Luka Doncic has put the entire NBA on notice
As the entire country gets ready to feast itself silly on Thursday, Luka Doncic probably feels like he finally has some company. The Dallas Mavericks’ second-year superstar has been gorging himself on NBA defenses all season — and he doesn’t even get muncher’s remorse or need a nap afterwards.
As Thanksgiving rolls around with calorific certainty once more, Doncic is surely high on the list of things league commissioner Adam Silver is grateful for this year, his absurdly high productivity making the 11-6 Mavericks a potential force in the loaded Western Conference and himself a top contender in the early MVP reckoning.
As the NBA moves past a period where, for all the impressiveness of the Golden State Warriors’ five-year dream run, predictability was beginning to be seen as a curse, anything that shakes up the established order is seen as a good thing right now.
And few things stir the pot and excite a global fan base as much as a 20-year-old capable of doing things at a level you’d expect from a veteran icon with a dozen All-Star appearances behind them.
Doncic, the Slovenian wonderkid who seems to have a smile etched permanently on his face, has posted serious numbers to date, averaging 30.1 points, 10.0 and 9.5 assists per game through Wednesday.
Yet it is not just statistics that has drawn comparisons to one of the NBA’s historical greats, but the effortless way he has climbed near to the peak of NBA stardom little more than a year after moving to America.
“He’s been killing it lately, playing at a very, very high level." https://t.co/KaxueR83Q4
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) November 27, 2019
“It happens every once in a while: a young phenom comes along and reminds us of a superstar of yesteryear,” FOX’s NBA analyst Chris Broussard said. “Shaquille O’Neal reminded us of Wilt Chamberlain. Kobe Bryant brought to mind thoughts of Michael Jordan. LeBron James reminds us of Magic Johnson. Now we have this generation’s Larry Bird.”
The Bird comparisons are perhaps inevitable. Doncic is not blessed with otherworldly athleticism, but has an extraordinary level of basketball intelligence. He has an excellent jump shot, rebounds instinctively and powerfully and doles out laser-guided passes from all parts of the floor.
The Mavericks, despite adding Kristaps Porzingis as a second star, weren’t really supposed to be this good, but Doncic has helped them to notable victories over some of the league’s best teams. The Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets have all fallen before him, while the 15-2 Los Angeles Lakers escaped in an overtime thriller.
“Luka runs the show,” Porzingis told reporters. “We all depend on him most of the game and he’s playing incredible right now. He’s getting guys open looks. I’m super happy for him.”
The Los Angeles Clippers gave Doncic his biggest reality check of the season on Tuesday, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teaming up to deliver a 114-99 road victory. Yet even on his worst night of the campaign, Doncic still recorded a line of 22-6-6. He can be slowed, but evidence suggests he can’t be stopped altogether.
It isn’t easy to win the respect of established NBA stars, especially for players who have come from overseas. Doncic has vaulted into elite company quickly and has been accepted in that upper echelon without question. Game recognizes game.
“He’s been killing it,” Leonard said, admitting that stopping Doncic was key to the Clippers’ plans. “(He’s) playing at a very, very high level. We wanted to make it difficult for him; get some deflections.”
Via RPR Predictor, current MVP standings:
1. James Harden, @HoustonRockets: 12.952
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, @Bucks: 12.331
3. Luka Doncic, @dallasmavs: 11.391
4. LeBron James, @Lakers: 9.526
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) November 27, 2019
And thus the MVP race just became seriously interesting. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the favorite to retain the award at +225 odds, according to FOX Bet, but Doncic is right behind him, tied with James Harden at +400. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are also major contenders, but they’re sure to split votes dependent on the voter’s idea of who is most important to the Lakers.
Leonard’s dazzling abilities are being heavily load-managed, dimming his MVP prospects, and if we’re truly talking about “value,” Doncic’s impact is off the charts. Without him, the Mavericks are no one’s idea of a good team.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Dallas has an 88 percent chance to make the playoffs, which is the primary goal Doncic set at the start of the season, following a three-year postseason drought for the franchise. While they’re set up well to reach the postseason, the team hasn’t convinced the oddsmakers just yet: FOX Bet has them at +2800 to win the Western Conference and +5000 to win it all this year, behind even the Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets.
Keep an eye out for Mark Cuban when the trade deadline nears, however. If he feels the squad is just one or two parts shy of being a genuine contender, the billionaire owner surely won’t be afraid to take a shot.
Or he could be patient. Having a player who is this good at age 20 opens up all kinds of intriguing possibilities, with the juiciest being the most obvious: the reality that he’s likely to get even better.
“Luka Doncic, like LeBron before him, will soon be arguably the best player in the world,” Broussard added. “He is in the MVP race and in short order in a couple of years, he will arguably be the best, at the rate he’s going. We got a new legend, y’all.
“Let’s call him ‘Luka Legend.’”
Through 88 career games, Luka Doncic has:
🐍 More points than Kobe Bryant
🎟 More rebounds than Kevin Garnett
👑 More assist than LeBron James
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 25, 2019