- Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic is putting up gaudy stat lines that have him earning LeBron James comparisons.
- Even Doncic’s play resembles James.
- In a win on Wednesday in which he was one rebound short of becoming the youngest player in NBA history to notch a triple-double, Doncic showed advanced court vision that could be compared to James’.
- There are only a handful of players with Doncic’s size and skill set, and through the first half of his rookie season, he’s blown away the NBA world.
Less than halfway through his rookie season, Luka Doncic is getting comparisons to LeBron James, and frankly, starting to live up to them.
Through 32 games, the 19-year-old Slovenian rookie is averaging 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for the Dallas Mavericks. For comparison, James entered the NBA at 19 and averaged 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Wednesday, Doncic continued to pile up impressive numbers, scoring 21 points with 9 rebounds and 10 assists to help the Mavericks beat the New Orleans Pelicans. Doncic came one rebound shy of becoming the youngest player to record a triple-double. Doncic’s idol, James, previously held that title; Markelle Fultz currently owns it.
As ESPN’s Tim MacMahon noted, the performance continued a recent string of games where Doncic has posted stat lines that were previously only achieved by James. For instance, on December 20, Doncic had 32 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals – James is the only other teen to post a similar line, putting up 36 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals in December 2003.
“It’s amazing,” Doncic said of the James comparisons after the Mavericks’ win on Wednesday. “You all know that he’s my idol, so it’s just amazing to be there.”
But beyond the gaudy stat lines, Doncic is even making plays that resemble James on the court. Both players are natural forwards because of their size, but they handle and read the floor like point guards, making them matchup nightmares for opponents. Doncic certainly doesn’t have James’ athleticism, but he might be even more advanced at playmaking than James was when he entered the NBA.
One attribute they share – staying one play ahead of the defence. Early on Wednesday, Doncic ran a pick-and-roll with center DeAndre Jordan. While they ran it, Wesley Matthews sprang up to the top of the key. Doncic’s basic reads would be to feed Jordan on the roll or hit Matthews up top. Instead, he knew that Harrison Barnes’ man, in the corner, would sag to the paint to defend Jordan. Doncic swung the ball across the court to hit Barnes for the open three.
James’ pass below isn’t identical, but it’s similar. Once Tyson Chandler rolls to the basket, Jeremy Lamb leaves Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the corner, and James finds him.
Doncic showed his pick-and-roll chops again moments later. He and Jordan ran another pick-and-roll, with Barnes just below Jordan to set a stagger or secondary screen. This time, Jordan ran free to the paint, while the Pelicans tried to trap Doncic with the ball on the perimeter. It would have been easy for Doncic to have panicked and thrown the ball right to the defence.
Instead, Doncic held the ball for just a tick longer than the defence expected, gave a quick pump of his hands, then cleared the lane for a beautiful pass to Jordan for the dunk.
Watch below, as the Pelicans’ Darius Miller jumped just a little on Doncic’s fake, then left the paint to defend Barnes. It cleared the way for Doncic’s pass.
Doncic can also post up other players, using his size to draw in defences, then kick it to open shooters, much like James.
These aren’t the most advanced plays, but they are impressive for a 19-year-old. There are only a handful of players with size and court vision to make these types of plays. As Doncic gets more experience in the NBA and gets acclimated to more defensive coverage, his reads will only get better.
The NBA world keeps waiting for Doncic to fall off, to hit the all-but-guaranteed rookie wall. Maybe it’s coming, but nearly halfway into the year, he continues to impress.
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