The stats between LeBron James after his second year in the NBA and Luka Doncic in his second season are so eerily similar it’s like looking into a mirror.
During the first 159 games of his career after he was in the league for two seasons, James averaged 24.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and shot 44.6 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from 3-point range. Now in his second season, Doncic currently is averaging 23.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists and shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 32.7 percent from behind the 3-point arc in 105 career games.
However, Doncic is quick to admit that no matter what the stats reveal or the critics say, he is not the second coming of LeBron James.
“I’m nowhere near that,” Doncic said after Thursday’s practice session. “I’m 20 years old and this is my second year in the league.
“Anything can happen, so I’ve got to prove a lot.”
What Doncic has proven so far is that he is one of the top players in the world. The 6-7 point guard has helped the Dallas Mavericks go 23-14 while wowing fans from coast to coast with his eclectic brand of basketball.
Of Doncic’s ascension up the NBA ladder, Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson said: “This has happened way ahead of schedule. Obviously, every game he seems to surprise us, and our future is really, really bright.”
Stephen A. Smith, the co-host of ESPN’s First Take, told Mavs.com that he sees a lot of James whenever he’s watching Doncic.
“I’m not going to call him the next LeBron in terms of athleticism because I don’t necessarily see that, but the brother can play,” Smith said. “He is clearly a superstar in the making.
“First of all, at this age he has a better jump shot than LeBron James, he clearly hits better free throws than LeBron James. He’s not as athletic as LeBron, but (with coach) Rick Carlisle putting the ball in his hands and allowing him to do his thing, I can’t say enough about him.”
Fans obviously can’t say enough about Doncic as he and the Mavs host James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at 8:45 p.m. at American Airlines Center in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN. Other than tickets for Dirk Nowitzki’s final home game last season, ticket requests for Friday’s game are the highest since the Mavs hosted the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the 2011 NBA Finals.
Doncic and James are two of the NBA’s brightest stars, and a head-to-head collision course of this nature usually draws added interest, even on a global scale.
“It couldn’t be more exciting and it’s as good as it gets,” Nelson said. “It’s a big rivalry for us, and to have Luka play against one of his heroes just makes it special. It means the Mavericks are winning more basketball games, and that’s what we and (Doncic) wants.”
Both James and Doncic are box office hits who pack arenas across the NBA.
James, 35, was the childhood idol of Doncic, which makes for a surreal setting for the kid from Slovenia. Yet, all bets are off once the game’s opening tip is completed.
“When the game starts he’s trying to win,” Doncic said. “Although it’s special to go against him we’re just trying to win the game, but again it’s special to play against him.
“I enjoy every game I play, so like I say it’s special to play against him.”
Doncic is third in the NBA in scoring (29.6) and assists (9.0), and 16th in rebounding (9.7) and has a league-high 11 triple-doubles. James leads the league in assists (10.8) and is 11th in scoring (25.1) and 27th in rebounding (7.8).
A 15-time All-Star who entered the NBA out of high school at the age of 18 as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft, James causes defensive headaches for opposing teams.
“The guy causes a million problems out there,” Carlisle said. “Look, he’s an all-time great, he’s a top tier all-time great. That says enough.
“He’s a matchup nightmare, a guy who can play any position on the floor. And we’re going to have to somehow deal with him, and it ain’t easy.”
Doncic, who was the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft at the age of 18, agreed.
“It’s always a challenge,” he said, in reference to James. “He’s one of the greatest players ever.
“I know we’ve got to do a great job defending him and trying to win the game.”
As Doncic’s star continues to rise, Nelson has noticed something unique about his game that’s undeniable.
“I’m especially proud of his passing,” Nelson said. “He just makes all of his teammates better.
“He’s got a special nose for the ball. He’s got one of those noses like Jason Kidd where he kind of senses where the ball’s going to bounce with his size. But he’s all about winning.”
Smith expects Doncic to be playing in next month’s NBA All-Star game in Chicago, and he expects him to put on a show.
“He’s very impressive,” Smith said. “I knew he was good, but I did not see this coming. I’m totally, totally stunned.
“But in the end give him props where it’s due. I think he’s got star written all over him and it’s one of those situations where it’s going to be real interesting to see him continue to develop because he’s definitely a star.”