We’re about halfway through the 2018-19 NBA season, and one name has been at the forefront of the conversation for Rookie of the Year.
Doncic has been electric for the Dallas Mavericks, helping to transform them from one of the worst teams in all of basketball to a team with a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. His combination of scoring and playmaking has taken the league by storm, and he seems to be a nightly fixture on NBA highlight reels. Fans are so enamored with the rookie that he currently has more votes for the All-Star Game than former MVPs like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
With this stellar play comes comparisons to some of the all-time greats of the game. His passing ability has drawn comparisons to the likes of Magic Johnson and Steve Nash, and he has been compared to other international superstars like Kristaps Porzingis and teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
Luka Doncic appears to be well on his way to becoming one of the best players in basketball. But could he be on track for something greater?
Around 16 years ago, another rookie set the NBA on fire. Like Doncic, he seemed to be a guard in a forward’s body; a player able to control the game by either scoring or setting up his teammates. This player also had a lot of hype surrounding him in his rookie season, and he was also compared to some of the greatest players of all time.
That player? LeBron James.
James and Doncic may seem like polar opposites at this point in time. LeBron is a four-time league MVP and three-time NBA champion. He has been the standard bearer and the player all others are measured against for the better part of a decade. When it’s all said and done, there’s no question that he’ll be considered for basketball’s proverbial Mount Rushmore.
Luka Doncic on the other hand is, well, a rookie.
Take a closer look at the rookie production of these two, though, and the comparison doesn’t seem too far-fetched. As a rookie, LeBron James posted averages of 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. Doncic’s averages are 19.4 points, 4.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game. At the same stage of their careers, the players are virtually identical in terms of these basic stats, and Doncic is even more efficient.
James won the Rookie of the Year award by a large margin in 2004, and Doncic seems on his way to doing the same in 2019. Doncic also has an opportunity to one-up LeBron’s rookie season by taking the Mavs to the playoffs, something James was unable to do with the Cavs in his rookie season.
The Mavs are competing in a tough Western Conference with a lot of teams capable of making the playoffs. If Doncic were able to lead them to the postseason all while still adjusting to the rigors and pitfalls of NBA life, it would be a remarkable accomplishment. Fans around the country — and the world — would take notice. He would be one of the most popular players in the NBA, all after just one season.
Part of LeBron’s rise to the top was how quickly he was able to define himself as the unquestioned best player of his generation. There were other great players, but it was clear that LeBron was making himself the best one among them. Doncic has the opportunity to do that over these next few seasons, and if he can keep his play at the level it has been for the majority of his rookie season, the sky is the limit.
LeBron was touted as a can’t-miss, once-in-a-generation prospect, and the same could be said for Luka Doncic. But while LeBron cut his teeth against the best of America’s high school talent, Doncic was performing at a high level on the professional stage before he even set foot in the NBA. Doncic was awarded the EuroLeague MVP in his final season with Real Madrid. Real Madrid went on to win the EuroLeague championship last season, and Doncic also won the EuroLeague Final Four MVP. Other awards he collected before being drafted include EuroLeague Rising Star (twice), as well as a gold medal in the EuroBasket competition while playing for his home country of Slovenia.
Doncic has a better resume than some of the best players in the NBA today, and he hasn’t even finished his first season in the league. If he continues on this path, expect him to make multiple All-Star teams, win a few league MVPs, and if he’s lucky, a few NBA championships.
Reaching the standards for greatness that LeBron James has managed to set over his excellent career will be no easy feat. Many have tried and failed in the last decade and a half, and no one has been able to unseat LeBron as the best player in the world. But as LeBron inevitably fades and the throne presents itself to the next generation of great players, don’t be surprised if Luka Doncic is the one who ends up at the top of the heap.