Bleacher Report NBA StaffFebruary 10, 2024

Every 2024 Super Bowl Star’s NBA Kindred Spirit

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for The Match

    Does an outrageous Patrick Mahomes throw ever remind you of a Stephen Curry deep three?

    If it does, this article is for you.

    The B/R NBA Staff took 10 of the biggest stars in this year’s Super Bowl and found their NBA kindred spirit.

    Each team had five players represented: a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and pass-rusher.

    It just so happens that the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs have stars at all five positions, so we cut it off there, with all due respect to Brandon Aiyuk, Fred Warner, Trent Williams, L’Jarius Sneed and others who could’ve appeared on this list.

    Only current NBA players were considered for this article. But it’s worth noting that for the NBA veterans included here who are past their primes, we thought of their prime years when making the comparison.

    Among the factors considered when matching the NFL and NBA stars were physical attributes; individual accolades; draft status; play style; how they are perceived by the masses; and just about anything one would think of when comparing athletes from different sports.

    Staff editors Joey Akeley and Bryan Toporek contributed to this article.

49ers QB Brock Purdy = Austin Reaves

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    Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

    Purdy and Reaves are most similar for being totally overlooked in their drafts—Purdy was the last pick of his draft and Reaves went undrafted. There was a time when athletes with out-of-nowhere success stories were universally loved, but that was before the daily social media discourse became prevalent.

    Reaves’ second-year leap was magnified by the Lakers’ hype machine, and some fans were upset about all the attention he was getting. That combined with his propensity to embellish contact to get to the free-throw line led to negative hot takes about him.

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Unless you live under a rock, you know that Purdy has been the most divisive subject for the 2023 NFL season. We can expect that a 49ers loss in the Super Bowl would be the catalyst for a new level of Purdy vitriol, as many who believe he’s overrated would feel validated.

    Purdy and Reaves didn’t do anything to deserve this negativity. They are mostly quiet, “let my game do the talking” players. And it’s not all negativity surrounding them, as they do have tons of fans.

    But whether it’s their draft status or the fact that they don’t have elite physical attributes, they face a lot of undue criticism.

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes = Stephen Curry

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for The Match

    Stephen Curry broke the NBA with his otherworldly shooting range. Defenders having to guard him 30 feet from the basket effectively changed the geometry of the court.

    Sound familiar?

    Like Curry, Patrick Mahomes is a revolutionary. He might not be as adept at scrambling as Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields, but he’s fleet enough on foot to escape a crumbling pocket and make magic happen with his arm or his legs.

    And just like Curry, he’s undefendable at times. Really, how do you stop this?

    Whether it’s a jump pass, a no-look pass, a shovel pass at the goal line or a behind-the-back pass, Mahomes is capable of outrageous things that other stars don’t even have the audacity to try. The same goes for Curry, who has long tormented opponents with high-risk passes and three-pointers from unfathomable distances.

    Both are multiple-time champions and all-time greats for a reason.

49ers RB Christian McCaffrey = Kawhi Leonard

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    Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

    McCaffrey and Leonard are uniquely valuable because of their versatility.

    McCaffrey would likely be a starting wide receiver if he wasn’t a running back. One could make the case he’s the best runner in football—and he’s undoubtedly in the top five—and he’s unquestionably the best receiving running back in football.

    Leonard has often been labeled the best two-way player in the NBA. He’s an elite scorer (seven seasons with at least 21 points per game) and defender (seven All-Defensive selections).

    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Neither player is flashy. Both are quiet. They are all about handling business.

    And if it weren’t for injuries in their past, they’d likely have even more personal accolades.

Chiefs RB Isiah Pacheco = Jimmy Butler

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Jimmy Butler came into the 2011 NBA draft as a relatively unheralded prospect out of Marquette. The Chicago Bulls took him with the final pick in the first round, and after a quiet rookie season, he quickly cemented himself as a future star.

    More than anything else, toughness may be Butler’s defining trait. His work ethic is the stuff of legend—who could forget when he had security called on him for dribbling a ball in his hotel room during the NBA bubble?—and he consistently levels up in the playoffs. He’s guided the Miami Heat to two NBA Finals appearances and another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2019-20 alone.

    Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

    Isiah Pacheco was also an afterthought when the Chiefs selected him with a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. They spent a first-round pick on fellow running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire two years earlier, so Pacheco just figured to serve as a change-of-pace complement at best.

    There was just one problem: Pacheco runs angry. Dallas Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis even said he “run like he bite people.” (Pacheco later tried to dispel that particular description, but it’s true.)

    Pacheco had 37 carries for 197 yards and one touchdown during the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run last season, and he’s up to 63 carries for 254 yards and three touchdowns in this year’s playoffs so far. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan recently called him “one of the most consistent players in the NFL” and said he “runs extremely hard.”

    Both Butler and Pacheco embrace physicality and don’t shy away from contact, especially once the playoffs begin. Butler may be the bigger star between the two, but they both have a junkyard dog in them.

49ers WR Deebo Samuel = Russell Westbrook

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    Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

    Put simply, the combination of physicality and athleticism that Samuel and Westbrook display is almost entirely without precedent. Nothing energizes their teammates quite like a Samuel or Westbrook highlight.

    They both have one “flaw” that is often cited by their detractors.

    Westbrook’s is jump-shooting. That’s most easily backed up by his career 30.5 three-point percentage.

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Samuel’s is route running, or at least Chauncey Gardner-Johnson thinks so. It’s outrageous to say Samuel “can’t run routes,” but it’s fair to say he’s not in the same tier as teammate Brandon Aiyuk in that category.

    These flaws haven’t held them back much—Samuel was a first-team All-Pro in 2021, and Westbrook won the NBA MVP award for the 2016-17 season.

Chiefs WR Rashee Rice = Jalen Williams

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    Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Jalen Williams entered the 2022 NBA draft after a breakout season at Santa Clara, and the Oklahoma City Thunder took him with the No. 12 overall pick. He got off to a quiet start as a rookie, but he began flashing his star potential after he became a full-time starter.

    Williams now looks like a clear future All-Star and the third leg of a budding Big Three in OKC. He was a Draft Twitter favorite, so as an added bonus, everyone gets to take a victory lap about him.

    Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

    Rashee Rice appears to be on a similar trajectory. The SMU product kicked off his rookie season with a touchdown catch in his first game, but he only topped 70 yards once in his first 10 games. But starting with an eight-catch, 107-yard eruption against the Las Vegas Raiders in late November, Rice had 70 or more yards in five of his last nine games.

    Rice followed a monstrous playoff debut (eight catches, 130 yards and one touchdown) with two quiet performances (a combined eight catches for 93 yards and zero touchdowns) leading up to the Super Bowl. We have yet to see Williams in the playoffs, although we will in the next few months barring a catastrophic Thunder collapse.

    Despite coming from non-Power Five schools, both Rice and Williams have established themselves as young building blocks on championship-caliber teams. Congratulations, Draft Twitter. You did it again.

49ers TE George Kittle = Klay Thompson

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

    Finding a match for Kittle proved difficult. Here is a list of things about him that came to mind:

    • universally loved
    • on a Hall of Fame trajectory
    • a bit quirky in press conferences
    • extremely physical (e.g., he loves pancaking defenders more than catching TD passes)
    • WWE enthusiast

    We couldn’t think of an NBA player who matched four of these five. Thompson matches the first three, so he’s the pick, and it some ways it’s perfect. After all, if fans had a choice of hanging out with any two Bay Area athletes, these two might be the most popular choices.

    Thompson has endeared himself to the masses with China Klay, sailing and Rocco.

    The People’s Tight End is perhaps best known for spawning the idea of National Tight Ends Day.

    I mean, how can you not love these guys?

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce = Draymond Green

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Draymond Green is a four-time NBA champion and an indispensable part of one of the greatest dynasties of all time. He’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer one day.

    But he’s not only elite at basketball. He’s also one of the best sports podcasters in the game today. He uses that gift of the gab on the court, too, as he’s one of the league’s top trash talkers as well.

    Travis Kelce is a two-time NFL champion and an indispensable part of perhaps the NFL’s next great dynasty. He’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer one day.

    But he’s not only elite at basketball. He’s also one of the best sports podcasters in the game today. He uses that gift of the gab on the field, too, as he’s one of the league’s top trash talkers as well.

    Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    Kelce is statistically one of the greatest tight ends of all time, whereas Green’s value is less tangibly captured in stats. His versatility allowed the Warriors to roll out a small-ball, five-out lineup that revolutionized the way that the NBA is played today.

    The Chiefs haven’t had quite the same effect—there’s only one Patrick Mahomes, after all—but Kelce’s pass-catching ability does set him apart from his peers. He’ll be the first to admit that he isn’t a do-it-all tight end like George Kittle, whose blocking makes him a dual threat, but he set a tight end record with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons.

    You love either of these guys if they’re on your favorite team, and you probably can’t stand them if not. But you can’t help but respect them either way.

49ers DE Nick Bosa = Rudy Gobert

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    This match is all about defensive dominance.

    Gobert has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and made six All-Defensive teams.

    Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Bosa has won one Defensive Player of the Year award and made four Pro Bowls.

    Gobert’s specialty is defending the rim, and Bosa’s is rushing the passer. But they are both well-rounded defenders. Gobert has dispelled the notion that he can’t defend in space, and Bosa is a rugged run defender.

    Years from now, it will be interesting to see who has the better resume. Gobert is the favorite to win the 2023-24 Defensive Player of the Year award, which would be his fourth. Bosa is five years younger and likely to dominate for years to come.

    Both are on a trajectory to finish their careers in the top 10 of their best category (blocks for Gobert; sacks for Bosa).

Chiefs DT Chris Jones = Anthony Davis

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Anthony Davis is one of the best defenders in his generation, but he doesn’t have the hardware to show for it. He led the league in blocks in three of his first six seasons and has four All-Defensive nods, but he has never been named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

    Davis’ problem is that he’s playing in the same era as Rudy Gobert, a three-time DPOY who appears to be headed for his fourth such award this year. Davis has long been one of the league’s most intimidating defenders, but he’s finished in the top three of DPOY voting only twice.

    Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

    The same holds true for Chris Jones, who has anchored Kansas City’s defensive line for most of the past decade. Jones burst onto the scene with a 15.5-sack campaign in 2018, and he’s had nine or more sacks in four of his past seasons.

    Jones has been a Pro Bowler in each of the past five seasons and a first- or second-team All-Pro in five of the past six, but he has finished in the top three of DPOY voting only once. Like Davis, Jones’ problem is that he’s playing in the same era as Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt.

    Neither Jones nor Davis attract as much attention as their more famous teammates, but both can single-handedly wreck a game on defense. They don’t get as much credit as they deserve for what they do defensively.

Who Wins?

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    Set Number: X164099 TK1

    Now that we have a Chiefs-inspired lineup and a 49ers-inspired lineup, let’s predict which NBA quintet would win. Reminder: We’re considering the prime versions of all players.

    The Chiefs’ NBA lineup is:

    • Point guard: Stephen Curry
    • Shooting guard: Jimmy Butler
    • Small forward: Jalen Williams
    • Power forward: Draymond Green
    • Center: Anthony Davis

    The 49ers’ NBA lineup is:

    • Point guard: Russell Westbrook
    • Shooting guard: Austin Reaves
    • Small forward: Klay Thompson
    • Power forward: Kawhi Leonard
    • Center: Rudy Gobert

    It’s fitting that that Mahomes and Kelce became Curry and Green, as both are dominant duos in their sports. Thompson having to go against his longtime teammates would be fascinating.

    The 49ers would be a big underdog if this game was played in 2024. But with everyone in their primes in this hypothetical, it would be a tight battle.

    The Chiefs have advantages at point guard, shooting guard and center, and that would be just enough to put them over the top.

    Does this mean the actual Chiefs will win the Super Bowl? That’s for you to decide.

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