By Aiden Holczer
When you ask an NBA fan the classic question of “who’s in your top ten?”, you will certainly hear the names: Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, along with other NBA legends. However, there is always one name that sticks out like a sore thumb, and that’s Larry Bird. It’s not because he plays a different position, or that he has the most rings, or that he has the “clutch gene.” It’s the fact that nine times out of ten, he’s the only white player on the list.
Every once in a while, you will hear someone make the case that Dirk Nowitzki or John Stockton should be included in the top ten, but in recent years, I’ve heard more and more people make compelling arguments for current players such as Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant taking their place in history.
And then Luka Doncic happened. Only two years into his NBA career, Luka Doncic has already added his name to the list of all-time greats. Born in Slovenia, Doncic has been playing against professional basketball players since the age of sixteen. After dominating the Spanish basketball scene overseas, Luka declared for the 2018 NBA draft at the age of nineteen. He was originally drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, but the Dallas Mavericks were so convinced that Luka was their guy that they traded with the Hawks for him.
Since that night, Luka has hit the ground running. He took home the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 2019, averaging an impressive 21pts|8reb|6ast with impressive first year shooting stats to boot. This was only the beginning for Luka, the appetizer for a career who’s main course seems to feature ingredients such as the NBA Hall of Fame and multiple MVP awards. The winner of this year’s NBA championship may have an asterisk next to their name, but there is no asterisk next to Luka’s mind-boggling numbers.
He improved drastically in nearly every single statistical category and was nominated for the Most Improved Player Award, which only becomes more impressive when you consider how great he was the year before. With help from newly acquired stretch-four Kristaps Porzingis, the Dallas Mavericks finished the season with a record of 43-32 in the extremely competitive Western Conference, securing the 7th seed and a spot in the newly formatted NBA playoffs in Orlando.
As the 7th seed in the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks earned themselves a shot at the 2nd seed Los Angeles Clippers. Before the season began, many NBA Analysts believed that the Clippers, led by the reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, would be the ones hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season. Suffice to say, expectations weren’t very high for the Mavericks.
But, if there’s one thing Luka Doncic is good at, it’s defying expectations. Did the Mavericks win the series? No, but thanks to the efforts of Luka Doncic and company, they took the Clippers to a competitive six game series. A series in which Luka averaged a mind boggling 31pts|10rbs|9ast.
Statistics rarely tell the full story, however, and when you look deeper into Luka’s performances they only become more impressive. Despite suffering an ankle injury, and thus having his minutes limited, Luka Doncic led the Mavericks in scoring and assists in game two of the series, helping the Mavericks grab their first win and tying the series 1-1.
Luka’s best game however came in game four of the series. After not only losing game three but also Kristaps Porzingis for the rest of the playoffs, Luka knew he had to step up and go above and beyond his previous performances. If this wasn’t enough for Luka to have on his mind, Montrezl Harrell’s controversial statements about him coupled with the Bad Boy Pistons-esque physicality in which the Clippers guarded him, created a media buzz surrounding the fourth game.
Luka only used these headlines as fuel, playing like a man possessed every time he handled the ball. He exploded for 47pts|17rbs|13ast off of efficient shooting stats, and he hit the best shot in the NBA “Bubble” so far. With no time left on the clock, Luka put up a three that if he missed would have sent the Mavericks home. With one ankle and no Porzingis, Luka found a way to steal another game from the Clippers.
However the magic of the Mavericks underdog story wouldn’t last. While Luka continued to dominate the competition, the lack of a second star with Porzingis being out proved too much for the team, falling to the Clippers in six games.
When you compare Luka Doncic in his second year to names such as Dirk Nowitzki, John Stockton, or Steve Nash at the same point in their career, the difference is laughable. The degree to which Luka is superior is apparent not only from statistics but from the eye test as well. The only other white player that he is comparable too at this point in his career is Larry Bird. The only difference being that Bird won his first championship in his second year on a loaded Celtics roster.
The one thing above all else that sticks out about Luka is the eye test. Sure he has parts of his game that need improvement, specifically his free throw percentage, but when you watch him you can’t help but think “how did he do that?”. Much like Bird, Luka doesn’t look like your typical athlete. He isn’t a mountain of a man with a Jordan-esque vertical, he’s just some pudgy white kid from Slovenia.
He knows what he’s good at, and he knows what he’s not so good at. That might seem like a stupid statement to make; after all, shouldn’t all professional athletes know what they’re good at? But if you take the time to watch any NBA game, you would know that this is simply not true. Luka is continuing the legacy of nearly all the great foreign NBA players– find what you’re good at and polish it until it’s brighter than the sun.