King James might seem unstoppable, but he can't reign forever.
The good news is that when LeBron James finally hangs it up, the NBA will be in good hands, with a plethora of young talent ready to rise to the occasion.
From the New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson to the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic and Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, the debate is hot as to which player will be the league's next top star.
The question is: Which fresh face will be the one people think of first when they think about the NBA?
Antetokounmpo has dominated the conversation the past two years, snagging back-to-back regular-season MVP awards. However, his postseason woes have stopped him from taking the next step and solidifying his dominance in the sport.
Antetokounmpo is coming off his third straight game with at least 35 points, including a double-double with 38 points and 10 rebounds as the Bucks held off the Pelicans in a 129-125 shootout. It was Milwaukee's fourth straight win, and Antetokounmpo carried the weight by logging 38 minutes.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the first Bucks player with 3 straight 35-point games since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1973. pic.twitter.com/zy7qCNUmXG— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 26, 2021
He's averaging 28.9 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game on the season. While those numbers resemble those of both his 2020 and 2019 MVP campaigns, Nick Wright is not convinced that Antetokounmpo is ready for the next step -- to shine in the postseason.
"I love Giannis, but when you lost in the playoffs for back-to-back years because your game didn't evolve – and this year it looks like his game didn't evolve ... he hasn't added that piece, and you start to wonder if he can."
"Giannis has won 2 MVPs and is further from the crown than ever before because you cannot see any evolution in the game."— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) February 26, 2021
— @getnickwright on which superstar has a better chance of taking over as the next best player in the NBA: Giannis or Zion pic.twitter.com/XnIrMnVVUE
Williamson was a hot name as a rookie last season – despite an injury-riddled campaign – and the buzz he is generating this season has only grown as he has taken major leaps with his game.
Williamson, recently named an All-Star for the first time, is coming off a contest in which he dropped 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting in the first half against Milwaukee. He went on to finish with 34 points and eight rebounds.
Zion Williamson is the 5th player (6th instance) in the shot-clock era to average 25 PPG on 60% shooting through his first 30 games of a season. He is the first since Charles Barkley in 1987-88 h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/Oo6r05Dg27— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 25, 2021
His offense has improved in 2021, as his shooting percentage from the field is up 3.5, and his points per game are up 2.5. NBA analyst Kevin O'Connor cited defensive growth as another reason Williamson has barely scratched the surface of what he can become.
"I think he's top-20 for sure. He has it [on] offense – he's an elite scorer near the rim. He can create for others. Defensively, that's where we are seeing him get better this year in New Orleans."
"This is a guy who is just tapping into what he can become. It's only the beginning of Zion the shot creator."— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) February 26, 2021
— @KevinOConnorNBA on the jump from Year 1 to Year 2 for the Pelicans' phenom: pic.twitter.com/RZ2b1OVKCj
Doncic was just named to his second All-Star team in a season when he is averaging 28.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists.
Luka Doncic during the 6-1 stretch that pulled the Mavs up to .500:— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) February 24, 2021
34.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 8.6 apg, 51.9 FG%, 48.3 3%
But the soon-to-be 22-year-old Doncic has an impressive resume, as his 33 career triple-doubles in the regular season and postseason combined are the most ever by a player his age.
"Luka is one of the most exciting talents we’ve seen. Do I see some of myself in him? If I were 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, yeah. That’s a big difference when you’re 6-foot-2, 175 pounds."