For a minute, try and imagine how Phoenix Suns’ former General Manager Ryan McDonough or Sacramento Kings’ current GM Vlade Divac must be feeling at the moment.
In the 2018 NBA Draft, both these men had the golden opportunity to recruit a Slovenian teenager who had made his bones playing professionally for Real Madrid in the EuroLeague. They passed up the chance with the Suns signing Deandre Ayton while the Kings snapped up Marvin Bagley III.
Atlanta Hawks, the team to get third draft pick in 2018, selected that Slovenian wunderkid, and promptly traded him to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Trae Young and a first-round pick in 2019.
Just over a year on, 20-year-old Luka Doncic ― ignored by the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings; and traded by Atlanta Hawks ― is not only propping up the Mavericks’ hopes of making it to the Playoffs in the stacked Western Conference, but also in the fray to lift the MVP title, just 16 games into the 2019-20 season.
Doncic’s rivals in the race are a certain LeBron James, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Doncic and LeBron have already traded triple doubles in a game at the start of this month, an entertaining thriller that was settled in overtime.
Doncic’s Mavericks lost, but not before his reputation as one of the best in the league was burnished.
“I don’t really get into the one-on-one battles. (But) Obviously he’s a great young talent. I love his game, his ability to not only create shots for himself. You guys know I love the fact that he can get great looks for his teammates. That’s what I thrive on, that’s what I’ve always believed in, and he just plays the game the right way,” LeBron said of Doncic after the Slovenian raked up 31 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in their clash. LeBron’s stats sheet for the game read 39 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds.
Doncic has previously mentioned how much he idolises LeBron. The first time the duo played in a game against each other, Doncic waited outside the locker room to meet his idol and walked out with an autographed jersey of LeBron. This time around, he walked away with LeBron’s respect, with the 34-year-old fondly calling Doncic a “bad MOFO” on social media.
Then on Sunday, Doncic went toe-to-toe against Harden, the other contender in the MVP race. The Mavericks won 137-123 against the Rockets, with Doncic’s 41 points and 10 assists good enough to withstand an offensive barrage from one of the league’s best offensive duos, Harden (32 points, 11 assists) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, six assists).
Harden is the league leader with an average of 37.9 points so far, with Doncic second with an average of 30.6. In the assists charts, Doncic is second (9.8), right behind LeBron (10.8).
Doncic’s season will come as a surprise to no one. Last season, he was the Rookie of the Year after averaging 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
At the Mavs, Doncic also has the responsibility to fill the big shoes of superstar Dirk Nowitzki, who retired last season. The Dallas franchise had drafted the German 21 seasons ago and built the team around him, a gamble that brought the team its only NBA Championship in 2011 besides taking them to the NBA Playoffs in 12 straight seasons.
“There are really no holes in his offensive game. Usually some of that stuff develops later, but for a 20-year old he’s got the in-between game, he’s got the floaters, he’s got the post-up already, he’s using his big body, he’s got all the step-backs from three,” Nowitzki gushed about his heir apparent in March this year.
At the end of this season, who knows, we may see Doncic staking claim as the heir to another legacy. This time, it won’t be an autographed jersey LeBron will be passing on. He may pass on the torch to Doncic, the man capable of filling his shoes.
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2019 22:20:20 IST