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Kalemkerian: The King’s Successor

| Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Love him or hate him, LeBron James embodies what we as fans love about basketball. From the poster dunks, to the no-look assists, to the clutch three-pointers, he brings everything to the table. In the same way that Michael Jordan defined the 90’s and Kobe Bryant defined the 2000’s, LeBron has been the face of the NBA for the last decade plus. King James is still going strong, scoring his most points per game since his first stint in Cleveland. He’s been plagued by injuries over the past two seasons though, which is no surprise given he has 19 NBA seasons and over 50,000 NBA minutes under his belt. 

LeBron has made it clear he wants to play several more seasons, potentially to play with his son to finish off his career. It remains to be seen whether he’ll retire with miles left in the tank like Tom Brady, or overstay his welcome like Michael Jordan (and honestly most stars, regardless of their sport). The door is opening for someone new to become the face of the NBA, and these players are the most likely candidates. With all due respect to recent MVPs Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokić, I’m choosing the younger players who won’t be on the wrong side of 30 by the time LeBron retires for this list.

Luka Dončić

At just 22 years old and already in his fourth NBA season, Dončić has proven himself to be the most talented young playmaker in the league. Dončić has been averaging just an assist and rebound shy of a double-double and has kept a shaky Maverick’s roster right in the thick of the Western Conference standings. Dallas locked Dončić up to a five-year extension before this season, so he appears to be following in Dirk Nowitzki’s footsteps. Already a perennial MVP candidate, the sky’s the limit for Dončić. Having an international player be the face of the sport would be right in line with the way the NBA is trending, with a quarter of the league and counting being international players. 

Zion Williamson

It’s remarkable how quickly Williamson has been forgotten about. Hailed as the most highly regarded player since, you guessed it, LeBron, he came into the league with a bang. But the hype has faded quickly. Having played just 85 games through what is now his third NBA season, injuries are going to be a major problem for Williamson. While his size and strength are his calling cards on the court, they seem to be contributing to his inability to stay healthy. Still just 20 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to turn his career around, but it’ll need to happen sooner rather than later for him to have a shot at becoming the next generational player.

Ja Morant

To Williamson’s dismay, Morant is quickly establishing himself as the brightest star from the 2019 draft class. An All-Star starter this season, Morant has improved every facet of his game since his rookie season, and has made the Grizzlies exciting and relevant for the first time in a while. Morant’s off-the-chart athletic ability and fearlessness on the court, despite standing “just” 6-foot-3, have quickly placed him among the most likable players in the league. He’s poised to have a long and successful career, but will need to continue to improve his game and accumulate playoff wins to have a shot at being the next face of the league.

Whether it be these already trending players, or a rookie that gets drafted in the near future, LeBron’s time is coming to an end, and we are all ready and excited to see where the next chapter of the NBA takes us.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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