Two years ago, Luka Doncic entered the NBA and immediately started making everyone who doubted his ceiling look foolish.
By next June, he was the NBA Rookie of the Year and by the February after, he was his team’s all-time leader in triple-doubles. Entering Saturday, he had averaged 24.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game in his short career. It should not be controversial to say those are the numbers of a superstar, and that Doncic is already one of the 10 (maybe five?) best basketball players on Earth.
And yet, watching Doncic, it’s beginning to feel like we are only watching the first phase of a multistage rocket hurtling toward inner-circle Hall of Fame status. That was likely true before the NBA was put on forced hiatus, but it was never more evident than on Saturday against the team with the best record in basketball.
Luka Doncic was the best player on the court in a game involving Giannis Antetokounmpo
Here is a play in the final minutes of the Mavericks’ win on Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the best record in basketball.
LUKA IS DOING THIS IN THE CLUTCH 🤯 pic.twitter.com/uA5rCpjvKP
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) August 9, 2020
Let’s slow that down, and enhance.
That right there is a left-handed, between-the-legs pass past Defensive Player of the Year finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo with a minute left in overtime to seal a win over the team with the best record in basketball. And the person doing it is 21 years old.
Doncic finished the game with 36 points on 12-of-24 shooting, 19 assists, 14 rebounds and only two turnovers. Per The Ringer’s Zach Kram, no player has ever posted that many points, rebounds and assists in a game. Not LeBron James. Not Russell Westbrook, nor Magic Johnson, nor Oscar Robertson.
And that — which by the way, came against far and away the best defense in basketball — was just more of the same of what Doncic has been doing since landing in Orlando. In the Mavs’ four bubble games, Doncic is now averaging 33.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 11.6 assists per game.
Right now, Doncic is second in the NBA in assist rate at 45.6 percent (min. 50 games), behind only LeBron James. His Mavericks have the most efficient offense in NBA history with a rating of 115.8, on a team in which the third-leading scorer is Tim Hardaway Jr. The flow of assists on the team basically looks like this:
Of Luka Doncic's 19 assists, 9 went to Dorian Finney-Smith and 5 to Kristaps Porzingis. In other words, 14 of the 19 field goals made by Finney-Smith and Porzingis were assisted by Doncic. Overall, 16 of Doncic's assists were at the rim or behind the arc. pic.twitter.com/CwQ0hMQ9a6
— Positive Residual (@presidual) August 9, 2020
Again, just 21 years old.
Stepping back and taking a deep breath, it’s hard to not look at the totality of Doncic — the court vision, the size, the sheer number of ways he can break a defense, the age — and see the potential star of a generation.
Doncic is doing LeBron James things at 21 years old, the youngest person to do so since, well, LeBron James. Just imagine what could happen if the Mavericks figure out how to upgrade their supporting cast, and possibly add a third star to play off Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
The Western Conference probably isn’t looking forward to that day.
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