Zion, Giannis or Luka: Who is the next face of the NBA?
King James might seem unstoppable, but he can't reign forever.
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.
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."
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.
He entered the game averaging 19 points in the paint, the most in the NBA, along with 25.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Williamson's assist numbers aren't huge, but don't be fooled: His passes are creating 8.8 points per game this season, up from 5.0 last season. Talk about dropping dimes.
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."
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.
His latest performance wasn't his strongest showing, as the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons forced Doncic into one of his worst games of the season, scoring just 19 points on 6-for-13 from the field, with four assists. It marked the fourth time that Doncic has failed to reach 20 points this season, and his seven turnovers were tied for his second-most in a game.
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.
Two-time MVP and NBA Hall of Famer Steve Nash has high praise for Doncic, citing similarities in their styles of play.
"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."