Penny Hardaway was the player that got me hooked on the NBA. He was unlike any other player back then. He was a rangy 6’7” wing who could handle the rock, drop dimes, and dunk on people’s heads. Penny was like a fighter jet on the court - he would smoothly cruise along the court until it was time to engage. Then he’d lock in and go into attack mode to make a play, usually one that ends up as a highlight.
I miss watching Penny play. That’s why when I see players that remind me of him, I tune into their games or dive into their highlight packages. These three players remind me of Penny but in a lot of ways, they’re also evolutions of the OG.
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Penny walked so that LaMelo could run.
Besides the obvious similarities in their height and the position that they play, their progression as players is very similar. Penny averaged 16-6-5 in his first year before taking a huge leap in his second year to bring up his line to 20-7-4. LaMelo put up 15-6-6 in his rookie year and last season averaged 20-7-6.
As the lead guard of the Hornets, LaMelo’s ability to pass will always be the one skill that will link him to Penny. LaMelo is slightly flashier as a passer but both players knew how to get the ball exactly where their teammates needed it to be.
What’s more interesting to me is how LaMelo’s scoring reminds me of how Penny got his buckets.
There are major differences, of course. LaMelo is a better shooter and uses the floater more. Penny worked in the midrange and was more explosive. What reminded me of Penny was how LaMelo understands that his passing is his deadliest weapon. They both used that to their advantage to be able to score.
Check out this fake pass by Penny before taking it all the way to the hoop:
Then watch LaMelo freeze the D by holding the ball like he was going to whip it out to an open player before going in for the reverse dunk:
LaMelo and Penny both use their length and height to create highlights. Now, if only Michael Jordan can find him his version of Shaquille O’Neal so that they can start dominating the East.
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray was awesome last season. As the focal point of the San Antonio Spurs, he stepped up his game and was a walking triple-double threat. He put on an All-Star performance all season long, averaging 21-8-9. It reminded me of Penny’s 1995-1996 season. Penny’s numbers weren’t as staggering as Dejounte’s, but his averages were All-NBA worthy (21.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.1 APG).
One stat that’s exactly the same for both players during those seasons is their average steals. Dejounte led the league in steals last season with 138 steals in 68 games, averaging two steals a game. Penny also averaged two steals a game during the ‘95-’96 season, although his totals were higher (166 steals in 82 games). Digging deeper, Dejounte’s Defensive Win Shares last season was 3.4 while Penny’s was also at 3.4 during his run in 1995.
Dejounte and Penny are two different players offensively. But defensively, the similarities go beyond the stats. Both players are long and quick with cat-like reflexes. Both their defensive basketball IQs are off the charts as well. They know when to apply and just how much pressure to put on the ball-handler. Their one-on-one defense is solid but their help defense is exceptional.
Just watch Penny trap the passer in the corner and use his length to bother the pass in this play:
In this play, Dejounte takes away a lazy pass by tipping it loose with his 6’10” wingspan:
Penny followed up his 1996 All-NBA nod with another in 1997. It will be interesting to see if Murray can continue his All-Star run, now that he will be playing alongside Trae Young with the Atlanta Hawks.
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Let’s get this out of the way. Ja is an incredible player. Statistically, he blows Penny out of the water. Last season Ja averaged 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists. The rebounds and assists, Penny can touch. But even in his best season, he couldn’t come close to Ja in scoring.
So what does Ja do that reminds me so much of Penny? It’s his passing. Both players are such crafty passers with crazy court visions.
Penny was a 6’7” point guard, so he could see over his defenders, watch a play develop, and fire off the perfect pinpoint pass. On the break, he could continue to go at top speed, analyze the defense, and drop a dime to a teammate, even one that’s behind him or out of his direct line of sight.
Ja isn’t as tall as Penny. To offset his lack of height, he uses his explosiveness and athleticism to get his passes out. He can hang in the air longer to let a play develop and his quickness also allows him to get the pass off before a defender can recover. Just like Penny, Ja is just as dangerous in the open court. He can lead the break, attract the defense and dump it off to a wide-open teammate.
Check out how Penny fakes a post-up and then gets this pass off in between two defenders:
Now watch Ja with the forward dribble to make it look like he’s going to drive. Then, in one smooth move, he issues a behind-the-back dime to the roll man:
Ja is only going to get better next season, and his stats will most likely continue to shoot up higher than Penny’s. What Penny has done that Ja will never be able to do, though, is cook Michael Jordan.