Look back over the decades, and you’ll see that the face of the NBA has changed several times. In the last 30 years, the title of “Face of the League” has changed hands multiple times. From Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant and now LeBron James.
As LeBron is deep into his career and making his case for the GOAT, we are approaching the passing of the torch moment. The question remains, to whom does the torch pass?
There are several up-and-coming stars in the league that could easily take over the mantle, but I want to highlight a few of my favorites.
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While he was drafted 3rd overall in the 2014 draft, Embiid would have to wait another two years to make his highly anticipated debut. He debuted for a struggling 76ers franchise, that had just gone 10-72 in the previous season. This is topped only by the 2011 Charlotte Bobcats, who posted a 7-59 win/loss record in the lockout-shortened season.
That season marked the formal beginning of The Process, a quest to bring Philadelphia back into championship contention, which appears to becoming closer and closer to fruition every season. The 2017-2018 season was proof of that.
That season, the 76ers racked up 52 wins, six more wins than the previous three seasons combined. Making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the 76ers were eliminated 4-1 by the Boston Celtics. From that season forward, however, it was made clear that Philly was not the same pushover team that it had been.
Embiid’s candidacy for the title of Face of the League is nothing to sneeze at either;
4x NBA All-Star (2018-2021)
3x All-Defensive Team (2018, 2019, 2021)
3x All NBA Second Team (2018, 2019, 2021)
NBA All-Rookie First Team (2017)
His playful off-court personality and social media presence have earned him the nickname “Troel”.
Averaging 24.8 points/11.3 rebounds/3.1 assists/1.7 blocks per game for his career, Embiid will surely be a force in the league for years to come.
Up next, is the high-flying Grizzlies guard. Drafted 2nd overall in the 2019 draft, Morant quickly became a part of the Memphis starting five. In his first two seasons, he started 130 games, quickly gaining recognition and respect from the stars of the league.
Morant quickly made his mark and is budding into a star that Memphis can build around. While his case for the face is much smaller than others on this list, I believe he will have much more to add to it over his career;
NBA Rookie of the Year (2020)
NBA All-Rookie First Team (2020)
Averaging 18.4 points, 7.3 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, while shooting an impressive 46.3% in his first two seasons. Ja is quickly on his way to being a tough assignment for defenses to plan for. His repertoire of dunks is something of its own.
The Greek Freak is here and is here to stay. Giannis Antetokounmpo has undeniably risen the ranks to be one of the best players in the league.
Before being drafted, Giannis played professionally in Greece, where he averaged 62.1% on two-point field goals and 31.3% from 3. The Bucks selected him 15th overall in the 2013 draft. He made his debut that season at 18 years, 311 days old. Which made him one of the youngest NBA players ever at the time of his debut.
Antetokounmpo would break out in a big way in his 4th season, averaging 22.9 ppg, six points higher than the previous season. He lead Milwaukee to the playoffs, where they were dispatched 4-2 by the Toronto Raptors.
The Bucks hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy this summer, beating the Phoenix Suns 4-2. Here’s where Giannis sits from an accolades perspective after this past season.
2x NBA MVP (2019, 2020)
5x NBA All-Star (2017-2021)
3x All NBA First Team (2019-2021)
2x All NBA Second Team (2017, 2018)
NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2020)
3x All-Defensive First Team (2019-2021)
All-Defensive Second Team (2017)
All-Rookie Second Team (2014)
Most Improved Player (2017)
NBA Champion (2021)
NBA Finals MVP (2021)
Averaging 20.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game over his career, Giannis is the x-factor of Milwaukee’s offense and without a doubt, has become the face of the franchise.
On the other side of the finals, we have my final pick, Devin Booker. Booker was drafted to bring the Suns back from the bottom. By appearing in the 2021 Finals, he has done just that.
Drafted 13th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, Booker was thrust into the spotlight after Steve Nash left Phoenix three years earlier. It soon became apparent that he was to be the franchise player. He had a stellar Summer League showing, in which he averaged 15.3 points/4.9 rebounds/1.7 assists. Booker made his Suns debut, scoring 14 points on 6-7 shooting off the bench. At the end of the season, Booker started 51 games, averaging 13.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.6 assists a game. Phoenix finished that season with a win-loss 29-53.
When it came time for the 2016 season, Booker earned a spot in the starting lineup. He would start in all 78 games he played. Fast forward five years and he has Phoenix right back in contention. Despite a 4-2 loss in the NBA Finals, Booker is in a position to cement himself as a superstar in the league.
2x NBA All-Star (2020, 2021)
All-Rookie First Team (2016)
Like Morant, the list of accolades is short, but the potential is real. I firmly believe he will continue to be an elite player for years to come. As a matter of fact, he does have advice from Kobe Bryant inked on his arm. “Be Legendary”. For his career, he is averaging 23 points/4.6 assists/3.7 rebounds, and he is shooting a career 45.5% overall.
These are just four of the plethora of players that could become the face of the league after LeBron retires. We’re seeing a huge wave of extremely talented athletes come into the NBA. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure. The NBA is in good hands with the new generation.