Stephen Curry recently compared Patrick Mahomes to himself saying, “I see a lot of myself in him. Just that creativity. You can’t blink or you’ll miss something special. I just love his confidence. He knows that at any point he can do something special.”
Building off that, I wanted to further dig into NBA stars and their NFL quarterback comparison, whether it be because of their skillset, career path or reputation.
Stephen Curry and Patrick Mahomes
There’s no better place to start. This one was clear long before Curry made the comparison. Both are champions and MVPs. There is not a shot Curry can not make and there is not a throw Mahomes can not complete. The third quarter Warriors were the best offense in the NBA, and the Chiefs can flip any deficit into a lead. On top of that and everything Curry said, the two had near identical two year periods.
The 2015 Golden State Warriors went into the playoffs with homecourt, won their conference and won the finals after trailing 2-1 to the best player in the NBA. The 2019 Chiefs went into the playoffs with home field, aided by the first seed losing early, won the conference and went on to beat the best defense in the NFL after trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter.
The following year, both sides came back with a better record, Warriors 73-9 and the Chiefs 14-2. Curry and Mahomes had to miss time in the playoffs after getting injured/concussed in the first round. They both came back and went on to win the conference before suffering disappointing finals losses with a chance to go back to back. Curry followed this with back-to-back championships, and that will be a possibility for the Chiefs barring any big injuries.
Damian Lilliard and Deshaun Watson
Lillard looks like the closest thing to Curry in terms of play style, and Watson has the same connection to Mahomes. Lilliard and Curry both lead the NBA in shots made from 30-plus feet, and Watson and Mahomes lead the NFL in passer rating from outside the pocket. While there is not a sound argument to Lillard being better than Curry and Watson being better than Mahomes, both of them are close behind and the two’s individual success can leave you thinking how they may fare if they were in the others situation. On top of that, they both had playoff rounds against the other with semi-favorable circumstances. Lillard and the Blazers faced the Warriors in the 2019 western conference finals with Kevin Durant out, and had double digit leads in games two, three and four. The Houston Texans had the Chiefs in the 2020 AFC divisional round, and got out to a 24-0 lead. The Blazers could not hang on to any of the leads and the Texans saw the Chiefs finish the game on a 51-7 run.
James Harden and Aaron Rodgers
Both these players will go down as historic offensive talents. Harden may be the best isolation scorer in NBA history, or at least amongst the elite. Rodgers might be the most talented quarterback to ever play the position. Harden has one MVP and three second place finishes, Rodgers has three MVPs. Rodgers is the more successful one, with more MVPs and winning his lone finals appearance while Harden lost his.
Along with their talent, they each have their own way to manipulate a defense. Harden is one of the best in the NBA at drawing fouls and getting to the line, while Rodgers has the best hard count in the NFL and will always catch you if you have 12 men on the field.
Both of these players are two of the more polarizing stars in their respective sport. They have shared recent playoff disappointment and have often received an unfair amount of individual blame for the losses. This goes for Rodgers against Tampa Bay in the NFC championship game and Harden against the Warriors in 2019 Western Conference Semifinals.
As of now their legacies are more about the talent they dominated their position with than team success but the door is still open for both of them to get championships in the upcoming seasons.
Russell Westbrook and Cam Newton
These players are both underappreciated and overly criticised in the media. Their games are both based around their athleticism and both of them have an MVP award and a finals loss. The further the two of them get from their primes, the more underrated those years are starting to become in the eyes of many. Neither gets the benefit of the context for their recent struggles either. Anybody reading this could play wide receiver for the New England Patriots and the Washington Wizards are statistically the worst defensive team in the NBA.
They are both in a lose-lose scenario when it comes to recent injuries. Neither gets the benefit of the doubt when injuries affect their performances, Westbrook’s quad in the 2020 NBA playoffs and Newton’s shoulder in the second half of the 2018 NFL season, but both are now considered injury prone players as a knock to them.
Westbrook has numbed people to how impressive a triple-double is, and Newton’s rushing element often goes under the radar now. Off of the field, both dress flamboyantly and have strong personalities, and somehow that wrongly gets connected to any bad performances. Despite the media criticism, Westbrook and Newton seem to be some of the most loved players by their teammates when they are asked about them.
Luka Doncic and Justin Herbert
Both players fell in the draft, with Doncic being the third pick and Herbert being the seventh pick and the third quarterback taken. They both were quick to make those decisions look like mistakes and will always be linked to those picked around them, specifically Trae Young and Tua Tagovailoa.
Doncic led the Mavericks in every scoring category and had eight triple-doubles his rookie season, the third most for a rookie in NBA history. Herbert surpassed 4,000 yards as a rookie and set the rookie record with 31 passing touchdowns. Doncic won the 2019 rookie of the year and Herbert was the 2020 offensive rookie of the year. Despite both of them finishing with losing records, there was no question on the talent.
Doncic was quick to become a borderline top five player in the league and added to that his second season. Herbert looked like a potential top five quarterback in the NFL, finishing top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns with expectations to make a similar second year jump as his NBA counterpart.
Zion Williamson and Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence has not played an NFL game, or even been drafted, so this is solely off of the hype the two received and will receive. WIlliamson was an obvious first overall pick and his arrival made the draft lottery more important than other years. Lawrence is coming to the NFL with the same circumstances and the race for the first pick between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets was clear early in the season.
Everything Williamson did in his rookie year was documented, and he dominated the major networks social media accounts with his highlight plays and statlines. I’d be surprised if every big Trevor Larence play did not receive the same attention. He will also come in as the overwhelming favorite to win offensive rookie of the year.
Lebron James and Tom Brady
This one’s obvious and straightforward. I’m sure everyone knows the connection so I’ll just move onto the next one.
Jimmy Butler and Ryan Tannehill + Derrick Henry’s production
I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. This is strictly in career paths and not personality or overall talent. Jimmy Butler led all of his old teams, the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers, to the playoffs. His talent was never doubted, but there were questions about his effect in the locker room and if he was a good presence or not. When he went to Miami, there were questions on if he really went there to compete, especially in the Philadelphia media.
Ryan Tannehill helped lead his original team, the Miami Dolphins, to the playoffs in 2016. He missed the end of the season with a torn ACL and could not play in the wild card round, but he had an 8-5 record as the starter as the Dolphins went 10-6. He was eventually traded to the Tennessee Titans for lower round picks to be a backup or at best to compete for the starting spot with Marcus Mariota. When he got the starting spot, he went on to make a deep playoff run. Henry’s production is important here to bridge the gap but Tannehill still showed he could make when they had to be made.
Both the Heat and the Titans playoff runs consisted of beating the team with the best record in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks and Baltimore Ravens. Both teams knocked out a Boston team that was favored in the matchup, the Boston Celtics and New England Patriots. Both of them saw their runs come to an end at the hands of eventual champions who had the best player in their respective leagues, the Los Angeles Lakers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Ben Simmons and Lamar Jackson
Giannis Antetokounmpo is often the go-to for a Jackson comparison, but I find Simmons to be more fitting. Both of them have shown their talent in the regular season as soon as they became starters. Neither of them have had the same fortunes in the postseason yet. They have each had disappointing losses in rounds when they may have underperformed, Jackson to the Titans in 2019 and Simmons to the Celtics in 2018. The following year they had closer contested playoff rounds that still did not go in their favor, with the Ravens losing to the Bills and the Sixers getting eliminated by the Raptors.
Both are accomplished individually as well. Jackson has an MVP and All-Pro first team appearance. Simmons has won Rookie of the Year and made the All-NBA defensive team and All-NBA third team last season.
Both of them will see the court/field heavily open up if their game expands. If Simmons develops an outside shot, it will open up the floor more for his passing and driving. If Lamar’s downfield passing improves, teams will not be able to watch out for his running as much.
Paul George and Russell Wilson
Both of these players have had early career highs they have not been able to return to. In 2013, Paul George took the Miami Heat’s big three to seven games in the eastern conference final. That same year, Russell Wilson won the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks.
The next year, George met the Heat in the conference finals again, this time with home court, but would fall to the same result. Wilson would make it back to the Superbowl, but this time was one play away from winning again. Wilson clearly had more success, but to be fair to Paul George, he was going against Lebron James and the Heat.
Since then, neither of them has been back to the same stage. Wilson has not switched teams like George has, but he has gone through the Seahawks constantly changing their identity and play style.
On top of everything, both players have had slogans and nicknames that are usually referenced after any down game. George dubbed himself ‘Playoff P’ but has not had much success since, and ‘Let Russ Cook’ did not end with Wilson winning MVP or a playoff game this previous season.
Anthony Davis and Matthew Stafford
Both of these players were putting up consistent stats for teams that did not see much success. They have each made the playoffs with their original teams. While they were always recognized as being talented, the lack of team success meant that they were often out of the conversation in the national media.
When they wanted to be traded, they both got traded to teams in Los Angeles with championship foundations. The Rams have the best defense in the NFL, great skill players and a great coach. The Lakers have all that in the form of one man, Lebron James. Davis lived up to the championship expectations in his first season. Stafford has not had his opportunity yet.
Chris Paul and Drew Brees
Both of them are undersized precision passers who have never relied on athleticism to succeed. As things look right now, both of their championship windows are past them, leaving recent playoff heartbreak heavy on the mind.
Paul has the Los Angeles Clippers blown 3-1 lead against the Houston Rockets, his injury against Golden State in 2018 when the Rockets were up 3-2 and losing to the Warriors in 2019 after Kevin Durant went down injured on his recent resume. Brees had the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018, the controversial loss to the Rams in 2019 and the overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings in 2019.
Brees does have the championship that still eludes Paul. CP3 should be around for a few more seasons though, and who knows if he will find himself on a contender again. It’s highly doubtful that the Phoenix Suns will challenge for a championship in his time there, but it’s impossible to rule out what may happen in his next contract.
Follow Adam Bakr on Twitter @AdamBakr14.