In any walk of life and in any profession or sport, we can’t help but draw comparisons to the past. Today’s generation of NBA stars may dazzle on the court with unprecedented feats of athleticism and acrobatics but it’s inevitable that they remind us of some of the NBA legends and greats of history. One can easily picture old timers at the barbershop grumbling about a current NBA star: “It’s been done, and so-and-so did it much better.”
The term “the next MJ” has evolved into the “next Kobe” and the “next LeBron.” Folks even throw out comparisons, whether intended as a compliment or an insult, by calling different players the “poor man's” or “rich man's” version of a ball player of yesteryear.
Some players have admitted that they modeled their playing style after an NBA superstar they watched while growing up. Others have studied players intently, whether via watching old films or being coached by the legend themselves, hoping to mimic their movements and skillset to achieve success of their own.
This list is the classic barbershop debate in article form where we answer the question, “Who did it better?” 15 head to head matchups have been assembled between a player and who the player was most compared to in their career. Of course not all comparisons are perfect, but the criteria for these comparisons are orchestrated not by die-hard fans of the NBA but by players and coaches who have commented on a particular player's style of play and who they most reminded them of. With that being said, let’s go head-to-head!
29 15. Dwight Howard vs. Shaquille O’Neal
Dwight Howard: 17.8 ppg - 12.7 rpg - 1.5 apg - 2.10 bpg.
Shaquille O’Neal: 23.6 ppg - 10.85 rpg - 2.5 apg - 2.26 bpg.
The comparison between these two giants is downright eerie. It’s crazy how Dwight Howard’s and Shaq’s career have paralleled one another. They were both #1 draft picks to the Orlando Magic and established themselves as dominant centers there before moving on to the bright lights and big city of LA, joining the Lakers. Both are also physically imposing fun-loving goof balls. During Howard’s dunk contest champion days, he took on the Superman moniker, something that Shaq has proclaimed for himself and had tattooed on his arm.
O’Neal took all these “next Shaq” comparisons personally and would go at Howard during the tail-end of his playing days to let Dwight know who truly the most dominant center in basketball is. Even in his post-retirement years as an NBA analyst, O’Neal has spared no expense taking shots at Howard's play, tearing into his work ethic, his weak post-up game, and his drive.
When comparing stats, success and accolades it’s clear that Shaquille O’Neal was better. More championships, more individual accomplishments, more wins. Howard has the edge only in rebounding. Kobe Bryant would famously jab Dwight by stating he didn’t truly appreciate his championship pairings with Shaq until he played with Dwight. With Dwight still yet to have a single ring to his name and winding down in his dominance, we give this win to Shaq Diesel.
27 Steve Francis vs Russell Westbrook
Steve Francis: 18.1 ppg - 5.6 rpg - 6.0 apg - 1.5 spg - 0.4 bpg
Russell Westbrook: 21.5 ppg - 5.6 rpg – 7.6 apg - 1.7 spg - 0.3 bpg
Russell Westbrook’s is an elite point guard in today’s NBA landscape. A fierce dunker, explosive scorer and unstoppable in the open court, Westbrook’s play is strikingly similar to another athletic guard that he’s frequently compared to--All-Star point guard Steve Francis. Older fans compare Westbrook’s frantic style of play and energy to Steve Francis from a decade earlier and even long-time NBA analyst and coach Jeff Van Gundy would agree when he said during a broadcast, “I coached Russell Westbrook. His name was Steve Francis.”
Both Francis and Westbrook are phenomenal dunkers and their quickness, athleticism and upper body strength at the point guard position gave them great rebounding and scoring numbers on top of passing. They were both triple doubles waiting to happen. On top of their strengths, their weaknesses are even similar with both being notorious for making bad shot decisions and errant plays resulting in turnovers during clutch situations.
While their stats are practically identical in comparison, history has shown Westbrook to be the more successful, having had more playoff experience and more consistency during the same period of time. Francis may have possessed better ball handling ability while Westbrook is a more relentless scorer.
Francis may have had a longer career had it not been for injuries and his off-the-court bad habits cutting his career short so we have to give the edge slightly to Russell Westbrook.
25 James Harden vs Manu Ginobili
James Harden: 21.1 ppg – 4.6 rpg – 4.9 apg - 1.4 spg - 0.4 bpg
Manu Ginobili: 14.0 ppg – 3.7 rpg – 4.0 apg - 1.5 spg - 0.3 bpg
Here’s a player comparison that both players have actually acknowledged in interviews. Harden and Ginobili styles are extraordinarily alike and both players established themselves in the NBA as bonafide stars by being explosive scorers off the bench for their respective teams. Ginobili has been the long-time “starter playing as a 6th man” for the San Antonio Spurs and was recognized with a 6th man award. Harden was the emerging star playing alongside Superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the Oklahoma City Thunder and also received a 6th man award.
Both are left-handed, both are crafty scorers and both possess amazing footwork as masters of the Euro step. Harden admittedly said in an interview with TNT that he admired Ginobili’s game in high school and studied him to emulate a lot of his intricacies.
But who did it better? Both Manu and Harden’s stats are practically identical except when it comes to points as Harden scores a lot more. However, that’s mainly because Harden made the move to the Rockets as the #1 option while Ginobili’s scoring stats are stunted as he remained a 6th man on the Spurs. Also Ginobili’s defensive rating is far superior to James Harden’s questionable and often lazy defense. We may never know how Ginobili in his prime would have fared on a team where he’s the go-to player but at this time with James Harden still very young, he definitely has a higher ceiling.
23 Scottie Pippen vs. Lamar Odom
Scottie Pippen: 16.1 ppg – 6.4 rpg – 5.2 apg – 2.0 spg – 0.8 bpg
Lamar Odom: 13.3 ppg – 8.4 rpg – 3.7 apg – 0.9 spg – 0.9 bpg
The battle of the sidekicks. Lamar Odom and Scottie Pippen are often compared for being the supporting player beside those considered the best shooting guards of their respective generations in Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Both were talented and versatile small forwards who were instrumental in helping Bryant and Jordan nab championship gold.
Both players are actually fairly close to each other when it comes to career averages and shooting percentages. Scottie was a better scorer, but not by much. Lamar Odom, 6’10 compared to Pippen’s 6’8, was a better rebounder. Pippen was a slightly better passer but that may be because he had Jordan to pass to much longer than Odom had Kobe to pad his assist stats.
Who is better? Pippen is one of the top 50 greatest NBA players while Odom may not even crack the top 100. Pippen has made the All-NBA teams multiple times while Odom has never had one selection. Pippen also is a better defender, having been selected as all-defense 10 times to Odom’s 0. In the end, the better Robin was Pippen by a large margin.
21 Dominique Wilkins vs Vince Carter
Dominique Wilkins: 24.8 ppg – 6.7 rpg – 2.5 apg - 1.3 spg - 0.6 bpg
Vince Carter: 18.8 ppg – 4.6 rpg – 3.4 apg – 1.1 spg – 0.6 bpg
Vince Carter made a name for himself as "Half Man/Half Amazing" in the Dunk Contest, revolutionizing the contest in 2000 when the contest was starting to get stale much like over a decade prior when the Human Highlight Film Dominique Wilkins set the bar with his supernatural leaping abilities. Wilkins and Carter are both known for their powerful and uber athletic dunks which has led to many comparisons between the two when it comes to their overall game.
Looking at their stats, shooting percentages and career accolades Dominque Wilkins was a far better overall player and much more well-rounded. Dominque was the more dominant scorer and rebounder and was recognized for his talent with a lot more All-NBA inclusions than Carter has garnered. The argument that Carter perhaps would win over ‘Nique is better dunker, but not by much. As great as Vinsanity was in his prime, he never held a scoring title nor was he even in the running for MVP which Dominique finished 2nd in voting against a Prime Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
19 Blake Griffin vs Shawn Kemp
Blake Griffin: 21.5 ppg –9.6 rpg – 4.0 apg – 1.0 spg - 0.6 bpg
Shawn Kemp: 14.6 ppg – 8.4 rpg – 1.6 apg - 1.1 spg – 1.2 bpg
Blake Griffin is the poster child for creating posters in today’s NBA. His athleticism and vertical leap have made him a mainstay in nightly highlight reels where he soars over his opponents for monstrous slam dunks. Few possess the kind of power and leaping ability in the league which has led many to be reminded of another power dunker and athletic freak of yesteryear when they look at Blake Griffin—Shawn Kemp.
When comparing the two on the court, you can see the resemblance in styles. Both can jump out of the gym for power dunks, both swallow up rebounds and possess great leaping ability. On the court, both have had their difficulties as well, making immature decisions that hurt their health and their standing with their team.
Though Kemp enjoyed much success during his career, the later part of his career was hampered by drug and alcohol abuse and weight issues. Griffin at this point appears to have a higher ceiling and has worked on more parts of his game, from free throws to 3 pointers to have a more all-around offense impact. With that being said, Blake Griffin looks to be the better player overall.
17 Stephen Curry vs. Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf
Stephen Curry: 22.1 ppg –47.7 FG% – 44.6 3PT% – 4.3 rpg – 6.9 apg
Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf: 14.6 ppg –44.2 FG% – 35.4 3PT% – 1.9 rpg – 3.5 apg - 0.8 bpg
Stephen Curry’s lights out shooting and ball-handling has been captivating the league and NBA fans in recent seasons and he has been recognized for his superb talent with back-to-back MVP awards. While many may be reminded of Ray Allen or Reggie Miller with his shooting and of Pistol Pete Maravich when it comes to his dribbling and playmaking ability, there is one player that many would not assume is comparable, in playing style, with Steph—Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf.
Legendary coach and former NBA player Phil Jackson made the comparison in an interview, stating that he sees a resemblance in playing style between Steph Curry and Abdur-Rauf, a volume scorer of the 90s. Many young fans may not remember the player and even Stephen Curry had to go on a YouTube search when he heard the comparisons. Curry didn’t know of Abdur-Rauf and after viewing highlights, observed a lot of similarities.
While Abdur-Rauf had shooting percentages similar to Curry, he wasn’t the all-around player Curry is and certainly never was in the running to be MVP. After receiving backlash from fans over the comparison when the MVP is clearly the better player, Jackson tweeted: “How does commenting on Rauf mean I'm comparing him to Curry? Remind, yes, quick release, cross over, Yep, MVP, nope. Get a grip!”
15 Chris Paul vs. John Stockton vs. Steve Nash
Chris Paul: 18.8 ppg –4.4 rpg – 9.9 apg – 2.3 spg - 0.1 bpg
John Stockton: 13.1 ppg – 2.7 rpg – 10.5 apg – 2.2 spg – 0.2 bpg
Steve Nash: 14.3 ppg – 3.0 rpg – 8.5 apg - 0.7 spg –0.1bpg
In this case, I had to make it a three way dance because of the sheer volume of similarities and comparisons between all three. All three players were not blessed with height or a ton of athleticism, but became great players by mastering the fundamentals of the game. Multi-time MVP Steve Nash has long been compared with Utah Jazz great John Stockton. Chris Paul’s emergence in the NBA as an elite player and floor general has put him in the same category.
All three possess tremendous playmaking, court vision and basketball IQ. All were experts at taking smart shots and being crafty in getting their shot off against bigger players. All three utilize great dribbling, passing, and decision making skills to excel in a league with players much bigger and more athletically gifted than them. When looking at stats, Chris Paul was the better scorer than the three and Stockton was best when it came to racking up assists.
Who did it best is not very easy to say as despite posting similar numbers, playing similar styles and the like, they all have something the other didn’t have. Nash has MVP trophies but inferior defense. Paul and Stockton were selected multiple times for All-NBA defensive teams, though Paul’s the only one to be on the 1st teams. Stockton has been to the NBA Finals. None of them have Championship rings. Paul does have the ability to take over games unlike his counterparts. When it comes to all-around play, Paul would win out but again, very tough to say.
13 Kyrie Irving vs. Allen Iverson
Kyrie Irving: 20.8 ppg –3.4 rpg – 5.5 apg – 1.4 spg - 0.3 bpg
Allen Iverson: 26.7 ppg – 3.7 rpg – 6.2 apg – 2.2 spg –0.2 bpg
Uncle Drew vs. AI. Kyrie Irving is still very young and has a lot of years left in his career to play but his scoring abilities and dribbling skills remind many of the crossover king Allen Iverson. Both players are dazzling scorers and use their quickness and superb ball handling skills to get by defenders and get into the paint. With similar styles, strengths and abilities, who does it better?
The stats show that Iverson was a better scorer but he was also someone who chucked a lot more shots up. Kyrie is more efficient in terms of shooting with higher percentages in FGs, 3 pointers and free throws. I would’ve said that Allen Iverson was slightly a better ball handler but Iverson recently in a documentary conceded to Kyrie (and Steph Curry) that they handled the ball better than him. "Those guys are next level. I didn't have the handle they do." Iverson said. Irving also has something else Iverson doesn’t have, a championship ring. Would that be enough for Irving to have bragging rights though? Either way it’s a close contest.
11 Kevin Garnett vs. Hakeem Olajuwon
Kevin Garnett: 17.8 ppg - 10.0 rpg – 3.7 apg - 1.3 spg - 1.4 bpg
Hakeem Olajuwon: 21.8 ppg - 11.1 rpg - 2.5 apg - 1.7 spg - 3.1 bpg
Kevin Garnett may not be ready to retire yet but his play has definitely winded down from his superstar days. In his prime, Garnett’s skillset was often compared to Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. Both are near seven footers who possessed the dribbling abilities of a guard. Both Garnett and Olajuwon also had a plethora of post moves that made them nearly impossible to guard along with turnaround fadeaway jumpers that opponents were helpless to contest.
Aside from their lethal offensive arsenal, both were ferocious lengthy defenders having both won the Defensive Player of the Year award and the Season MVP award. Their length made them elite shot-blockers and both successfully would get into their opponents heads with trash talk. Both also have led their teams to Championship rings.
So who was better? While the stats seem relatively close, there’s no denying that The Dream was a better offensive weapon because of his footwork in the paint and with Hakeem being the all-time NBA blocks leader, he also was a bigger defensive threat to KG. KG may have been a more vocal team leader but in terms of overall play, he has to bow down to Hakeem.
9 Karl Malone vs. Tim Duncan
Karl Malone: 25.0 ppg - 10.1 rpg - 3.6 apg - 1.4 spg - 0.8 bpg
Tim Duncan: 19.0 ppg - 10.8 rpg - 3.0 apg - 0.7 spg - 2.2 bpg
Tim Duncan may have finally called it quits on his NBA career but this sure-fire Hall of Famer’s fundamentally sound playing style has led to many comparisons with Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone. Both players’ names come up frequently when discussing the greatest power forwards of all time. Their impact on the court transformed what it means to be a PF and set the bar extremely high for future PFs to live up to in terms of the skills needed to be successful in the position.
Duncan and Malone were offensive juggernauts at their position with their post-up game being their bread and butter. Aside from owning the paint, both players could also step outside and knock down mid-range jumpers.
By looking at career accolades one could easily say that Tim Duncan was the more successful of the two since he has more championship rings but individually, with similar skillsets, it’s harder to say who was better.
Malone was a better scorer, Duncan was defensively better and more consistent as well as being a better shot blocker. All other stats are pretty even. In the end, I’d give the slight edge to Duncan for being a better team leader and being superb on both ends of the floor.
7 Kevin Durant vs. Tracy McGrady
Kevin Durant: 27.4 ppg – 7.0 rpg – 3.7 apg - 1.2 spg – 1.0 bpg
Tracy McGrady: 19.6 ppg – 5.6 rpg – 4.4 apg – 1.2 spg – 0.9 bpg
Kevin Durant’s offensive repertoire, shooting range and silky smooth game has made him the league’s top superstar players outside of Steph Curry and Lebron James. Though Durant has stated in interviews that he modeled his style of play most closely to Dirk Nowitzki, his play is more reminiscent to Tracy McGrady in his prime. Both have led the league multiple times in scoring and were inside and outside threats. Both could shoot from anywhere on the floor and could light up the scoreboard in multiple categories. Both make difficult shots and layups look effortless.
Looking at the stats it shows that Durant is far above a better scoring threat though one must factor in that the last few years of McGrady’s career saw a dip in production due to injuries and not being a go-to player anymore. Percentages show that Durant was a much better shooter inside and outside the 3pt line as well as the charity stripe. McGrady was a better passer and more athletic though both players are twigs when it comes to body type which led to durability issues for both as well.
T-Mac however has not won a season MVP like Durant has. And while Tmac was scoring champ twice, Durant has won the scoring title a whopping 4 times. Durant has also had a lot more post-season success compared to McGrady. With a lot more years left in the tank for Durant, he still has plenty of time to capture a ring, especially now since he’s joined the Golden State Warriors. I give the edge to Durant since at 6’11, he has the skills of an elite shooting guard and that’s just freakish to compete with.
5 Larry Bird vs. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki: 22.0 ppg –7.9 rpg – 2.5 apg – 0.8 spg - 0.9 bpg
Larry Bird: 24.3 ppg – 10.0 rpg – 6.3 apg - 1.7 spg - 0.8 bpg
The Dallas Mavericks long-time franchise star Dirk Nowitzki is a one-of-a-kind player. A legit seven footer with the dribbling and footwork of a small forward and the shooting skills of a guard, there’s not many that can compare to him. However, for the longest time Dirk has been regarded as the second coming of Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird—and it isn’t just because he’s white, curly haired and played on the same team his whole career like Larry Legend.
Even though both played different positions they are often grouped together. Both are known for their pinpoint precision when it comes to shooting and being offensively crafty to offset their athletic limitations. Dirk stated in an interview that Bird became a Hall of Famer, “really, with zero athleticism and just making things happen on skill and smarts.” You would think that Dirk was describing himself.
Both players also are part of the elite 50-40-90 club (which refers to FG/3PT/FT percentages) which is a tough place to get a membership. When comparing the two, Bird has more titles, more MVP honors and ALL-NBA first team selections, while Dirk has had a longer career and scored more all-time points. While their stats are neck and neck when it comes to shooting percentages, Larry Bird was a better-rounded player with more assists and surprisingly a better rebounder despite being smaller.
3 Lebron James vs. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson: 19.5 ppg - 7.2 rpg - 11.2 apg - 1.9 spg - 0.4 bpg
LeBron James: 27.2 ppg - 7.2 rpg – 6.9 apg - 1.7 spg - 0.9 bpg
Now a lot may clamor and say that LeBron James should instead be compared head-to-head with Michael Jordan. However this is not a debate as to who is the better overall all-time basketball player. In this case, it’s comparing players who play similar styles. In an interview, LeBron stated that his game is more like that of Magic Johnson over anyone else, “For me, I see myself on the side of the Magic range where I love my teammates, love being around them. I want them to be happy as well and get my teammates involved.”
While both may not have played the same position with Magic being a PG and LeBron primarily an SF, they did possess the same abilities and style of play. James is essentially a guard with the monstrous 6’10 body frame and is a phenomenal playmaker and scorer much like Magic was in his heyday with the Showtime Lakers. Magic was a better passer and shares similar rebound numbers with LeBron. Lebron was a better defender overall. Magic has more rings, while LeBron has more MVP honors. In the end, LeBron edges out Magic overall because it was much easier for King James to score and defend with his beastly athleticism and killer instinct.
1 Kobe Bryant vs Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan: 30.1 ppg - 6.2 rpg - 5.3 apg - 2.3 spg - 0.8 bpg
Kobe Bryant: 25.0 ppg - 5.2 rpg - 4.7 apg - 1.4 spg - 0.5 bpg
It’s been debated for decades now. When it comes down to talking about the greatest NBA shooting guards of all time, the most successful champions and so on and so forth, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are always up there and for good reason. These two are practically clones of one another in terms of their work ethic, competiveness and killer instinct. Both have multiple rings to their name, as well as multiple all-NBA selections and defensive selections.
By watching video of the two, their mannerisms are even the same as well as their playing style. Kobe Bryant has long stated that he has looked up to Jordan and been influenced by him. Kobe has studied MJ closely to emulate Jordan’s various complexities into his game. Both had amazing mid-range games, athleticism, footwork and turnaround fadeaway jumpers that were beauties to see. Both were tremendously clutch during close games. Kobe essentially tried to make himself a carbon copy of his idol.
In the end though, as great as Kobe is, he’s nowhere near as great as the GOAT. Kobe won the season MVP once to Jordan’s 5. Jordan also was a much better lockdown defender than Bryant though Bryant’s defense was very formidable. Shooting percentage wise Jordan is only slightly better but he has won the scoring title 10 times to Kobe’s 2.
When all the smoke clears though, Bryant still is unable to touch Jordan but he definitely was the closest thing to “another Michael Jordan” that we’ll ever see when it comes to his play, drive and success.
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