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NBA Reincarnations: Comparing Young NBA Players To NBA Legends

Fadeaway World

Fadeaway World

Every year, a new draft class enters the league. With those classes, we compare each player to their potential NBA counterparts. We give these young players ceilings and floors, predicting their futures in the league. I’d said we’re all wrong about 75% of the time, if not more.

Making predictions/comparisons before a player gets any NBA minutes is a crapshoot. Determining their NBA counterparts becomes a lot easier/feasible a few years into their careers.

A prime example of early comparisons not being accurate is Victor Oladipo. On Draft night, 2013, Oladipo was vastly compared to Tony Allen. The one aspect of his game that scouts were sure of was his defense. After a few seasons, Oladipo’s career was more comparable to guys like Leandro Barbosa or Delonte West. His defense didn’t immediately translate to the next level; he didn’t exhibit much efficiency offensively despite his versatile skillset.

Fast forward a few years into his career and we finally saw Oladipo hit on his potential as he became an All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defensive player in his 5th NBA season. He has surpassed his Tony Allen comparison, becoming more like a poor man’s Dwyane Wade or Milwaukee Bucks Ray Allen.

With that said, we’ll be comparing a few young players to their NBA counterparts, past and present. (Draft Night Comparisons according to

Ben Simmons

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Fadeaway World

Draft Night Comparisons: LeBron James/Lamar Odom

Current Comparison: Poor Man’s Magic Johnson

Ben Simmons is nowhere near the scorer that LeBron James is as he doesn’t possess the shooting nor aggression offensively that LeBron does. He has lived up to be better than Lamar Odom, as he is a higher impact player than Odom. Though the point-forward ability comparisons were spot-on, Simmons has compared more to Magic Johnson thus far in his career.

Simmons has only played 214 games, well behind Magic’s 906 career games. He also has nowhere near the accolades and achievements that Magic has. However, they share similar skillsets and builds. Both players are extremely tall PGs, Simmons at 6’10” and Magic 6’9”. Both players came into the league as do-it-all PGs who can set up others with ease and defend multiple positions due to their size.

Another similarity is that neither guy came into the league known as an outside shooter (Simmons is 2-23, 8.7% from deep in his 1st 3 seasons; Magic was 16-77, 20.8% from deep in his 1st seasons).

Both players made 2 All-Star appearances within their 1st 3 seasons. Even their per36 numbers from their 1st 3 seasons are nearly identical.

What makes Simmons a “poor man’s Magic” is Magic’s playoff success early in his career. Yes, Magic came into arguably the best situation a 1st overall pick can come into. His team won 45 games the previous season and rostered an All-Time great C in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Magic would build onto that early success with 5 Championships and 12 All-Star appearances in 13 career seasons.

Simmons may not have the early success that Magic has on his resume but only time will tell if he will elevate from a “poor man’s Magic” to a “Magic Johnson Remix”.

Trae Young

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Draft Night Comparisons: Stephen Curry/Mike Bibby

Current Comparison: Stephen Curry Remix

The Mike Bibby comparison may have been exceeded but the Stephen Curry comparison has proven to be somewhat fair. Trae Young may share Bibby’s height but he simply doesn’t possess Bibby’s strength as a small PG. Where he’s exceeded the Bibby comparisons is in sheer numbers as an offensive player. Young has already proven to be a better scorer than Bibby and has matched Bibby’s ability to create for others. Young is well on his way to surpassing Bibby as a better overall player if he can remain healthy.

As for Young’s comparison to Curry, he has been compared to Curry ever since he exploded onto the national spotlight as a freshman at Oklahoma University. He was seen as a Curry clone: undersized PGs (even though Curry stands at 6’3” compared to Young’s 6’1”) with unlimited shooting range, sneaky handles, and a game that may not translate to the next level. Both PGs were able to take their stellar play in college and turn it into stardom in the NBA, dispelling the doubters who saw them as college-only standouts.

Just like Curry, Young was drafted by a team in rebuild mode. Curry spent his 1st 3 seasons on losing teams, putting up solid numbers (though he suffered a serious ankle injury in his 3rd season, playing only 26 games). Young, like Curry, has played for losing teams so far but is only in his 2nd season, and is putting up better scoring and assists numbers than Curry did early in his career.

Even with that said, there’s a possibility that we can classify Young as a “poor man’s Curry”. He isn’t the lights-out shooter that Curry is (Young is a career 34.4% 3-point shooter while Curry is a career 43.5% shooter). He also isn’t the defender that Curry is, though Curry is only an average to below-average defender himself. What Young shares with Curry is his ability to catch fire and shoot from anywhere once he passes half-court. Young’s shooting struggles can be attributed to his team’s reliance on his playmaking and scoring offensively. His usage rates for his 1st 2 seasons have been 28.4 and 34.9 while Curry did not near those usage rates until his 5th season. The benefit of Young’s high usage rate is it shows his superior ability to create for others compared to Curry.

While Curry is an elite playmaker, his career-high in assists per game is 8.5, while Young has averaged 8.1 and 9.3 assists per game in his 1st 2 seasons.

Though Young may never reach Curry’s status as an All-Time great player, he can reach superstardom in the NBA with his similar playstyle. Their career outlooks may simply differ due to their team circumstances. The Warriors Front Office built a perfect unit around Curry while we have yet to see what the Hawks can put together to complement Young.

Joel Embiid

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Draft Night Comparisons: Tim Duncan/Hakeem Olajuwon

Current Comparison: Modern-Day Hakeem Olajuwon

Joel Embiid has become a superstar in the NBA. Whether you like or dislike his antics on Social Media and his emotional spouts on the court, you cannot deny his ability to dominate at the C position. He’s been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan since his Draft night, with scouts admiring his footwork in the post along with his defensive capabilities. Embiid has not disappointed in those aspects. Past his injuries, he is an upper-echelon scorer, possibly the best paint scorer in the league. He’s also finished 2nd and 4th in Defensive Player of the Year voting in his 1st 2 qualifying seasons, and will likely finish top 5 this season as well.

So far, it seems that Embiid is more like Hakeem than Duncan as Duncan was a PF who played C later in his career while Hakeem came into the league as a C just like Embiid.

Offensively, both Embiid and Hakeem are 7’0” 250+ Cs who can score back-to-the-basket or as faceup players. They are both high impact defenders, though Hakeem is a historically great defender while Embiid has a ways to go to reach that level.

Both players debuted at age 22 (Embiid was drafted at 20-years old but missed 2 seasons to injury), immediately putting up great numbers. While Embiid may lack the All-Time defense Hakeem possessed, he has been able to add an outside shot to his game that Hakeem was never really asked to add. Embiid has shot nearly 4 3-pointers a game in his career while hitting 32.2% of those shots. Hakeem never attempted over 20 3-pointers in a season, hitting 25 throughout his 18-year career.

Embiid may fail to live up to Hakeem’s standards when all is said and done, especially if injuries continue to plague his career. His current trajectory is to be a modern-day Hakeem Olajuwon, or a Hakeem Olajuwon Remix.

Luka Doncic

Credit: USATSI

Credit: USATSI

Draft Night Comparisons: Toni Kukoc/Hedo Turkoglu

Current Comparison: Larry Bird Remix

European players are always compared to other European players. Every 6’10” or taller Euro player with an outside shot is supposed to be the next Dirk Nowitzki. Any Euro wing-player that can shoot is going to be the next Peja Stojakovic. And any Euro player that can create offense is the next Toni Kukoc or Manu Ginobili. Those comparisons will continue despite the disappointments and players that surpass those comparisons.

Luka Doncic is one of the players that has quickly surpassed his comparisons. Neither Kukoc or Turkoglu were given the 1st option role that Doncic has been given but they also didn’t possess the high-level skillset Doncic does. Doncic came onto the scene as a dominant and exciting young Euro player. He can score at will, rebounds well for his size, and can create for others with ease. The one hole in his game is his below-average defense. His game is very similar to an NBA legend that seemed to dominate his opponent with skill more so than athleticism, Larry Bird.

Like Bird, Doncic has shown that he can serve as one of the league’s best scorers. Bird never won a scoring title but he consistently finished as a top-10 scorer in the league, finishing his career as a 24.3 point scorer. Doncic is well on his way to being the same type of career scorer as his average stands at 24.4 through his 1st 2 seasons. Both players are also exceptional playmakers, with Doncic possibly becoming a better playmaker than Bird was. Doncic is even becoming a better rebounder, up from 7.8 per game to 9.3, getting close to Bird’s rebounding numbers.

Doncic isn’t as efficient from the 3-point line as Bird thus far. But that can be attributed to the difference in eras, as Doncic is putting up more 3-point attempts per game. For Doncic to keep a firm grip onto his Bird comparison, he must also nab a few individual awards and championship rings to keep up with Bird’s illustrious career.

Ja Morant

Ja Morant

(via Grizzly Bear Blues)

Draft Night Comparisons: De’Aaron Fox

Current Comparison: Tamed Russell Westbrook/High-Impact De’Aaron Fox

Ja Morant’s comparison to De’Aaron Fox may initially seem lazy as Fox is still developing as a player himself but it is not that far off. Both players are explosive, dynamic playmakers as 6’3”, rangy PGs. Morant’s rookie season is comparable to Fox’s sophomore season.

Morant averaged 17.6 points to Fox’s 17.3, 6.9 assists to Fox’s 7.3, and 3.5 rebounds to Fox’s 3.8, while both played about 30 minutes per game. What separates Morant from Fox is their impact on winning basketball games. In that sense, Morant is closer to Russell Westbrook.

Yes, Morant has already shown that he can score/shoot more efficiently than Westbrook.

Like Westbrook, Morant has moments where he looks out of control yet still gives us an incredible NBA highlight. Morant may never become the rebounder that Westbrook is, or a triple-double king like Westbrook, but he can match Westbrook in his ability to make ‘reckless abandon’ look like masterful perfection. During the season, Morant has had several amazing highlights and a few jaw-dropping ‘near highlights’.

The comparison to Fox is correct, but he also has some Westbrook in his game as Fox looks more controlled with his speed.

Kendrick Nunn

Credit: USA Sports Today

Credit: USA Sports Today

Draft Night Comparisons: None

Current Comparison: Lou Williams Remix

You’d be hard-pressed to find NBA Draft night comparisons for Kendrick Nunn. Nunn wasn’t on the radar of many NBA teams in 2018. He was a 4-year college combo guard who stood at 6’2” but didn’t play as a pure PG. Nunn demonstrated great scoring prowess, averaging 25.9 points in his senior year. He also shot an impressive 38.6% from 3 in his college days, but only averaged 2.1 assists through 4-years, with 3.8 in his senior year being his high. The lack of playmaking for others combined with his age didn’t work in Nunn’s favor on Draft night as he went undrafted. He was able to find a home in Miami the next offseason nevertheless and has shocked the NBA world with his production this season as a rookie.

Nunn still isn’t a great shot creator for others as he looks for his shot as a 1st and 2nd option, but he has shown promise in the playmaking department. Nunn’s game in the NBA has looked eerily similar to the game of longtime 6th man Lou Williams.

Like Williams, Nunn can create his own shot within a few dribbles despite being an undersized shot maker. Nunn has shown flashes of sneaky athleticism just like Williams, but even more often.

The numbers for Nunn’s rookie season are very comparable to Williams’ numbers as a rotational player. After his 1st 2 seasons, where he saw limited playing time, Williams averaged 15.6 points and 3.7 assists in 26.5 minutes on 42.0%, 35.0%, and 84.4% shooting from the field, 3, and free throw line. Nunn’s rookie year numbers are nearly the exact same as he has put up 15.6 points and 3.4 assists in 29.8 minutes on 44.8/36.2/83.7 shooting splits.

Time will tell if Nunn becomes a 6th man in the future, or if he’ll stick as a starter at either G position. One is for sure, he scores in the same manner as Williams with efficient outside shooting, mid-range pull-ups, and contested drives; somehow not getting rejected by larger players.

Mitchell Robinson

itchell Robinson 21

Draft Night Comparisons: None

Current Comparison: DeAndre Jordan/Tyson Chandler

Mitchell Robinson likely didn’t have a Draft night comparison because scouts didn’t see him play after high school. Scouts were unsure of how his game would translate to the next level as Robinson skipped college to simply prepare for the draft for a year. This hurt Robinson’s draft stock as his high ranking in High School could have been attributed to his size-advantage on that level instead of him being a truly talented big man.

Robinson has been a pleasant surprise in the NBA. Robinson isn’t a go-to post player, nor does he provide any outside shooting as a stretch-five. He is an elite rim protector and a phenomenal roll option in the pick-and-roll. Robinson is nearly identical to DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler in that sense.

Like Jordan and Chandler, Robinson rebounds well on both sides of the court and protects the rim as well as any other NBA rim protector. Robinson does need to improve as an overall post defender to keep the comparisons valid. He also needs to learn how to foul less as he has averaged 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes through 2 NBA seasons.

If Robinson can become more effective defensively, we will likely see his low career numbers of 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game rise as he can remain on the court longer. We also may have to see Robinson on a new team for his numbers to improve, unless the New York Knicks can find him a viable pick-and-roll operator at PG. Jordan thrived in the pick-and-roll with Chris Paul and Chandler thrived with several different quality PGs including Paul and Jason Kidd amongst others.