Ahead of the second-ever meeting between Luka Doncic and LeBron James, it's hard to ignore the existing parallels between the early stages of their respective careers.
While it is highly unlikely that the hype surrounding an NBA Draft prospect will ever exceed that of James in 2003, the buzz surrounding Slovenian star Doncic became quite palpable ahead of the 2018 NBA Draft.
James, a 6-foot-8 do-it-all 18-year-old forward from Akron, Ohio, entered the NBA following a decorated high school career in which he won three state titles, one national title, was named Mr. Basketball USA twice (2002, 2003) and was named the Naismith Prep Player of the Year as a senior in 2003. He was dubbed "The Chosen One" by Sports Illustrated and selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 draft.
Doncic, a 6-foot-7 do-it-all 19-year-old forward from Slovenia, entered the league after a four-year professional career in Spain in which he won three Spanish league titles, one EuroLeague title and was named EuroLeague MVP and Liga ACB MVP in 2018. Internationally, Doncic helped lead his native country of Slovenia to gold at the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket at just 18-years-old.
Doncic earned the nickname of "Wonderboy" and while he was considered the best overall prospect by many, he was selected third overall by the Atlanta Hawks and subsequently traded to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2018 draft.
Plenty of parallels are certainly present, and the Mavericks' rookie has even gone so far as to call James his favourite player and idol . Somehow, both players managed to live up to the immeasurable hype through the first 19 games of their respective NBA careers.
Through Dallas' first 19 games, Doncic posted averages of 19.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game and the Mavericks find themselves one game over-.500 at 10-9. The rookie sensation has wowed with his shooting and playmaking abilities, which have been on display throughout the young season.
Take Doncic's numbers in comparison to James, whose 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists through his first 19 games in Cleveland led to a 4-15 record for the Cavs. Despite the losses, James was as good as advertised, displaying a poise and presence of a player a number of years his senior.
This poise and presence is something that Doncic possesses as well.
Interestingly enough, one of the people impressed by the Doncic early on this season is James himself, who faced the Mavericks eight games into the year. Prior to squaring off with the rookie that idolizes him, LeBron had very complimentary things to say :
"I don't think [the NBA game] is intimidating to him. I don't think this game is something he hasn't seen before. That's the best thing about European basketball, pro basketball over there, they develop their players so early."
In the first of three meetings between the Mavs and Lakers, Doncic finished with 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds, while James led his team to a one-point win with 29 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. But the best moment of the night came after the game, when James gave Doncic his jersey that bore a handwritten message to "Strive for Greatness."
James was - and is - a high flyer that sets himself apart with his once-in-a-generation athleticism, often leading highlight reels with his unbelievable dunks and plays in the open floor. Doncic, on the other hand, is not likely to catch your attention with neck-breaking speed or above-the-rim finishes.
Where Doncic lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with his skills - particularly his shooting ability. Through his first 19 games, Doncic is shooting 39.8 percent from deep while taking over six 3-pointers per contest. And while James shoots at a similar clip now, in the early stages of his career, his inconsistent shooting from the perimeter was viewed as one of the biggest flaws in his game.
Through the first 19 games of his career, LeBron was connecting on just 32.7 percent of 2.6 3-point attempts per game, and he finished his rookie season shooting just 29.0 percent on 2.7 attempts per game.
Despite his shooting numbers, James was still named the 2004 Rookie of the Year after averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds while his Cavs fell just one game shy of making the postseason with a record of 35-47. There's plenty of time remaining in the 2018-19 season, but Doncic's Rookie of the Year campaign is in full force.
Over the course of his 16-year career, James has placed his name alongside some of the greatest of all time with his ever-growing list of accolades that include four league MVPs, three NBA titles and three NBA Finals MVPs.
While it's much too early to predict the heights Luka Doncic will reach, the early stages of his career suggest he has all that it takes to reach the greatness his idol encouraged him to strive for.