Happy Birthday, Luka Doncic!
Today, the Slovenian turns 21 years of age, a crazy reality when you consider everything he's already done in his professional basketball career. No, seriously... it's actually crazy:
- EuroLeague MVP
- EuroLeague Finals MVP
- Two-time EuroLeague Rising Star
- Three-time ACB Spanish league champion
- ACB Spanish league MVP
All of that as a teenager before stepping foot in the NBA, winning Rookie of the Year and starting the All-Star Game as a 20-year-old. He's earned the respect of Hall of Fame coaches, Hall of Fame players and current stars who themselves are someday headed to the Hall of Fame.
MORE: Everything LeBron has said about Luka
When we last did our latest MVP ladder, Doncic sat behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and James Harden, each of whom have won an MVP award in their NBA careers, four in the case of James. He may have lost some ground since then - he has missed time with injuries and the Dallas Mavericks have slipped in the standings - but he's still on pace to become one of the youngest players in NBA history to receive MVP votes.
To boot, we had Doncic sixth when we ranked the 30 best players in the league right now and second when we ranked the best players in the league in five years time, Antetokounmpo being the only player ahead of him.
He is, quite simply, already a superstar, one who still has plenty more room to grow.
How Doncic compares to other players in various statistical puts into perspective how far along he is for his age. Bobby Karalla of Mavericks.com made note of after his most recent game, in which he made history by tying Hall of Fame guard Jason Kidd for the most triple-doubles in franchise history - whether it's how many points he's scored or how many assists he's handed out, there are few NBA players who have done what Doncic has before their 21st birthday.
It has him rubbing shoulders with all-time greats, from Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It's even more impressive when you factor in both the amount of games and minutes he's played.
|3-Point Field Goals||305||1st|
If you isolate it to what Doncic was doing as a 20-year-old this season, he's in even more rarified company. According to Basketball Reference, his 28.7 points per game are the most ever for a player that age. The same goes for his 8.7 assists, as well as a number of advanced metrics, including his Player Efficiency Rating and usage rating.
Earlier this season, our Gilbert McGregor wrote about whether or not he's the best 20-year-old ever. It's hard to compare players across different eras, but nothing has happened in the months since to hurt his case.
"I think he's maybe the best 20-year-old the NBA has ever seen," Steve Nash told NBA Cafe Barcelona recently. "The game's a little different than when LeBron (James) came in the league. The numbers are little inflated because of the pace and the hand check. But still.
"I think LeBron was so gifted but I don't think he was as polished as Luka at 20. Now, Luka's never going to be the athlete that LeBron is, but he's a great athlete. He's an underrated athlete."
Find another player that's accomplished all of that by the age of 21.
LeBron James racked up high school accolades, a Rookie of the Year and one All-Star appearance, but didn't have quite the overall resume as Doncic does.
Bill Russell was 22 when he won Olympic gold and his second national championship in college.
Michael Jordan won a title in college and gold at the 1984 Olympics, but turned 21 before ever stepping foot in the NBA.
In comparison to Doncic, Magic Johnson perhaps comes closest. A Finals MVP and All-Star as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers, a national champion and NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player at Michigan State, Johnson was a legitimate superstar and household name by the time he turned 21.
And yet, Johnson still wasn't the best player on his own team, an honour bestowed upon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Incredible of a start that his career got off to, he wasn't yet saddled with the burden of carrying a franchise in the same manner that Doncic is doing right now.
The attention now turns to what Doncic has in store for us as a 21-year-old. With how quickly he's become a star, the expectations are only going to grow. Is he going to be a staple in the MVP discussion moving forward? Can he continue to improve? Can he turn the Mavericks into a postseason staple again? Can he lead them to title contention again?
Some of those questions won't be answered for another couple of years. But based on what he's already been able to do so far in the NBA at such a young age, there should be no reason to doubt that this is only the start of something special.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.