duncan and Davis are stat-sheet fillers, dominating the game on both ends of the floor like very few players in history.
If we remove Davis’ rookie season, a time when he was still just finding his way around the league, his per-game averages over his last seven seasons would be 25.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.5 blocks.
Those stats are quite comparable to Duncan’s second to eighth seasons–22.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.5 blocks per game.
Statistically, and in terms of how they take over basketball games, it’s easy to see the similarities. The only accomplishments that truly separate Duncan from Davis are the two MVPs and five championships.
At 27 years of age, Davis has time to catch up to the Big Fundamental and show that he is truly a lot like Duncan.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Kevin Garnett
At first glance, Giannis Antetokounmpo looks nothing like Kevin Garnett. But upon closer inspection, they are quite similar in terms of their growth as basketball players and in the way they dominate the game.
With Antetokounmpo and Garnett, a visual comparison isn’t exactly the one that makes them mirror images of one another even though the latter had a hand in the development of the former.
“He’s already perfected the Euro step. If he added a little hook shot, that would never hurt,” Garnett said of the league’s reigning MVP in an interview with Alex Wong of Yahoo Canada Sports. “Work on his post game, being able to fade both ways, to the middle and to the baseline. But man, he’s making the game look so simple. A lot of the stuff I’m talking about is just adding parts. He doesn’t even necessarily need those things. There’s a couple of things though. The three ball will help his game, and if he ever gets that one-dribble, two-dribble pull up, that would be unbelievable.”
Last year, Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey compared the two players’ first six seasons and the results are quite surprising:
Player A is Giannis Antetokounmpo's six-year career. Player B is the first six years of Kevin Garnett's career. pic.twitter.com/JSqkd9WyY5
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) August 20, 2019
Garnett and Antetokounmpo’s numbers are quite similar. The Greek Freak’s career trajectory seems similar to that of the Big Ticket’s as well. Both contribute equally well on offense and defense.
The only thing that will further validate this comparison is if Antetokounmpo wins a Defensive Player of the Year award someday, and wins a championship or two along the way.
2. LeBron James – Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson is looking at a mirror when he sees LeBron James because of the current Lakers star’s willingness to involve his teammates. The passing ability and court vision coupled with their similarity in height make Johnson and James true mirror images.
“LeBron is just like Larry and myself, and he is so unbelievable when he’s coming down the court, his head is up,” Magic told First Take’s Max Kellerman. “He’s always willing to make the pass to make his teammates better, but also two, he can go down the middle and dunk on you.”
Though many have compared James to Jordan because of their star power and ability to score, something that Magic wasn’t too focused on during his career, James’ high-school coach begged to differ.
“People try to judge LeBron [like] Kobe [Bryant] or Michael Jordan,” Keith Dambrot told ESPN’s Chris Broussard in 2012. “He can do those things, but he really likes to play the other way, like a Magic Johnson. So people have a hard time judging him. People say he’s not assertive, but his assertiveness is different than other guys’.
“He’s always wanted to be balanced — to score when he had to but to also get others involved. Magic was assertive when he wanted to be, but he passed it more than he shot it. That’s how LeBron’s built. But if they’re going to win, he can’t do that right now. He can’t.”
That was before. Now that he is playing with Davis, James has been showing everyone this season what he can do with a star who rivals his own talents.
With James set to win his first-ever assists title, the comparison to Johnson is going to take further root. His 10.6 assists average this season is a career-high.
As James gets older, it’s not difficult to see how he will be an even more willing passer in the years to come.
Just like Magic.
1. Kobe Bryant – Michael Jordan
When talking about mirror images, these two players are the epitome of the term.
The late great Kobe Bryant didn’t just want to “be like Mike,” he wanted to be better than him. So Bryant set out to study Michael Jordan’s game, and in the process, became a clone of his idol.
Bryant’s post-ups, fall-away jumpers and dunks looked strikingly similar to Jordan’s moves.
But the comparisons don’t end there.
Bryant mirrored Jordan’s gait, his celebrations, his words and his tone in postgame interviews.
There’s the competitive fire and ability to knock down clutch shots that make these two very similar. They’re also the same height at 6-foot-6 and built very much the same way as well.
In 2013, Jordan appeared to be a bit irked by the fact that Bryant copied him too much.
The Chicago Bulls legend was asked which players he would like to play one-on-one in their primes, a list that includes Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and, of course, Bryant.
“I don’t think I’d lose other than Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves.” Jordan said in an interview to promote the NBA 2K14 video game.
In later years, he became more accepting of Bryant.
Jordan eventually saw Bryant like a little brother, and he said so as much during the recently departed star’s memorial last February.
“Maybe it surprised people that Kobe and I were very close friends,” a tearful Jordan said. “But we were very close friends. Kobe was my dear friend, he was like a little brother. Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”
It’s difficult not to compare the two and it’s only fitting that we do so especially since, more than the other players on this list, Bryant comes closest to mimicking his predecessor’s accomplishments.
Moreover, this summer, “older brother” and “little brother” will forever be linked.
When the Laker legend finally gets enshrined in the Hall of Fame later this year, Jordan and Bryant will be bonded again, this time in Springfield, Massachusetts, where all the greats belong.