LeBron James' 21st season in the NBA didn't end the way he wanted. The Los Angeles Lakers were summarily dispatched from the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets again, this time building comfortable leads in each of their four losses following what many called the most competitive postseason sweep ever a year ago. Jamal Murray hit a pair of buzzer-beating game-winners over Los Angeles, too, just further confirmation of just how close yet so far the Lakers really are from top-tier title contention as a potentially transformational offseason dawns.

Don't blame James for his team's first-round letdown, though. Picking up where he left off after a regular season that cemented him as the greatest 39-year-old in league history, James averaged 27.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game on 63.7% true shooting against the Nuggets, taking his game to new heights in the postseason once again.

James no longer has a legitimate claim to the throne reserved for basketball's top player as his 40th birthday approaches. What he made abundantly clear during Los Angeles' five-game loss to Denver, though, is that James somehow remains the type of singular force who can be a playoff game's best player every time he takes the floor. He's still too good for the Lakers to punt on their dreams of winning another title with James and Anthony Davis leading the way.

That ongoing and unprecedented longevity no doubt weighed heavy on the minds of 2024 NBA draft prospects who consider James the GOAT. Then again, the majority of rookies who will enter the NBA in 2024-25 weren't even born when James began his career in 2003-04.

It's not just what James continues to do that separates him from every other player in league annals in the eyes of its next generation. Prospects like Keshad Johnson, Jaylon Tyson, Jesse Edwards and Jaxon Robinson developed their initiial love for the game while watching James cut his teeth as a young player, too.

Most 2024 NBA Draft prospects choose LeBron James as GOAT

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) looks on during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets in game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena
Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

HoopsHype asked seven prospects at the NBA Draft combine this week to name their GOAT. The four players listed above all chose James, alluding to time spent watching him during their formative years as justification for that assessment.

“For me it's LeBron,” Edwards said. “It's just for me, he'll always be the GOAT. Grew up watching him. Yeah, nothing more than that.”

Robinson echoed that sentiment.

“I'd probably say LeBron. I mean, in my generation at least, from watching him with my own two eyes, I've never seen a better basketball player than that,” he said.

Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan isn't the only player other than James to receive a vote as GOAT from the group HoopsHype queried. Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and Phoenix Suns superstar Kevin Durant were also named once each, with KJ Simpson explaining his choice for Bryant by noting “it's just different” for Los Angeles native.

“My GOAT is Kobe,” he said. “I don't wanna disrespect Michael Jordan—he has an aura around him—LeBron, all those guys. But you know, it's just different when you're from LA.”