Starting any sort of GOAT debate involving Luka Doncic is utter blasphemy at this point. Unless the Dallas Mavericks star whips off a run of five or six NBA titles before turning 30, there’s no way we can gauge his GOAT status until at least another decade. But watching what the Mavs star does in his early years could be just as critical in defining his legacy.
Nobody was willing to crown LeBron James as the biggest GOAT contender to Michael Jordan during his early seasons. In fact, back then you’d be ridiculed for even mentioning James in the same breath as MJ, especially after his Cleveland Cavaliers got swept in the NBA Finals in 2007.
“Jordan would never,” loyalists would say. But fast-forward 14 years, four rings, and nine NBA Finals appearances into the future and suddenly the debate is one worth actually discussing. While it’s still clearly early for Luka Doncic, he’ll need to create some legendary playoff milestones even at his infancy stages to even enter the discussion. His first one’s coming up.
Luka Doncic’s Shot at a GOAT Moment
Through eight NBA playoff games, all against the Los Angeles Clippers, Luka Doncic has put up outright video game numbers. The Mavs wunderkind has produced of 32.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. His first sample size is clearly at par with that of Jordan and James.
Michael Jordan’s first eight games, he had similarly absurd norms of 35.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. LeBron James was right there as well with his first-eight averages of 33.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game.
But honestly with the margins being so razor-thin at this point in time, throw all those stats out the window.
The early years of the first two weren’t at all measured by numerical success, but rather iconic moments that defined their legacy going forward. Think of an overmatched Michael Jordan dropping 63 points on 1986 MVP Larry Bird and the eventual champion Celtics at the Boston Garden or LeBron James dismantling one of the greatest defensive teams in NBA history, the Detroit Pistons, in 2007 by scoring his team’s final 25 points in double OT.
Luka Doncic has a chance to forge his own moment in history against the Clippers.
While LA is obviously not an all-time team like the opponents faced by MJ and LeBron, he does have a worthy adversary he must overcome.
If there’s one thing that’s absolutely guaranteed in Game 3 of Mavs-Clippers, it’s that Kawhi Leonard is going to be guarding Luka Doncic. The Clips have their backs against the wall, with Game 3 being as must-win as you can possibly get. Not only would they face clear elimination, but their entire existence in the Kawhi Leonard era would be burnt at the stake in the offseason.
With Doncic tearing them to shreds in Games 1 and 2, look for LA to deploy their 2-time Defensive Player of the Year on him all game.
Lest we forget, after Luka’s epic game-winner to tie the series at 2-2 during the NBA bubble last season, they went on to get blown right out of the bubble in the next two games by 43 and 14 points, respectively. The Clippers have their trump card still available, and you better believe they’ll deploy it.
At 22-years-old, nobody will fault Luka Doncic if he falls under the pressure against Leonard. At this point in his career, he’s actually supposed to succumb to the bigger, badder threat like he did last season. But it’s these types of challenges that separate the All-Stars from the NBA legends.
If the Mavs star can impose his will on the Klaw and render him powerless to stop him despite every incentive to do so, Luka Doncic can put an early imprint on history, just like MJ and LeBron did.