Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of Luka Doncic’s NBA debut. This story was initially revealed on Aug. 25.
We hear you, Mark Cuban. Actually, we do.
“Do not attempt to evaluate him to others. He’s blazing his personal path,” the Dallas Mavericks‘ proprietor tweeted in August following Luka Doncic‘s 43-point triple-double and winning step-back 3-pointer in Recreation 4 in opposition to the LA Clippers in Spherical 1 of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
However we simply can not help ourselves.
Neither can Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, by the way in which, who again mentioned Larry Bird while gushing about Doncic’s dominance in Recreation 4.
Sure, plenty of what Doncic is doing is unprecedented. For instance, no one else in NBA historical past has ever capped a 40-plus-point playoff triple-double by drilling a profitable buzzer-beater, as Doncic did to even the sequence between his underdog Mavs and the Clippers.
And Doncic, now on the ripe previous age of 21, has staked his declare because the youngest ever to report an extended checklist of unbelievable statistical feats.
Certain, Doncic is blazing his personal path. However the child additionally reminds plenty of basketball lifers of the journeys of a few of the legends who’ve come earlier than him. We have collected probably the most telling comparisons from Doncic’s first two NBA seasons.
Why younger Luka is like present LeBron
Dwyane Wade, retired 13-time NBA All-Star: “Quote me proper the place I say this — it is LeBron James-like from the standpoint of how he is capable of rope that cross to shooters in corners, getting blitzed. There’s not many guys who can do this and put it proper there. He does an incredible job of it.”
Steve Nash, NBA Corridor of Fame guard: “The numbers are a bit inflated due to the tempo and the hand test. However nonetheless, I do suppose LeBron was so gifted, however I don’t think he was as polished as Luka.”
Kendrick Perkins, ESPN analyst and 14-year NBA veteran: “The physicality, the basketball IQ, the passing, the rebounding, the power to go on the market and rating in a wide range of methods, not simply one-dimensional. … He’s a child LeBron, minus the hops.”
Jay Williams, ESPN analyst and former NBA guard: “I’ve usually mentioned that he’s a less athletic but more skilled 20-year-old version of LeBron James.”
It is a testomony to James’ one-of-a-kind talent set that few gamers, if any, have been marketed as “the subsequent LeBron” regardless of the handfuls of “subsequent Michael Jordans” we obtained throughout and after Jordan’s enjoying profession. Doncic is not James both, however in vital methods he comes nearer than anybody ever has.
The six most comparable seasons to Doncic’s 2019-20 marketing campaign based on my SCHOENE system, which considers top, weight and 11 key statistics? All by James, from every of his previous six seasons. (James Harden‘s 2016-17 is subsequent.) Conversely, Doncic this season additionally scores because the closest comp for James’ efficiency this yr.
In some methods, James has advanced into enjoying the fashion Doncic got here into the league enjoying. Their age-20 seasons do not charge as particularly comparable, partly as a result of James wasn’t but as prolific a playmaker or as environment friendly a shooter contained in the arc. A part of that may be attributed to how the league has modified over the previous 15 years, as each rule adjustments and improved spacing have given extra freedom to perimeter creators with dimension.
That mentioned, their early success positively is a degree of comparability. Amongst seasons begun at age 20 or youthful for the reason that NBA-ABA merger, Doncic’s 2019-20 ranks sixth when it comes to wins above alternative participant (WARP) per recreation performed by my metric. Naturally, the highest two seasons have been each by James.
For all of the similarities, the variations between Doncic and James are hanging, too. As many skilled observers have famous, their comparable statistics are the product of various kinds — James’ primarily based extra on athleticism and a superhuman reminiscence that has processed each technique doable, Doncic’s extra on his preternatural talent and savvy.
This disconnect is most clear on protection, the place James developed right into a standout throughout his prime years who can nonetheless dial it up in the proper setting to take opponents out of the sport. Protection just isn’t a robust go well with for Doncic, and his comparatively restricted foot pace implies that it would by no means be.
Nonetheless, given the way in which we have seen James mature and add to his recreation yr after yr, it is thrilling to suppose Doncic may comply with an analogous trajectory.
— Kevin Pelton
Is Luka borrowing from The Beard?
Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors head coach: “He is obtained this James Harden skill set with crossovers and step-backs. He is an excellent participant and so younger, and he will be one of many cornerstones of this league for a very long time.”
Doc Rivers, LA Clippers head coach: “He is a mixture of loads. [James] Harden, in some methods. Clearly the Larry Fowl comparability. … He has nice imaginative and prescient, LeBron-ish. There’s lots of people in him. However I feel … when he retires, persons are going to say he was Luka.”
A bemused rival govt despatched a textual content as Doncic took one more journey to the free throw line throughout an early-season recreation.
“Seems to be like Luka has seen each Beard recreation tape from the previous 3 years,” the manager texted. “He is utilizing all of the tips.”
Many people across the NBA take into account James Harden, the Houston Rockets‘ perennial MVP candidate, one of the best comparability for Doncic. They’ve comparable physique sorts as massive, highly effective level guards and delicate athleticism, particularly their uncommon deceleration and the power to remain in management whereas slamming on the brakes and altering instructions with the ball of their fingers. It is not a coincidence that Doncic’s recreation incessantly appears to be like loads like Harden’s stylistically.
That between-the-legs bounce pass Doncic delivered to Maxi Kleber for a dagger dunk to assist beat the Bucks within the bubble? Harden’s spotlight reel options a number of comparable dimes to former Rockets roll man Clint Capela.
All of the artful ways in which Doncic attracts contact whereas driving? Certain, he has borrowed from Harden’s bag of tips. Similar with the footwork for step-back 3s, such because the one Doncic splashed on the Recreation 4 buzzer to beat the Clippers.
“I watch plenty of his movie, for certain,” Doncic mentioned throughout his rookie season. “Particularly the drawing fouls and the step-back.”
It is not truthful to match Doncic to Harden on the identical age. “The Beard” hadn’t even earned his nickname at that time, when he was averaging 12.2 factors and a pair of.1 assists per recreation because the Thunder’s sixth man and third offensive possibility behind a few different future MVPs.
Squint laborious sufficient whereas watching Doncic now and also you would possibly see Harden in his early prime, when he was a seasoned All-Star who nonetheless ran a ton of pick-and-roll. Doncic’s shot profile now appears to be like loads like Harden’s in his first season enjoying for coach Mike D’Antoni.
Within the years since, the Rockets have primarily scrapped the pick-and-roll to permit Harden to isolate over and again and again, as his step-back has turn into arguably probably the most harmful weapon in basketball. Harden was 191-of-517 (36.9%) on step-back 3s this season, per NBA.com stats; Doncic tried the second most within the league, going 93-of-273 (34.1%).
What occurs if Doncic develops a step-back as environment friendly as Harden’s? Has Harden’s stylistic evolution supplied a blueprint for Doncic?
That is the place Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the architect of the Doncic-run offense that set an NBA report for points-per-possession effectivity, slams the brakes on the comparability.
“It is vital that this isn’t the subsequent model of James Harden,” Carlisle informed ESPN earlier than this season. “That is the primary Luka Doncic, and it is a man that is carving out a really particular area of interest in immediately’s recreation.”
— Tim MacMahon
The most effective European participant and the best Mav?
Jerry West, NBA Corridor of Fame guard: “He would be the greatest participant Dallas has ever had. I’ve nice respect for Nowitzki, however Dirk just isn’t him. … [Doncic] hasn’t even scratched the floor. It’s fun to watch genius.”
Shawn Marion, former Mav and 16-year NBA veteran: “For him to be as poised and have the boldness and the cockiness, form of like a bit swagger that he has, at this younger in a profession may be very, very uncommon. What he is doing proper now, he can possibly be better than Dirk.”
Dirk Nowitzki, by no means one who craved the highlight, definitely did not thoughts that his unofficial farewell tour was usually overshadowed by the arrival of one other European sensation in Dallas.
That Nowitzki and Doncic shared a season as teammates was a deal with to Mavericks followers, who have been so lucky to comply with your entire profession of one of the best European import in NBA historical past, after which obtained to see the large German cross the torch to a Slovenian child who may knock him right down to second on that checklist.
Nonetheless, apart from their native continent and NBA employer, Doncic and Nowitzki haven’t got an entire lot in frequent.
Their video games are utterly completely different. Nowitzki was the sweetest-shooting 7-footer to ever play, and Doncic has extra in frequent with the surefire Corridor of Fame level guards who delivered Dirk the ball, form of a supersized mix of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.
In addition they took completely completely different paths to the NBA. Nowitzki’s earlier professional expertise was enjoying for his hometown Wurzburg X-Rays within the German league’s second division. Doncic left dwelling at 13 and spent most of his teenagers enjoying for Actual Madrid, the most important powerhouse in European hoops, arriving in America as a champion and MVP on this planet’s greatest league exterior the NBA.
“This child simply has a lot extra swag than I did,” Nowitzki mentioned on a number of events final season, much more impressed by Doncic’s confidence and on-court charisma than his breathtaking expertise. Nowitzki spent his rookie yr questioning whether or not he made a mistake by leaving dwelling. At 21, he had simply began to determine himself as a top quality NBA starter.
Doncic electrified the league as a teenage rookie and has been a dominant pressure in his second season, making his potential appear limitless. It feels destined that he’ll match Nowitzki as Mavs who earned MVP and Finals MVP honors. Heck, it would be a bit disappointing if Doncic would not win these awards on a number of events.
If he is sturdy sufficient, Doncic is an efficient wager to additionally be a part of Nowitzki within the unique 30,000-point membership, contemplating he already has 3,285 factors within the financial institution and solely just lately has been capable of purchase a beer in the US. What’s scary is that scoring is not even what the child does greatest.
Mavs followers, from Mark Cuban as much as the parents within the nosebleed seats on the American Airways Heart, simply hope that Doncic follows Dirk’s footsteps by spending a whole two-decade profession in Dallas.
A mixture of Magic and Fowl?
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs head coach: “It is Magic Johnson-like within the sense that he sees the ground in that very same manner. He is obtained an actual intuitive sense and you’ll’t educate that. He’s just got it, and he’s great at it.“
Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks head coach: “He is aware of the place everyone just isn’t solely on offense, however protection. That’s the sign of a savant-type guy. I’ve performed with Larry Fowl. He may see every thing like that. I had the privilege of teaching Jason Kidd. He may see every thing like that. Luka is in that very same mould.”
Kerr: “You understand, he is obtained this unbelievable knack for seeing the ground and being a step forward. He jogs my memory a bit little bit of Larry Fowl in that regard. He’s kind of one step ahead in the chess match.“
Jalen Rose, ESPN analyst and 13-year NBA veteran: “I’ve by no means in contrast a participant to [Larry Bird] till now. … Within the fashionable recreation, if he was dealing with the ground as the first ball handler, he would look like Luka.”
Mark Jackson, former NBA participant and coach and present broadcaster: “To me, Luka Doncic is an absolute mixture of Magic Johnson and Larry Fowl.”
We nonetheless know them as “Magic and Larry” due to their intertwined careers and extremely inventive talent units. So it is solely becoming that each NBA legends have been used as Doncic comparisons.
The Johnson comp stems from Doncic’s mixture of dimension and playmaking skill. The time period “triple-double” was popularized to seize Johnson’s versatility, and he nonetheless leads all gamers in NBA historical past with 30 postseason triple-doubles. With a pair of triple-doubles in his first 4 playoff video games, Doncic — who grew to become the third-youngest participant to report a playoff triple-double, behind Johnson and James — is coming for that report.
Any time a participant with the dimensions of a ahead is used solely at level guard, some debt is owed to Johnson’s Corridor of Fame profession. His success, and the 5 championships the Lakers gained throughout 9 NBA Finals appearances within the 12 years earlier than his compelled retirement as a consequence of HIV, made massive level guards a brand new customary.
By means of two seasons, Doncic has already made extra 3-pointers (339) than Johnson in his whole profession (325). Even accounting for the leaguewide reluctance to shoot 3s again within the Eighties, Johnson stood out as a non-shooter. It wasn’t till his tenth season that Johnson made greater than 11 triples. And that is why Jackson compares Doncic to Johnson and Fowl.
As a shooter, Doncic appears to be like prone to land someplace within the broad gulf between Johnson and Fowl. Whereas Doncic has made extra much more 3s in every of his two NBA campaigns than Fowl ever did in a season, that owes to the rise in makes an attempt leaguewide. Fowl was a profession 38% shooter, far outstripping Doncic’s 32% accuracy to this point. And whereas their shot patterns are very completely different, Fowl’s free throw taking pictures (89%) put him far forward of Doncic (74%) as effectively.
Whereas Fowl wasn’t the form of ball handler that Doncic and Johnson are, Fowl’s courtroom imaginative and prescient at his dimension (6-foot-9) and creativity feed into the comparability.
Projecting far into the longer term, Doncic would possibly set himself other than Magic and Larry by advantage of longevity. Amongst ESPN’s top 10 NBA players of all time as voted on in May, Johnson (906 video games) and Fowl (897) had the 2 shortest careers. If Doncic can keep wholesome, his early begin offers him an opportunity to crush these totals.