Luka Dončić, the six foot seven 21-year-old Slovenian powerhouse, is once again gathering momentum in the quest for the NBA’s MVP accolade. What makes this so impressive is not just his age and the fact that this is the start of his third season, but the names of the players he is being superlatively positioned ahead of.
What makes Luka Doncic so good? His size and complete game have called many comparisons to the likes of LeBron James, James Harden, and Larry Bird. He plays the game like a veteran with one of the highest basketball IQs in the NBA.
But just how good is Dončić? Does he really live up to his hype or is the excitement more than the output?
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Luka Doncic Formative Years
Dončić arrived at the NBA in 2018 as one of the most highly touted young Europeans players of recent times at just 19-years of age.
When he was selected with the third overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Atlanta Hawks and subsequently traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for the draft rights to Trae Young and a protected first-round pick in 2019, Dončić wasn’t any ordinary rookie. Instead of plying his formative years in college ball like most of his peers, at 18 years-old he was already one of the best players at the 2017 EuroBasket guiding Slovenia to its first national title, as well as being awarded 2017-18 season MVP with Real Madrid in Spain’s Liga ACB – arguably the second-best basketball league in the world. On top of this, he led his Real Madrid team to claim both the Liga ACB title and the EuroLeague title in the same 2017-18 season with a league-high ‘performance index rating’ of 21.5 in the latter.
He made his professional debut for Real Madrid at 16 years, two months, and two days of age, becoming the youngest player to play for the club and the third youngest in the Liga ACB’s history. While he only played five games in his debut season and averaged 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in 4.8 minutes per game, that game time at just 16-years of age seems to have been crucial in his early development.
By the time he stepped on the court for the first time in a Mavs jersey, he was arguably the most qualified rookie the NBA has ever seen.
At the end of his first season with the Mavericks, it’s no surprise that he stormed to claim the NBA Rookie of the Year award. In only his second start for the Mavs, Dončić tallied 26 points and six rebounds in a 140-136 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves making him the youngest ever 20-point scorer in the franchise’s history. Fast forward nine days to the Mav’s game against the Spurs and Dončić continued to up the ante with a 31-point haul and eight rebounds to match for his first 30-point tally in the NBA. At just 19 years and 328 days old Dončić he recorded his first NBA triple-double, just ten days older than Markelle Fultz when he achieved the same feat as the youngest player to do so.
What’s clear to see is that Luka Dončić’s stats from his time prior to the NBA and in rookie and sophomore season are impressive. Very impressive.
Luka Doncic Style of Play
Records are one thing (and he has broken many in his first two seasons), but it is his style of play and basketball knowledge that have many plaudits screaming his name. He’s considered a complete player with the ability to score, assist, rebound and defend. In fact, the NBA 2020-21 GM Survey released on the 18th December 2020, had Dončić (21% of the vote) second only to Giannis Antetokounmpo (32%) to win this season’s MVP award. Arguably even more impressive, he tied Antetokounmpo (43%) as the player GMs would start their entire franchise with.
His ability to go toe-to-toe with the most established and best players in the league is what makes him such an exciting player. He’s done so against the likes of James Harden and Lebron James, out-duelling Harden, the former MVP and scoring leader, in the 2019-20 season with 41 points against Harden’s 32 in the Maverick’s win over Houston.
LeBron has also shown his support, saying that “Luka is one of my favorite players in the NBA today. For the simple fact of, the way I play the game is exactly how I love the way he plays the game. Team-first, gets his guys involved, if you challenge me to score, I’m gonna score. And at the same time, I’m gonna score, but I’m gonna keep my guys involved. … I play for the team, and I’m gonna play with a sense of joy.”
It’s clear to see that the NBA sees the power of his stardom too, scheduling the Mavericks to play in the televised Christmas Day game against LeBron’s Lakers – the franchise’s first televised Christmas Day game since 2011. While his 27-point haul wasn’t enough to overcome the reigning NBA Champs led by the likes of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Montrezl Harrell, the scheduling of the game is perhaps a strong testament to his growing popularity.
Even when Luka Dončić isn’t firing on all cylinders, which happens to the even the best athletes in the world on occasions, his ultimate performance is still mightily impressive. Take the 2020-21 season opener against the Phoenix Suns, for example. Despite missing every single one of his six three-pointer attempts, he was still the game’s top scorer with a 32-point haul, as well as recording eight rebounds and five assists.
Can Luka Doncic be NBA MVP?
What we have here with Dončić is a serious ball player with the stats and records to back it up.
His league-high 17 triple-doubles in the 2019-20 season (only his second season in the NBA) becoming the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in the triple-double category is one particularly tasty record. That same season he was selected to his first NBA All-Star game and named on the All-NBA First Team, the first player to achieve that feat in either their rookie or second season since Tim Duncan in the 1998-99 season. But still, the question remains… will Luka Dončić go on to win the 2020-21 MVP award? It’s still too early to say with only a few games into season and some stiff competition in the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Dennis Schröder, but he has certainly set his stool out early