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Does Luka Doncic have one true comparison? Mavs star evokes NBA greats past and present while showing ‘he’s an original’

Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers didn’t derive his nickname from having medical expertise, but rather, the fact that he once wore a Julius Erving T-shirt to a Marquette basketball camp.

Rivers, though, does have keen basketball historical knowledge, so when asked about wonder boy Luka Doncic’s multifaceted skill set, Doc pondered the 20-year-old Maverick’s hoops DNA.

“There’s a lot of people in him.”

Rivers likened Doncic’s step-back 3-pointers to those of James Harden. He equated Doncic’s prescient passing ability and pigmentation to Larry Bird’s. He called Doncic’s court vision “LeBronish.”

“But I think when he retires,” Rivers stressed, “people are going to say he was Luka and people are going to try to probably model their game after him more than him modeling after anyone else.”

That’s the thing about Doncic and the comparisons that coaches, players, sportwriters and fans are drawing between facets of his game and those NBA greats, past and present.

No one is trying to pigeonhole Doncic by saying he is exactly like any one player. No one is attempting to put undue pressure on him or set an impossibly high bar, like when Harold Miner (remember him?) was dubbed “Baby Jordan” in the early ‘90s.

Not even a season-and-a-half into his NBA career, Doncic has made it clear — with his play, not words – that he is a transcendent and mentally steeled player, seemingly immune to outside pressures.

Mentions of Doncic in the same breaths as the likes of Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and Michael Jordan mostly are attempts to put his abilities and “video game numbers,” as Phoenix coach Monty Williams calls them, into perspective and historical context.

Denver coach Michael Malone said that when he watches Doncic’s passing and dribbling flair and searches his mind’s eye for a comparison, it’s “Pistol” Pete Maravich, “the kind of guy that you’d actually pay to go watch.”

Statistically, Doncic most closely compares to 1960s and ‘70s great Oscar Robertson and current Houston guard Russell Westbrook, the only players to average a triple-double for an entire season.

At 6-foot-7, Doncic is a cross between a pair of Hall of Fame guards and, likewise, triple-double machines: 6-9 Magic Johnson and 6-5 Mavericks great Jason Kidd.

In reality, individual facets of Doncic’s game, pulled together, make him an amalgamation of all of the above players and others.

His cut-throat competitiveness is Birdlike. His head-lowered, try-to-stop-me-if-you-dare charges to the basket are reminiscent of LeBron James, though he obviously doesn’t have James’ NFL tight end-like physique or sheer athleticism.

The beautiful, cloud-piercing arc and usually soft rim landings and net splashing of Doncic’s perimeter shots are reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki and George Gervin. Doncic’s similarly high-trajectory floaters and underhand scoops in the lane have similar artistry and degree-of-difficulty-made-to-look easy as another ex-Spur, Tony Parker.

Sometimes, like during his 41-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance against Detroit on Thursday night in Mexico City, Doncic plays with the expressive joy and showmanship of Lakers Showtime maestro Johnson and younger-years Kidd.

Doncic has made it no secret that the player he most idolized during his early teen years was James, but that doesn’t mean he patterned his game after James – or anyone else. And don’t bother trying to get Doncic to compare his game to anyone else’s.

“I mean, I don’t know,” he said after passing Michael Jordan’s post-NBA/ABA merger record for consecutive 20-5-5 games. “It’s a lot of stats going on. I think it’s a little too much stats. You can’t compare nobody to Michael Jordan. He’s one of a kind. Those are just stats.”

One of Doncic’s Mavericks teammates, Tim Hardaway Jr., has the unique perspective of playing alongside Doncic, but also having a father who was one of the NBA’s best point guards of the 1990s.

Hardaway Jr., though, says he and his father have never spoken of Doncic in a who-is-he-most-like sense.

“Luka is a different type of ballplayer, something that a lot of people haven’t seen before, just specifically because he’s doing everything at a young age,” Hardaway Jr. said. “It’s very hard to compare him to any 20-year-old coming in, besides LeBron.

“Luka is going to go out there and do what Luka does best and make a name for himself, which is what he’s doing right now.”

Last season, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on many occasions was asked whether Doncic’s game reminds him of anyone he’s seen during his 35 seasons as an NBA coach and player.

It was Carlisle who first invoked the name of Bird, his former Celtics teammate and later boss at Indiana, while citing Doncic’s forward-position body and ability to anticipate plays before they happen.

Citing Doncic’s European upbringing, Carlisle also added, “there’s a little (Toni) Kukoc, there’s a little (Manu) Ginobili, there’s a little of (Drazen) Petrovic. Those guys had wide-ranging skills. They could all score. They could all make plays … That said, Luka is very much his own man. He’s very much an original on a lot of levels.”

This season, while watching Doncic take his game to an even higher level, that of NBA Most Valuable Player candidate, Carlisle has used adjectives like “breathtaking” and “sensational” and “historic,” but is even more adamant about not applying labels.

“I don’t like doing that,” he said. “I don’t like the comparisons. I think he’s an original. He’s the first Luka Doncic. Getting into comparing him with other great players, past and present, I just don’t like playing that game.

“He’s doing a lot of historic things for a guy in his second year. He’s blazing his own trail. That’s important. We’re a team that’s trying to get better, we’re trying to win games and he’s obviously a big part of it.”


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