25-under-25: Luka Doncic plays in the fourth dimension


Luka Doncic, the Slovenian wonder boy, is a generational spectacle and No. 1 on The Step Back’s 25-under-25 list for 2020.

Only a handful of players can draw fans in like carnival barkers, promising spectators grand-staged wonders they’ve never seen before. Dallas’ lone star is among them.

Remember back when the 2018 draft loomed and people doubted Luka Doncic’s chances of making it in the NBA? Yeah, me neither.

Detractors called out deficient speed and athleticism as Luka’s stumbling blocks to stardom. While Doncic may not be the fleetest of foot, he can still walk into a triple-double on any given night.

Luka transcends his weaknesses by being a generational talent, one of the few who see and play the game on an elevated plane. Probing the floor from his fourth-dimensional perch grants Doncic ingress to incendiary, can’t-believe-what-you-just-saw passes that spit in the face of both geometry and physics. His court vision brings music to a sad world.

Just like a great quarterback covers up shortcomings while lifting all boats, a great point guard does the same. They throw receivers open and thread the needle into windows with zero margins for error. By reading the defense and anticipating where the next moves will be, he puts his teammates in the best position to succeed.

Doncic already ascended to the league’s top tier by making All-NBA First Team in his age-20 season — his second in the league. Only Tim Duncan had done that before. What’s more, only Doncic, Duncan, Rick Barry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Max Zaslofsky made first teams before turning 22-years old.

Luka Doncic is already one of the best players in the league and he hasn’t even scratched the surface

Luka averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists over this past two-part pandemic season. Here’s the list of players who averaged 28/9/8 over a single season: Dončić, Russell Westbrook, and Oscar Robertson (who did it four times). Granted, Doncic posted it over a coronavirus-shortened campaign in 61 games, he was also the youngest to do it by two years.

The 2019-20 Mavericks sported the league’s best offensive rating by a healthy margin, according to Basketball-Reference. The difference between them and the No. 2 Clippers is nearly the same as the difference between the Clippers and No. 15 Thunder. Dallas scores 3.7 more points per 100 possessions with Luka on the court than when he sits. Even though his defense leaves something to be desired, he’s still a net +1.2.

Doncic brandished the “it” factor of a true superstar: he carried an otherwise pedestrian roster to the postseason — and did it ahead of schedule. And he didn’t shy away from or shrink in big moments once he got there. In the six games against the Clippers, he bumped up his averages to 31 points, 9.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists and shot over 36 percent beyond the arc.

Take Luka off the Mavericks and they instantly transform from a rising playoff team in the West to listless, forgettable, also-ran bound for the lottery. Ask any casual basketball fan to name you three other current Mavericks and watch their eyes glaze over.

Considering he’s barely old enough to legally drink, Luka could be holding dominion over the league for the next decade. He’s already on the precipice and that comes after shooting only 31.6% from deep last year. How much higher does his ceiling go once he hits his theoretical prime and fully taps into his roiling reservoir of potential?

Is he the evolutionary Magic Johnson? A less athletic LeBron? An amalgam of Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd? Something different altogether?

Until Doncic gets there, he’s the face to launch a thousand blogs and even inspired a song parody. Right now, Luka heads into the season boasting the lowest odds of winning the 2020-21 MVP at +300, according to Bovada. If he does seize the trophy, he’d become the youngest ever to do so.

In addition to the stats, Luka carries another important aspect for leading franchise players to have. Two words: charisma. On and off the court, Doncic teems with an unbridled joie de vivre. His effervescent style of play sparks contagious ebullience. Knowing Doncic is looking to create and dish gives his teammates energy. Just like a string of lights, the Mavericks roster forms an electrical circuit with the current flowing through Luka as the first bulb.

In a couple of years, we might look back on the selection of Marvin Bagley over Doncic as this era’s Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. The lesson: when you have the chance to take a guy who can change the entire trajectory of your franchise, throw positional needs out the window and go for it. So much for Luka’s athletic inferiority.

Next. Meet the 2020 NBA 25-under-25. dark