Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us


How Luka compares to LeBron, Magic and Bird



Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of Luka Doncic’s NBA debut. This story was originally published on Aug. 25.

We hear you, Mark Cuban. Really, we do.

“Don’t try to compare him to others. He is blazing his own path,” the Dallas Mavericks‘ owner tweeted in August following Luka Doncic‘s 43-point triple-double and winning step-back 3-pointer in Game 4 against the LA Clippers in Round 1 of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

But we just can’t help ourselves.

Neither can Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, by the way, who again mentioned Larry Bird while gushing about Doncic’s dominance in Game 4.

Yes, a lot of what Doncic is doing is unprecedented. For example, nobody else in NBA history has ever capped a 40-plus-point playoff triple-double by drilling a winning buzzer-beater, as Doncic did to even the series between his underdog Mavs and the Clippers.

And Doncic, now at the ripe old age of 21, has staked his claim as the youngest ever to record a long list of incredible statistical feats.

Sure, Doncic is blazing his own path. But the kid also reminds a lot of basketball lifers of the journeys of some of the legends who have come before him. We’ve collected the most telling comparisons from Doncic’s first two NBA seasons.

Why young Luka is like current LeBron

Dwyane Wade, retired 13-time NBA All-Star: “Quote me right where I say this — it’s LeBron James-like from the standpoint of how he’s able to rope that pass to shooters in corners, getting blitzed. There’s not many guys who can do that and put it right there. He does an amazing job of it.”

Steve Nash, NBA Hall of Fame guard: “The numbers are a little inflated because of the pace and the hand check. But still, I do think LeBron was so gifted, but I don’t think he was as polished as Luka.”

Kendrick Perkins, ESPN analyst and 14-year NBA veteran: “The physicality, the basketball IQ, the passing, the rebounding, the ability to go out there and score in a variety of ways, not just one-dimensional. … He is a baby LeBron, minus the hops.”

Jay Williams, ESPN analyst and former NBA guard: “I’ve often said that he is a less athletic but more skilled 20-year-old version of LeBron James.”

It’s a testament to James’ one-of-a-kind skill set that few players, if any, have been advertised as “the next LeBron” despite the dozens of “next Michael Jordans” we got during and after Jordan’s playing career. Doncic isn’t James either, but in important ways he comes closer than anyone ever has.

The six most similar seasons to Doncic’s 2019-20 campaign according to my SCHOENE system, which considers height, weight and 11 key statistics? All by James, from each of his past six seasons. (James Harden‘s 2016-17 is next.) Conversely, Doncic this season also scores as the closest comp for James’ performance this year.

In some ways, James has evolved into playing the style Doncic came into the league playing. Their age-20 seasons don’t rate as especially similar, in part because James wasn’t yet as prolific a playmaker or as efficient a shooter inside the arc. Part of that can be attributed to how the league has changed over the past 15 years, as both rule changes and improved spacing have given more freedom to perimeter creators with size.

That said, their early success definitely is a point of comparison. Among seasons begun at age 20 or younger since the NBA-ABA merger, Doncic’s 2019-20 ranks sixth in terms of wins above replacement player (WARP) per game played by my metric. Naturally, the top two seasons were both by James.

For all the similarities, the differences between Doncic and James are striking, too. As many experienced observers have noted, their similar statistics are the product of different styles — James’ based more on athleticism and a superhuman memory that has processed every strategy possible, Doncic’s more on his preternatural skill and savvy.

This disconnect is most clear on defense, where James developed into a standout during his prime years who can still dial it up in the right setting to take opponents out of the game. Defense is not a strong suit for Doncic, and his relatively limited foot speed means that it might never be.

Still, given the way we’ve seen James mature and add to his game year after year, it’s exciting to think Doncic could follow a similar trajectory.

— Kevin Pelton

Is Luka borrowing from The Beard?

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors head coach: “He’s got this James Harden skill set with crossovers and step-backs. He’s a brilliant player and so young, and he’s going to be one of the cornerstones of this league for a long time.”

Doc Rivers, LA Clippers head coach: “He’s a combination of a lot. [James] Harden, in some ways. Obviously the Larry Bird comparison. … He has great vision, LeBron-ish. There’s a lot of people in him. But I think … when he retires, people are going to say he was Luka.”

A bemused rival executive sent a text as Doncic took yet another trip to the free throw line during an early-season game.

“Looks like Luka has seen every Beard game tape from the past 3 years,” the executive texted. “He’s using all the tricks.”

Many folks around the NBA consider James Harden, the Houston Rockets‘ perennial MVP candidate, the best comparison for Doncic. They have similar body types as big, powerful point guards and subtle athleticism, specifically their rare deceleration and the ability to stay in control while slamming on the brakes and changing directions with the ball in their hands. It’s not a coincidence that Doncic’s game frequently looks a lot like Harden’s stylistically.

That between-the-legs bounce pass Doncic delivered to Maxi Kleber for a dagger dunk to help beat the Bucks in the bubble? Harden’s highlight reel features several similar dimes to former Rockets roll man Clint Capela.

All the crafty ways that Doncic draws contact while driving? Sure, he has borrowed from Harden’s bag of tricks. Same with the footwork for step-back 3s, such as the one Doncic splashed at the Game 4 buzzer to beat the Clippers.

“I watch a lot of his film, for sure,” Doncic said during his rookie season. “Especially the drawing fouls and the step-back.”

It’s not fair to compare Doncic to Harden at the same age. “The Beard” hadn’t even earned his nickname at that point, when he was averaging 12.2 points and 2.1 assists per game as the Thunder’s sixth man and third offensive option behind a couple of other future MVPs.

Squint hard enough while watching Doncic now and you might see Harden in his early prime, when he was a seasoned All-Star who still ran a ton of pick-and-roll. Doncic’s shot profile now looks a lot like Harden’s in his first season playing for coach Mike D’Antoni.

In the years since, the Rockets have essentially scrapped the pick-and-roll to allow Harden to isolate over and over and over again, as his step-back has become arguably the most dangerous weapon in basketball. Harden was 191-of-517 (36.9%) on step-back 3s this season, per NBA.com stats; Doncic attempted the second most in the league, going 93-of-273 (34.1%).

What happens if Doncic develops a step-back as efficient as Harden’s? Has Harden’s stylistic evolution provided a blueprint for Doncic?

This is where Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the architect of the Doncic-run offense that set an NBA record for points-per-possession efficiency, slams the brakes on the comparison.

“It’s important that this is not the next version of James Harden,” Carlisle told ESPN before this season. “This is the first Luka Doncic, and this is a guy that’s carving out a very special niche in today’s game.”

— Tim MacMahon

The best European player and the greatest Mav?

Jerry West, NBA Hall of Fame guard: “He will be the best player Dallas has ever had. I have great respect for Nowitzki, but Dirk is not him. … [Doncic] hasn’t even scratched the surface. It’s fun to watch genius.”

David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach: “He’s going to push Dirk Nowitzki for the greatest European to ever play this game when it’s all said and done.”

J.J. Barea, Mavericks guard: “The thing I see is the competitiveness in both of them. In anything they do. Dirk used to love competing in practice. Luka loves winning everything in practice.”

Shawn Marion, former Mav and 16-year NBA veteran: “For him to be as poised and have the confidence and the cockiness, kind of like a little swagger that he has, at this young in a career is very, very rare. What he’s doing right now, he can possibly be better than Dirk.”

Dirk Nowitzki, never one who craved the spotlight, certainly didn’t mind that his unofficial farewell tour was often overshadowed by the arrival of another European sensation in Dallas.

That Nowitzki and Doncic shared a season as teammates was a treat to Mavericks fans, who were so fortunate to follow the entire career of the best European import in NBA history, and then got to see the big German pass the torch to a Slovenian kid who could knock him down to second on that list.

However, aside from their native continent and NBA employer, Doncic and Nowitzki don’t have a whole lot in common.

Their games are completely different. Nowitzki was the sweetest-shooting 7-footer to ever play, and Doncic has more in common with the surefire Hall of Fame point guards who delivered Dirk the ball, kind of a supersized blend of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.

They also took totally different paths to the NBA. Nowitzki’s previous pro experience was playing for his hometown Wurzburg X-Rays in the German league’s second division. Doncic left home at 13 and spent most of his teens playing for Real Madrid, the biggest powerhouse in European hoops, arriving in America as a champion and MVP in the world’s best league outside the NBA.

“This kid just has so much more swag than I did,” Nowitzki said on multiple occasions last season, even more impressed by Doncic’s confidence and on-court charisma than his breathtaking talent. Nowitzki spent his rookie year wondering whether he made a mistake by leaving home. At 21, he had just started to establish himself as a quality NBA starter.

Doncic electrified the league as a teenage rookie and has been a dominant force in his second season, making his potential seem limitless. It feels destined that he’ll match Nowitzki as Mavs who earned MVP and Finals MVP honors. Heck, it’d be a bit disappointing if Doncic doesn’t win those awards on multiple occasions.

If he’s durable enough, Doncic is a good bet to also join Nowitzki in the exclusive 30,000-point club, considering he already has 3,285 points in the bank and only recently has been able to buy a beer in the United States. What’s scary is that scoring isn’t even what the kid does best.

Mavs fans, from Mark Cuban up to the folks in the nosebleed seats at the American Airlines Center, just hope that Doncic follows Dirk’s footsteps by spending an entire two-decade career in Dallas.

— MacMahon

A combination of Magic and Bird?

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs head coach: “It’s Magic Johnson-like in the sense that he sees the floor in that same way. He’s got a real intuitive sense and you can’t teach that. He’s just got it, and he’s great at it.

Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks head coach: “He knows where everybody is not only on offense, but defense. That’s the sign of a savant-type guy. I’ve played with Larry Bird. He could see everything like that. I had the privilege of coaching Jason Kidd. He could see everything like that. Luka is in that same mold.”

Kerr: “You know, he’s got this incredible knack for seeing the floor and being a step ahead. He reminds me a little bit of Larry Bird in that regard. He’s kind of one step ahead in the chess match.

Jalen Rose, ESPN analyst and 13-year NBA veteran: “I have never compared a player to [Larry Bird] until now. … In the modern game, if he was facing the floor as the primary ball handler, he would look like Luka.”

Mark Jackson, former NBA player and coach and current broadcaster: “To me, Luka Doncic is an absolute combination of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.”

We still know them as “Magic and Larry” because of their intertwined careers and highly creative skill sets. So it’s only fitting that both NBA legends have been used as Doncic comparisons.

The Johnson comp stems from Doncic’s combination of size and playmaking ability. The term “triple-double” was popularized to capture Johnson’s versatility, and he still leads all players in NBA history with 30 postseason triple-doubles. With a pair of triple-doubles in his first four playoff games, Doncic — who became the third-youngest player to record a playoff triple-double, behind Johnson and James — is coming for that record.

Any time a player with the size of a forward is used exclusively at point guard, some debt is owed to Johnson’s Hall of Fame career. His success, and the five championships the Lakers won during nine NBA Finals appearances in the 12 years before his forced retirement due to HIV, made big point guards a new standard.

Through two seasons, Doncic has already made more 3-pointers (339) than Johnson in his entire career (325). Even accounting for the leaguewide reluctance to shoot 3s back in the 1980s, Johnson stood out as a non-shooter. It wasn’t until his 10th season that Johnson made more than 11 triples. And that’s why Jackson compares Doncic to Johnson and Bird.

As a shooter, Doncic looks likely to land somewhere in the wide gulf between Johnson and Bird. While Doncic has made more far more 3s in each of his two NBA campaigns than Bird ever did in a season, that owes to the increase in attempts leaguewide. Bird was a career 38% shooter, far outstripping Doncic’s 32% accuracy so far. And while their shot patterns are very different, Bird’s free throw shooting (89%) put him far ahead of Doncic (74%) as well.

While Bird wasn’t the kind of ball handler that Doncic and Johnson are, Bird’s court vision at his size (6-foot-9) and creativity feed into the comparison.

Projecting far into the future, Doncic might set himself apart from Magic and Larry by virtue of longevity. Among ESPN’s top 10 NBA players of all time as voted on in May, Johnson (906 games) and Bird (897) had the two shortest careers. If Doncic can stay healthy, his early start gives him a chance to crush those totals.

— Pelton

MORE: Everything you need to know about the NBA GOAT debate


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


Continue Reading


Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


Continue Reading


The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


Continue Reading