The NBA is getting better viewership numbers than ever. This is despite the fact that the Warriors have dominated the league for 4 seasons now, and are well on course to a 3rd straight title judging by the superstar addition they made in the offseason in the form of DeMarcus Cousins.
What has, however, improved viewership across the globe is the increased reach of the sport since the Jordan days, in addition to the increased level of talent across the league - the main reason for why you are likely to find a Celtics fan, a Jazz fan and a Thunder fan arguing over which team has the best chance of beating Golden State in Kazakhstan.
The newest additions to the league in the form of the NBA draft in the past couple of seasons have provided plenty of reasons for fans of the league to have an optimistic view about the future of the league. What will follow now is an attempt to compare the stellar players from the last 2 draft classes to established basketball superstars and Hall of Famers:
#1 Donovan Mitchell - Dwyane Wade
A 6'3" shooting guard with a 6'11" wingspan who also happens to throw down some mean dunks and has an amazingly quick first step? Watching Donovan Mitchell closely for the first time in his 41-point game against the Pelicans, the one player that I was instantly reminded of while watching him was a young Dwyane Wade.
Like The Flash, the Spida has the ability to get to the paint almost at will - though he uses it more sparingly in line with modern NBA trends. There are better ballhandlers all around the league than him, but his ability to shift weight from one side to another, extremely explosive first step and ultra-elite ability to finish through traffic while contorting is special, and is uniquely reminiscent of a prime Dwyane Wade.
Pretty much like Wade, who ensured the Heat's progress to the second round of the playoffs in the 2003-04 NBA season with some clutch performances, Mitchell was the best player in the first round of a playoff series that pitted him against Westbrook and Paul George - 2 perennial All Stars.
The best part about Mitchell is that he is a really quick learner, and imbibes new moves into his skillset in a matter of weeks. If he keeps improving as he did all year long during his rookie season, the sky is the limit for this youngster.
#2 Jayson Tatum - Tracy McGrady
While this might seem like a comparison straight out of the left field at first, Tatum's relatively lower athleticism in comparison to a prime T-Mac does not take away from the rest of the resemblances the two of them share.
Tatum is a player cut from the same cloth as Kobe and T-Mac, the two greatest scorers of the noughties. Like the aforementioned duo, Tatum has a truly well-rounded midrange scoring game, complete with their fadeaway jump shots. Slick and tight handles that allow him to get to his spot and elevate over most perimeter defenders, and he is one of the best cutters in the Celtics squad already.
As a spot-up shooter, he's already shaping up as one of the league's best after finishing #8 in 3-point shooting percentage, the same kind of off-ball threat as T-Mac could be. If he continues to play and improve in the same fashion, like Donovan Mitchell, he could be a generational player.
#3 Ben Simmons - LeBron James
Labeled by the King himself as the Young King, Simmons put the whole world on notice during his rookie season. His averages (rounded up) of 16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists are better than every single rookie right up until the 1979-80 campaign and the times of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Simmons has a natural feel for the game that stands out on every single play. Unlike LeBron, though Simmons is already quite comfortable playing in a ball movement system - he made and received the most passes per game last season during the regular season.
Adding a true jumpshot would elevate Simmons' game up to a point when it would be legitimate to discuss about him as one of the best players in the league. Right now, the obvious flaw in his game has been exploited as fair game during the playoffs, underlining the need for him to readapt his game according to how the Celtics played him and make sure that doesn't happen repeatedly over time.
#4 Dennis Smith Jr. - Russell Westbrook
A vertical that could range anywhere from 40 to 44 inches? Check. Straight line speed higher than nearly every point guard matched up against him? You got it. A style of play heavily reliant on fast, twitchy movements and relentlessly attacking the paint? Double check. The one new-age point guard who can challenge the likes of John Wall and Westbrook from an athletic standpoint is Dennis Smith himself.
Dennis Smith Jr was one of the most hyped point guard prospects from the 2017 NBA draft. Drafted #9 overall by the Mavs and believed to have fallen too low according to a lot of experts, Smith went on to carve a place for himself on the All-Rookie Second Team with averages of 15.2 points and 5.2 assists.
His shooting percentages, however, left a significant amount to be desired. To be fair, he did average 36.8% shooting on catch and shoot opportunities, but one of Westbrook's only genuine criticisms is that he isn't a good shooter and should rein in his 3-point attempts. Perhaps playing alongside an elite distributor as Doncic has shown all the signs of being will improve him as a shooter.
#5 Jaylen Brown - Paul George
Expect Jaylen Brown to be on of the breakout All Star candidates this year. Foisted onto an expanded role last season after Gordon Hayward's season fell off the rails within 5 minutes, Brown showed such noticeable improvements across every facet of his game that he began to get consideration for his already-pretty-good defensive skills and his ability to be a really good secondary scorer.
Although Brown will not emerge as the clear first option on a Celtics roster stacked to the core with 3 All-Stars and Tatum, he already has a skillset eerily similar to another player who actually made the jump from above-average starter to All Star in his 3rd season - Paul George.
Like George, Brown relies on 3 or 4 specific scoring maneuvers in iso situations. He's got a mean right to left crossover and can drill 3-pointers on step-backs, pretty much in the PG vein. The only side of the game that George and Brown don't currently share is Brown's lack of playmaking experience, but that should increase if Brown is put in a situation where he is the primary ballhandler.