Last May a 19-year-old kid from Slovenia had just completed and unbelievable run in the Euro League playoffs, leading his injury riddled team Real Madrid to a championship, all while becoming the youngest MVP in the history of the league in the process. He impressed many across the world with the beautiful style of play in which he possessed and already had the type of court vision that many NBA scouts drool over.
His age represented that of a boy, but he played like a man against players 10-15 years his elder. Averaging 12.8 PPG along with 5.7 REB and 5.o AST in a league that many consider to be the best in the world outside the NBA. A league that unlike the current state of play in the NBA, actually plays defense and can be known for its physical style of basketball.
Fast forward 6 months, that same 19-year-old kid is now setting the NBA world ablaze with the Dallas Mavericks. Steering them to a 14-11 record and leading a team that many figured would be in the midst of a rebuild, currently slated as the 8th seed in a loaded Western Conference. The rookie is averaging an absurd stat line of 17.8 PPG, 6.7 REB, 4.3 AST and has provided his fair share of jaw dropping moments already in his young career.
He is currently the hands down favorite to be rookie of the year in the NBA and has many amongst the league scratching their heads and wondering how in the world they passed on this incredible talent last year in the draft. None more so than the putrid Atlanta Hawks who drafted Doncic only to trade him to the Mavericks for their pick (Trae Young) and a 2019 first rounder. The Hawks had a future rebuild in mind and wanted to compile draft picks, but they possibly missed on a generational talent in the process.
Sure, you could say the Hawks got cold feet when it came time to put all their marbles on the table and draft what many thought was an unproven European talent. They weren’t the only ones, the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings elected to go with more proven college talents like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley respectively.
The Mavericks and Donnie Nelson are no strangers to taking a chance on European talent, Dirk Nowitzki was a player many also had questions about regarding how his game would translate before the 1998 NBA draft. He also landed in Dallas after a draft day trade and went onto become the greatest player in the history of the franchise and a top 20 NBA player of all time.
But even with all the similarities between the two talents, there is another all-time great who I believe is more reflective of the potential Luka has, no other than Larry “Legend” Bird himself.
It’s a lofty comparison that comes with some tremendously big shoes to fill and in no way do I think he will be as good or better than Larry was. Larry Bird is in my opinion on the NBA all time starting 5 amongst the likes of Magic Johnson, Micheal Jordan, Lebron James and Wilt Chamberlain.
Larry had an uncanny ability to see the floor and had a feel for the game that was almost unprecedented before he stepped foot on an NBA court. I believe Luka has shown some of those same traits already in his young career to go along with what has proven to be a deadly jump shot.
Larry Bird never looked like the supreme athlete we are used to in the NBA, he always looked a tad bit pudgy and if he were 8 inches shorter you might have mistaken him for a construction worker who was ready to drink a cold six-pack after work.
Luka certainly isn’t what many would consider a human specimen either, it was widely reported before the draft that his weight could become an issue with him already looking slightly overweight. An issue that I found absurd considering the modern-day NBA training regimen could get a sumo wrestler in shape. But nonetheless him and Bird certainly are not the most athletic talents we’ve ever seen.
The biggest comparison between the two is that feel for the game I discussed with Larry Bird. Many NBA players over the years have had a remarkable ability to see the floor, many where great passers and racked up assists by the thousands.
But the true feel for the game is instinctive and isn’t something I believe can be taught. It’s the ability to see what is going to happen on the court miles ahead of everyone else, it’s when you are playing chess and everyone else is playing checkers. You can count the number of players that possessed that type of ability in NBA history on two hands. It’s an ultra-rare talent that is exclusive to the best of the best. Luka Doncic has that type of ability.
Larry Bird used that ability to not only be a terrific passer, but always be in the right place at the right time. Watching Luka play on a nightly basis you see those glimpses of his remarkable basketball mind always getting him in the right spots and playing the angles. When you aren’t a freak athlete you better know how to utilize your talent to get a step on other NBA talent and he certainly understands that. His ability to know when he can get by his defender and get to the basket or rely on his already NBA polished step back jumper is ridiculous for a 19-year-old.
Bird stepped into a franchise that was already legendary in the Boston Celtics and had very lofty expectations from the get-go, Luka differs a little bit here but is already being anointed as the next legendary talent in Dallas. With this most likely being Dirk Nowitzki’s last season in the NBA, the torch is being passed to Luka as we speak. Everything he has shown so far would provide confidence he is ready to step into that role and be the king of the city in Dallas.
In a city where the Cowboys overshadow the Mavericks by a million-fold, Dirk is maybe the most beloved athlete in town for his commitment to the city and never even considering finishing his career elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if a kid from Slovenia can take over that spot moving forward.
Larry Legend has never had to buy a meal in the city of Boston. His 62nd birthday was just last week, and you would think he was the Pope with the outpouring of love he received on social media. If Luka keeps this up, he may never need to buy a T-bone steak in the city of Dallas ever again.
Luka certainly is not Larry Bird yet, he has much to prove along with championships to win and legendary moments to create before he can truly be held in that same echelon. But the 19-year-old kid who will no doubt continue to improve, is the closest thing we have seen to the “Hick from French Lick” in my lifetime.
Luka has already proved to those that passed on him in last year’s draft that they made a huge mistake. Time will tell if that will be a mistake held in the same realm of the Blazers passing on Michael Jordan or the Hornets trading away Kobe Bryant. If he does go on to become the next Larry Legend, it certainly will be. He already has the once suffering Mavericks fans singing “HalleLuka” knowing they have found their next superstar.