Something strange has happened this NBA season. A rift has opened in space-time, and out of it stepped the perfect NBA player of the future. A chimeric cyborg crafted out of parts of each of our heroes.
The world had already seen Luka Doncic — but not like this.
Last season he had been a fresh-faced, chubby-cheeked rookie for the Dallas Mavericks. This player looks like Luka, he even has the signature pinchable cheeks, but…his game was much more mature. Much more deadly. Surely Doncic couldn’t have taken such a huge leap forward in only one summer.
And yet, he did. Over the first 17 games of the 2019-2020 season, Luka Doncic has averaged 30.1 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.5 assists on 48.5% shooting from the field. In his second year in the NBA, at age 20, Luka is having one of the most dominant NBA seasons of all time. His signature step-back crossover three has become the stuff of nightmares for defending point guards, and he displays the same fearlessness, polish, and incredible control of his body on his deft floaters and lay-ups. “Cool Hand Luka,” as fans call him, has become a threat to score from anywhere on the floor, or dish it out to any of the three point shooters the Mavericks have surrounded him with.
More amazing than anything has been Doncic’s consistency at such a young age. Doncic has scored in double digits in each game he’s played this season. He’s only scored below twenty points once all season so far, when he was held to 12 by the Denver Nuggets in late October. In the 13 games since that 12-point performance, Luka has scored 30 or more points eight times, and 40 or more twice, generally shooting around 50% from the field. Very few NBA players develop this kind of consistent scoring ability when they’re this young, though of course, very few NBA players had been playing basketball professionally for a legendary team (Real Madrid) at the age of 16, too.
At age 20, Luka is averaging a near triple double–if he can get his assist average up just slightly, he’ll be the youngest player to ever average a triple-double. If he can do that while keeping his field goal percentage near 50%, he would be the most efficient shooter to ever average a triple double. At 21.
It is not outlandish to say that Luka has already shown clear signs of being not only a Hall of Famer, but, if he stays healthy, the greatest player of his generation. And, like most greats, Luka’s young career has been defined by an iconic instant classic against the clear greatest player of the generation that preceded his: LeBron james. Think of Michael Jordan’s 63 point playoff performance versus Larry Bird’s Celtics, or when Kobe Bryant and Jordan dueled in the 1998 All Star game. While an early regular season NBA match-up doesn’t carry the same inherent drama as either of those situations, Luka and Bron both played to the level that a match-up between them calls for. In the first game between the Lakers and Mavericks of the season, LeBron and Luka simultaneously became the youngest and oldest players to ever score 30 or more points in a triple double performance. In this performance, it’s easy to see why Luka has been compared to LeBron, o more accurately, a version of LeBron drafted in the late 2010s. While Luka doesn’t have the brilliant athleticism LeBron has flashed since he was drafted, Doncic has entered the league a better outside shooter than LeBron was during his first few seasons. LeBron’s memorable performance, as well as his off-court comments about Luka’s game and his razzmatazz hop-skiddly-doo, reflect a clear respect for the young Doncic, and a clear recognition that he is among the NBA’s elite. When a player has earned that kind of reverence from the league’s elder statesman, the man who knows the game better than anyone else in the world, it’s clear that he is something special.
But for those of you not yet singing Halleluka yet, and say it’s too early to give Luka Doncic this kind of praise (even though, um, LeBron James would disagree with you), I invite you to compare his second year stats so far with stats from various greats in the second full season of their career (at least 50 games):
Luka Doncic’s 20-year season mirror’s LeBron’s very closely, while standing out as significantly better than Kevin Durant’s and bearing a striking resemblance to triple-double club founder Oscar Robertson’s sophomore season. Of course, it’s a long season, and Luka’s numbers may drop over the rest of the season—but I cannot see them falling off so much that his stats seem out of place among the other players on that table. His defensive numbers show that there’s clearly room for improvement on that end of the floor, but every player on that chart has a hole in their game. They were all still in the early stages of their development, as is Luka Doncic.
It is mind boggling to think of how high Luka Doncic’s ceiling could be with him already performing at this level, so young. It’s already clear that Doncic is a generational talent that anyone would be happy to have on their team—unless of course, they have beef with his dad. Even against the Clippers, who threw the two best wing defenders in the league in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George at Doncic, he still was able to manage 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists—an off game perhaps, but not a bad one by any means. The sky’s the limit for Luka; he’s already nearly averaging a triple double, and shows a lot of potential as an outside shooter. I’ll leave you with some wild, way too early speculations Could Doncic eventually become the first player to both average a triple double and shoot 50/40/90 during his career? Or in the same season?
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
For more thoughts and opinions from Dani, click here.