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NBA Play-offs "Fab Five"
By Max Toth
The NBA play-offs have only just begun and already, the first round delivered some major shocks to the NBA landscape. Play-off mainstays such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have been sent home early, while teams led by young stars look to be on the fast track to championships. If you feel like you might be a little behind on the NBA’s new crop of talent, here are some comparisons to more familiar names.
Comparison: Kobe Bryant
Comparing Booker to an icon like Bryant may seem like pretty high praise to heap on a 24-year old in the midst of his first play-off appearance, but there are some serious similarities between Kobe and the Phoenix Suns star. Both players had NBA players as fathers, both players were selected with the 13th overall picks, both were the youngest players in the NBA when they made their debuts and both have produced incredible single-game scoring outbursts - Booker with 70 points at just 22-years old and Bryant with his legendary 81 point game. Booker has credited Kobe as a huge inspiration for his game, and it definitely shows. His electric scoring ability has been the key component to the Suns play-off renaissance and it will have to continue if they plan to keep advancing. And if Booker really is a Kobe clone, I think you can count on it.
Comparison: Kevin Garnett
It’s difficult finding a direct comparison to a player as unique as the “Greek Freak,” but I think "The Big Ticket" is as close as it gets. Deceivingly skilled for their size, while still able to dominate post-ups on the block, Antetokounmpo and Garnett are offensive supernovas, although they might be even more valuable as defensive linchpins. Both players mirror their standout offensive versatility on the other end of the floor, as they can lock down power forwards and centers in the paint but also step up to the perimeter to guard everyone from slippery point guards to explosive small forwards. Those talents have made them two of just five players in NBA history who have won both an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award. With Giannis’ Milwaukee Bucks in a second round hole to the star-studded Brooklyn Nets and on the cusp of another disappointing play-off exit, it’ll be interesting to see if he'll eventually have to exit the team that drafted him, similar to how Garnett left the Minnesota Timberwolves to win a championship with the Boston Celtics.
Comparison: Stephen Curry
Out of all the players on this list, Young’s game probably still needs the most work, as he can be inefficient at times and has legitimately been one of the NBA’s worst defenders for big stretches of his three year career. However, when Trae is cooking, like he has been in this year's play-offs, he looks like the second coming of Curry. When Curry arrived on the NBA scene, GM’s weren’t convinced he could be a star in the league with his slight frame. Two MVP’s and three championships later, he’s obviously proven his doubters wrong. Even so, when Young entered into the NBA draft, teams made the exact same mistake and have been proven wrong yet again. Young has gone on a tear with the upstart Atlanta Hawks in the play-offs and is relishing the role of being the villain to opposing fans. That's a far-cry from Curry’s "nice guy" persona now that the “super team” Warriors have disbanded, but being a heel has actually helped Young take his game to the next level.
Comparison: James Harden
In his short, yet sensational, NBA career, Dončić has mostly been compared to LeBron James and Magic Johnson; and if you’re just looking at his level of dominance at such a young age, those guys are pretty good choices. But if you’re comparing styles of play, Harden is a better match. Neither player has tons of muscle, blazing speed or jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism. What Harden and Dončić don’t possess in natural ability, however, is more than made up for by an amazing understanding of the game and the knowledge of how to use their bodies to take advantage of their talent. Harden almost broke basketball a few years ago with his ability to draw fouls and Luka has used his innate body control to keep defenders on his hip as he gallops to the rim and unleashes the Harden-esque stepback he used to come this close to leading the Dallas Mavericks over the L.A. Clippers in round one.
Comparison: Arvydas Sabonis
Before “The Joker” made his ascent to superstardom in 2018, Sabonis was the consensus best passing center of all-time, averaging 2.1 assists per game. But Jokić has already made any fawning over that number look silly as he averages 6 assists per game for his career and took it to another level this year, averaging an awesome 8.3. The Denver Nuggets star also took a huge step forward when it came to scoring the basketball; delivered big-time down the stretch as a one-man wrecking crew without the benefit of his injured all-world running mate Jamal Murray; and then Nikola tied it all together in one beautiful bow by winning his first NBA MVP award.
Not all of our play-offs "Fab Five" will make it to the NBA finals.
But with most of them still alive in the postseason, there's no question that the NBA is definitely alive and kicking - with a big assist to some of the legends who paved the way for their play-off paths.