When Michael Jordan was the best player in the world, the league’s future superstar pool looking up at him were visionless to anything but how he used his freakishly coordinated athleticism and brilliant scoring ability to win championships.
Jordan was the best defender at his position for much of his career, but that’s since become an overshadowed footnote to all he accomplished with the ball in his hands (mythically and typically, with the clock ticking to zero).
Once Jordan retired, those trying to fill his shoes struggled to match his dominance, in part because they mimicked his style of play. That was foolish, and the league as a whole (especially aesthetically) suffered for it.
The best player since Jordan is LeBron James, in large part because he’s gone about attacking opponents in more ways than simply scoring the ball. James’ greatest skill is his ability to pass, whether it be initiating a pick-and-roll or penetrating to the basket and forcing the defense to collapse.
He scores a ton but in an efficient way, rarely wasting a possession with a contested jumper and instead using his abilities elsewhere to make those around him better (such as setting screens, rebounding, guarding the opposing team’s best player, etc.).
While it isn’t fair or accurate to compare Jordan’s responsibilities with a modern day superstar, thanks to LeBron James we know this player must be accountable for so much more than putting the ball in the basket (which is the ultimate scale Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady—a few heirs to Jordan’s thrown—were graded on).
It’s a mindset we’ve already seen the league’s future stars realize as they attempt to incorporate James’ All-Universe skill set into their own profile. This is the new definition of a superstar, mostly thanks to rule changes and smarter, more devastating defensive play.
Here are four young players who are either centimeters away from superstardom already, or are potentially on the right track. (Only four because we’re talking about superstar level talent here, an elite category just a handful of players are slotted in every year.)
They aren’t necessarily "redefining" the superstar narrative, because only the best of the best (James) can hold that responsibility. These four won’t eventually become the four best players in the world, but their positions, team-wide responsibility and playing style offers them the potential to pave the current superstar narrative’s road with harder concrete.