After the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the NBA playoffs, LeBron James candidly commented on this season's rookies during the post-game presser. "The rookie class this year (he meant this season) is probably the best since 2003," said The King.
You know what? LBJ is probably right. The 2017 batch of audacious young guns and LeBron's star-studded draft class deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence, at least for now. To prove our point, we plucked the standouts from the 2003 selection and found their counterparts in the current crop of rookies. FHM did the sorting based on two things: similarity in playing style, and likelihood of ending up with identical careers.
LeBron James – Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Both are physical specimens. They're too big, too strong, and too explosive for guys at their position. As facilitators, they tend to stuff the stat sheet every night. LeBron is the better scorer, but once Simmons improves on his jumper just as the former did, Philly's rookie sensation could be as unstoppable. And just like King James, Prince Ben could dominate the East for years, especially with fellow young superstar Joel Embiid by his side. Of course, this would be more plausible once LeBron retires or if he chooses to sign with a Western Conference team.
Dwayne Wade – Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
Like a young D-Wade, Mitchell has shown that he's got what it takes to lead a franchise. He's fearless, a phenomenal athlete, and extremely difficult to slow down once he gets hot. The two share the same ferocity when attacking the rim. When you watch Spida's forays in the shaded lane, you won't be able to help but think Flash. The 13th overall pick has broken the records for most threes made by an NBA rookie and most points in a shooting guard's first two playoff games (eclipsed Michael Jordan, 55 to 53), while steering his team past the top-heavy OKC Thunder in the first round. Such accomplishments suggest Mitchell has the potential to be one of the all-time top SGs, alongside the likes of MJ, Kobe Bryant, and of course, Wade.
Chris Bosh - Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls)
Both are long and lean exceptional scorers at the power forward spot, and their shooting prowess allow them to spread the floor. The two-time NBA champion is the better post operator, but Markkanen is the more gifted sniper—that should balance the comparison out. Although he hasn't been as highly touted as Bosh coming in, the former Wildcat has been nothing but impressive in his first season with the Bulls, becoming the fastest player to hit 100 threes in a season. In his own way, Markkanen can be the same All-Star caliber player that Bosh had been. When it comes to finding postseason success, he should follow the latter's footsteps and team up with a couple of his more talented batchmates.
Carmelo Anthony - Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers)
Obviously, these two have totally different games. What connected Carmelo and Lonzo, though, is how good they are in their respective positions and how they'll never meet the hype that has been set out for them when they entered the league. With his superb ability to get buckets and pure basketball talent, Anthony has collected numerous accolades during his run as one of the league's premier forwards. For all his greatness, though, bad career decisions had him fall by the wayside, in terms of being in the same plateau as his old rival LeBron. Akin to Melo, Ball will not justify the hype that was brought to him, mainly by his dad LaVar. Yes, the No. 2 pick can become a multiple-time All-Star and help the Purple and Gold get back to prominence, but not the greatest Laker ever like his loudmouthed pops professed. Are you telling us that Zo can surpass the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Magic Johnson, Kobe, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West? Come on now.
David West – Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
Their styles of play are about as similar as oil and water. However, their contributions to the team are on the same level of importance. The two are rock solid on both ends of the floor, and are integral parts of their collective successes, especially when West was still suiting up for the New Orleans Hornets and the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics' big-time rookie may very well be on his way to becoming a much better player than West, but as of now, he'll have to settle with this comparison.
T.J. Ford – Dennis Smith, Jr. (Dallas Mavericks)
DSJ and TJ Ford are both feisty point guards who are sure to make an impact for whichever squad they'll play for. The Mavericks' young floor general has the potential to be the leader of the team just as much as Ford did when he ran the show for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Toronto Raptors, and the Pacers, that is before a back injury derailed his ascent. Smith's explosiveness may seem out of this world, but you also could not sleep on Ford when he was at full capacity.
Josh Howard – Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers)
If not for injuries, Howard at No. 29 would've been the steal of the draft, hands down. He once put up 19 ppg for Dallas, while sharing the ball with Dirk Nowitzki. He had also been the go-to-guy for the Mavs in their mid-2000's playoff runs. At the moment, proving that he should've been a lottery selection is the 27th pick. Kuz Control had been getting buckets all season long for the Lakers. His penchant for scoring has him already in the Top 5 of the Purple and Gold's rookie scoring list, along with Johnson, West, and Elgin Baylor. Hopefully, Kuzma won't get hurt like his predecessor.
Kirk Hinrich - De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings)
Both are spitfire point guards. Hinrich does his thing under the rim, while Fox deals damage with pure athleticism, not to mention his clutch gene. Barring injuries, Hinrich would've been a top uno for his entire career. If Swipa de Fox can avoid the same and continue to develop, he'd be able to trump Captain Kirk's accomplishments.
Boris Diaw - OG Anunoby (Toronto Raptors)
Diaw and Anunoby scream versatility. Boris made a name being an excellent point forward, while Anunoby turned heads with his defensive versatility. Several seasons from now, we're picturing the 20-year old London native blossoming as a vital cog of a championship caliber team—not the '18 Raptors—just like how his French counterpart was with the San Antonio Spurs.
Chris Kaman - Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns)
Kaman is a center, while Jackson is a small forward. The former was a former All-Star, while the latter has the potential to be one. What really links these two is the way they can achieve success. Kaman is not spectacular by any means, but at best, he does everything good. Jackson is the same way. Although the former Jayhawk is a gifted athlete, we see him as more of a complimentary player than a franchise-face type of superstar.