Bold? Yep, but there are so many similarities between these players.
What can’t Doncic do?
He’s a point forward who usually brings the ball up the floor and/or has the ball in his hands as the shot clock winds down, and why wouldn’t he? He scores off the dribble, gets to the rim with ease given his physicality, and is a respectable shooter — albeit he’s shooting a yawning 33.1 percent from beyond the arc. Once Doncic gets a step on his defender or has a lane to the rim, he accelerates, and it’s difficult to slow him down.
Meanwhile, he’s an exceptional passer and hits the boards at a high rate. If Doncic gets doubled-teamed or a shot isn’t there, he has the awareness to find a teammate in a better position for an easy bucket.
Doncic is averaging 29.7 points — which is third in the NBA — 9.7 rebounds, 8.9 assists, and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field.
Doesn’t James do all of that, too? The sport’s long-standing preeminent player is a physical specimen with the ball in his hands, hits the ground running off rebounds, is a great passer, a proven defender, and makes a profound impact on both ends of the floor.
Outside of James’ quickness, there’s not a skill set in the three-time NBA champion’s arsenal that Doncic doesn’t possess. Heck, they even took non-college routes to the NBA; James was drafted out of high school, and Doncic played professionally overseas for four years.
Luka Doncic already has a great feel for the NBA game. He looks like a seasoned pro, is an eccentric talent, and a walking highlight reel. James grew more dominant as his career progressed, and he has always been a walking highlight reel.
Injuries have hampered Porzingis’ career, and the big man is currently sidelined with a knee injury, which the Mavericks are being cautious with, as they should be. When healthy, he’s one of the most unique players in the NBA.
Since he declared for the 2015 NBA Draft, Porzingis has been lazily touted as the next Dirk Nowitzki because he played overseas, is tall, and has an outside game. Then he was drafted by the New York Knicks and proved he’s more than just a shooter: he’s a well-rounded, elite talent.
When he’s not attracting two defenders, Porzingis does damage in multiple ways. He’s more than willing to hoist up outside jump shots, he puts the ball on the floor, isn’t afraid to challenge defenders at the rim, and sticks contested shots; when you’re 7-foot-3, you can shoot over anyone. Granted he can struggle to get position, Porzingis also sports a competent post-up game.
He’s also a stout defender. Porzingis emphatically rejects shots, has the wingspan and athleticism to cover wings, and stays on his feet. The big man is averaging 17.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game this season.
Porzingis came to the NBA raw, grew stronger, and is now a duel-threat scorer. Davis came to the NBA as a thin, defensive backbone who finished emphatically inside. As time went on, he grew into his frame and developed a dominant post-up game, as well as a reliable outside game. Now he’s a freight train that can’t be stopped. Porzingis seems to have developed more upper body strength, and he looks more comfortable in his frame.
It can take time.
The ages don’t precisely match, nor does the better player being older than his teammate. Luka Doncic is 20, whereas Kristaps Porzingis is 24. Meanwhile, James is 35, whereas Davis is 26. However, the way the pair of duos play with each other are similar.
Mavericks and Lakers brain trust similarly constructed their rosters. Their best player, a forward, runs the offense, a skilled big man is by their side, and the rest of the roster is made to complement their stars with outside shooting, rebounding, and at least one versatile scorer off the bench.
Doncic and James attract the bulk of teams’ defensive attention, which they’re capable of finishing through, but they also have a perimeter and athletic inside threat to pass to in Porzingis and Davis.
None of these players are flawless; they all have at least one weakness in their game. Doncic is a spotty outside shooter and occasionally throws up lackluster outside shots; Porzingis can get outmuscled inside and ends up on the floor too much; James struggles a bit from the charity stripe (he’s a career 73.5 percent free throw shooter); Davis is an inefficient outside shooter (he’s a career 31.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc).
LeBron James has been the closest thing to perfect in the NBA since Michael Jordan. Anthony Davis has been the closest thing to an unstoppable big man in the 21st century.
It’s rare to hear modern-day players compared to James because it can warrant backlash. But with Doncic, arguably the best player in the NBA under 25, who’s the established star comparison? There’s only one accomplished star who has profoundly impacted the game in five ways from the outset of his career, that being pure scoring, shooting, passing, rebounding, and defending: James.
How many big men play out on the perimeter, score off the dribble, finish off alley-oops, and play in the post on a consistent basis? Davis and Porzingis are part of a list that can be done on one’s hand.
Doncic and Porzingis aren’t literally James and Davis. They have different frames and aren’t anywhere near as proven; that isn’t the point.
They’re, hands down, the best duo in the NBA under 25 and can only improve — which is frightening. Doncic is still growing into a formidable number-one scorer, Porzingis is adapting to being a number-two scorer, and the two haven’t even played a half-season together. With more reps together, future playoff appearances, and player development by head coach Rick Carlisle and friends, the youngsters will become more lethal.
Will Luka Doncic win four MVPs? Will Kristaps Porzingis become the NBA’s best big man? Who knows, but the skill sets and career trajectories evoke a positive response to both questions.