Take a Luka Me Now: Doncic’s Career Arc is Off to an All-Time Start

Luka Doncic was impressive in Europe, impressive enough that some people thought he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. Not everyone agreed, of course, and we know at least two teams who weren’t convinced enough to draft him.

There’s a good chance they’d rethink that decision today if offered the opportunity.

The Dallas Mavericks thought he was worth a lot, trading Trae Young and what turned out to be Cam Reddish (the No. 10 pick in the 2019 draft). Of course, since then Doncic has been nothing less than the type of generational franchise player you long for at No. 1. In fact, he might be having the best sophomore season of all-time.

And when you compare his numbers with what some of the greatest ever have done at this early stage of their careers, the title of “Best Player In the World” could be in his bio someday.

In just his second season, Doncic is averaging 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.9 dimes despite playing less than two minutes on Dec. 14 against the Miami Heat due to injury. Through his other 24 games, he’s averaging 30.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 9.3 assists. What he’s doing is unparalleled.

Here is the small hand full of players who were even remotely close to him on a per-36-minute basis:

25 Points, 5 Assists and 5 Rebounds per 36 Minutes, 2nd Year
Crit Crit Crit Crit Crit
Rk Player Season Age Tm Lg PTS AST TRB TS% PER
1 Luka Dončić 2019-20 20 DAL NBA 32.8 9.9 10.7 .618 32.1
2 Nikola Jokić 2016-17 21 DEN NBA 21.6 6.3 12.7 .640 26.3
3 Oscar Robertson 1961-62 23 CIN NBA 25.0 9.2 10.1 .554 26.0
4 LeBron James 2004-05 20 CLE NBA 23.1 6.1 6.2 .554 25.7
5 Walter Davis 1978-79 24 PHO NBA 27.6 5.0 5.5 .606 23.0
6 Sidney Wicks 1972-73 23 POR NBA 21.8 5.0 9.9 .497 20.3
7 Alvan Adams 1976-77 22 PHO NBA 20.5 5.1 10.3 .519 20.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/16/2019.


Of the seven players who achieved this balance in just their second season, Doncic is first in points, assists, true shooting percentage and Player Efficiency Rating. He is “only” second in rebounds. Even all-time all-around greats like Oscar Robertson weren’t producing on this level, this early in their careers.

Dec 8, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) misses his final shot to tie the game as Sacramento Kings guard Cory Joseph (9) defends during the second half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

All-time, regardless of qualifiers, Doncic is still first in points, sixth in assists, first in PER and first in Win Shares per 48 minutes.

And even with all that, we’re still understating how impressive he has been. What we’re talking about here is a Rookie of the Year winner dramatically improving his game from year one to year two. Only three players have followed up a Rookie of the Year campaign with votes for Most Improved Player in their sophomore year:

  • LeBron James, 6th,
  • Brandon Roy, t28 2007-08
  • Kevin Durant, 3rd (2008-09)

Two of those players, James and Durant, have gone on to win MVPs and Finals MVPs and are, at minimum, in the conversation for top-10 All-Time or better. Roy had his career devastated by injuries before he ever hit his peak.

The company that Doncic is in there is phenomenal, but it’s a very realistic scenario that they may not be in his if he keeps playing the way he is. He could become the first reigning Rookie of the Year to win Most Improved Player, which would be quite an achievement.

In fact, there’s a very good chance that Doncic could place high in the MVP voting (or even win it) with his prodigious numbers fueling the Mavs’ meteoric rise in the standings.

Dec 12, 2019; Mexico City, MEX; Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) dribbles the ball while defended by Detroit Pistons guard Tony Snell (17) and center Andre Drummond (0)during the second half at Mexico City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Second-year players have gotten MVP consideration before, but again the list of names is small.

  • Tim Duncan, 2 (2000-01)
  • LeBron James, 6 (2004-05)
  • Ralph Sampson, 10 (1984-85)
  • David Robinson, 3 (1990-91)
  • Shaquille O’Neal, 4 (1992-93)
  • Grant Hill, 9 (1994-95)

Rookie of the Year winners who followed it up with a top-five MVP performance presents an incredible list of present and future Hall of Famers. Let’s compare Luka with the top-six finishers’ per-36 minute numbers:

ROYs with Top-6 MVPs in Sophomore Season
Rk Player Season Age FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
1 Luka Dončić 2019-20 20 .481 .326 .803 10.7 9.9 1.3 0.1 4.9 32.8
2 Tim Duncan 1998-99 22 .495 .143 .690 10.5 2.2 0.8 2.3 2.7 19.9
3 LeBron James 2004-05 20 .472 .351 .750 6.2 6.1 1.9 0.6 2.8 23.1
4 Shaquille O’Neal* 1993-94 21 .599 .000 .554 12.0 2.2 0.8 2.6 2.5 26.5
5 David Robinson* 1990-91 25 .552 .143 .762 12.4 2.4 1.5 3.7 3.1 24.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/18/2019.


Doncic has the most points, most assists and is third in boards (with even more than Duncan)!

But how does he compare in the advanced numbers?

ROYs with Top-6 MVPs in Sophomore Season  
Rk Player Season Age PER TS% TRB% AST% USG% WS/48 BPM
1 Luka Dončić 2019-20 20 32.0 .618 15.5 48.1 37.0 .294 13.6
2 Tim Duncan 1998-99 22 23.2 .541 16.3 12.1 27.2 .213 4.9
3 LeBron James 2004-05 20 25.7 .554 10.2 32.9 29.7 .203 8.3
4 Shaquille O’Neal* 1993-94 21 28.5 .605 18.7 11.0 29.0 .252 6.6
5 David Robinson* 1990-91 25 27.4 .615 19.0 10.9 26.6 .264 8.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/18/2019.

He has the best PER, the highest true shooing percentage, the best assist percentage and usage percentage by a gap, the best WS/48 and the best Box Plus-Minus.

Don’t worry. I’m not saying that Doncic is on par with those players; I’m merely saying that his second season is at least as good as theirs.

But every one of those players is among the greatest in history, and every one of those players was once the best player in the world—or at least in the conversation for it.

Nov 3, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) celebrates a three pointer during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Also, notice the ages of the players. Doncic was 19 years and 231 days old when he tipped off his second season. James was 19 years and 305 days. So, Doncic is the youngest of the players on this list, though the difference with James is negligible.

So the insane thing about Doncic isn’t what he’s already done or is presently doing; it’s what he can still do. At this point in their careers, everyone who has done what Doncic has done went on to be an all-time great.

One of the most famous draft-day decisions in history was the Portland Trail Blazers taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. The thing about that is Bowie actually had a pretty solid NBA career, just not a Hall of Fame one. The same could be said of this draft.

Even Hakeem Olajuwon—who was taken in the same 1984 draft class— is one of the greatest of all-time. But he doesn’t have the title of the GOAT.

Trae Young might go on to have a great career, and No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton could have quite a career.

But in 20 years, when we’re looking back on Doncic’s career, we may look at those picks as quizzically as we do on Bowie’s today.