LeBron James is 36 years old and nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career even if James has a few years left on his contract and looks spectacular when he isn't nursing a nagging ankle injury. After all, he is averaging 25.0 PPG and 7.9 RPG after leading the league in assists one year prior.
But eventually, LeBron James will retire and ride off in the sunset. He is already one of the five greatest players to have ever lived, and there is nothing left for him to accomplish except more NBA championships to catch Michael Jordan. But looking ahead to when LeBron retires, the league is in good hands. But which player will take the reigns as the face of the NBA?
The first names that come to mind are Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. The trio each have a case of becoming the face of the league but it is likely LeBron James retires after 3-4 years. That means Curry will be at least 36, Durant 36, and Harden at least 35. It is highly unlikely they will keep up their level of play at that age.
Of course, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are owning the paint as superstar centers this season. Jokic is the leading candidate for the MVP Award by averaging 26.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 8.4 APG. Embiid is the leading star of the East this season putting up 29.2 PPG and 10.7 RPG. But neither star will be the face of the NBA, because they will always need a guard to carry the ball up and down the court.
But what about Damian Lillard or Kawhi Leonard? Lillard is averaging 28.7 PPG this season but he also won't be the guy to carry the league because he can't impact the game in all areas other than scoring. Kawhi will be a factor but he falls in the pecking order behind 3 dominant all-around superstars who will carry the NBA for the foreseeable future. The face of the NBA will either be Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, or Zion Williamson.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Will Be The Most Dominant Two-Way Player
Giannis Antetokounmpo has achieved a lot at only 26 years of age. The Greek Freak is already a 2-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and the man who led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the NBA over the last two seasons. In terms of player efficiency, Giannis is near perfection. He ranks 2nd in PER behind Nikola Jokic and is the most versatile defender in the league.
Giannis can defend guards, forwards, and centers on most possessions while also ranking 8th in rebounds per game. Giannis does everything on the court at a high level, and his mix of athleticism and talent with the ball will make Giannis a top-3 player in the NBA. The only thing remaining is for Giannis to improve his free throw shooting (71.8% over his career) and his three-point shooting (28.7%). In a few years, he will almost certainly get those numbers up. When that happens, we might be looking at a potential NBA champion.
Luka Doncic Will Stuff The Stat Sheet
What Luka Doncic is doing at only 22 years old is legendary. He had a legendary rookie of the year campaign averaging 21.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 6.0 APG en route to the Rookie of the Year Award. He took his game to an MVP level the following year by averaging 28.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, and 8.8 APG. Doncic was good enough to lead Dallas to a consistent playoff seed in a crowded Western Conference, and he's doing it again this year.
Luka is already a top-10 player and in 3 or 4 years, we might be looking at the best guard in the NBA. Luka is great enough to be a franchise player for the Mavericks and as he learns to dominate more aspects of the game, he will be the second candidate for becoming the face of the NBA. This season, Luka is realizing how to control his temperament and become a better leader. He is self-aware enough to admit that, and in a few years, he will not only be a better leader but a more dominant player. The league will be put on notice because the Slovenian star is coming for the top spot.
Zion Williamson Is LeBron 2.0
Without a doubt, the player most likely primed to take over from LeBron James as the face of the NBA is Zion Williamson. After all, the similarities are there. He was the most hyped rookie in NBA history after LeBron James, and he sold out stadiums because he is simply box office. Zion only played 24 games in his rookie season as he averaged 22.5 PPG and 6.3 RPG, but he showed enough as a future superstar.
One season later, even when playing a quarter of a season in his rookie year, Zion became a superstar. Williamson is averaging 27.0 PPG and 7.2 RPG through 61 games this season, and he is already drawing comparisons to a young Shaquille O'Neal for his dominance inside the paint. But he mostly resembles LeBron James because of his raw strength and athleticism. LeBron was an unstoppable force when he entered the league and Williamson resembles him in that regard.
Zion is improving his playmaking and shooting by the week and by the time he is 25 years of age, he will be the best player in the NBA and the face of the league. The man most likely to take over from LeBron James and grab all the headlines every night is Zion Williamson, and it will likely remain that way for the next decade and longer.