Luka vs LeBron: Comparing the Two at 20 Years of Age
LeBron James might have been the most decorated, recognizable teenager to enter the NBA. In 2003, the self-proclaimed “Chosen One” was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball, earned an unprecedented third USA Today All-American nod, and was the Gatorade Player of the Year. Many fans, writers, and analysts were already comparing his game to Michael Jordan, all before James stepped foot onto an NBA court.
Fifteen years later, and another teen phenom was about to enter the Association. A EuroLeague champion, EuroLeague MVP, and twice Euro Rising Star, Luka Doncic had his own collection of accolades on his resume before his first NBA season.
Both James and Doncic won Rookie of the Year honors. Both flashed incredible vision, a high basketball IQ, and an unbelievable ability to command a game. Both players averaged 21 points and six assists. (Luka took the edge in rebounding.)
As a sophomore in the league, LeBron quite possibly displayed the best season for a 20-year-old in NBA history. LeBron went on to average the now famous 27-7-7 (although he’s never actually scored those exact lines in a regular-season game). In his own second season in the league, Doncic is averaging nearly 30 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists a night.
Luka has played just shy of 100 NBA games, but has already earned comparisons to King James. Many have resisted the urge, but the fact is, Luka has actually been better than LeBron at this point in his career. Luka has been more efficient than LeBron as well, in his second year and we don’t need an “advanced stats” nerd to crunch the numbers.
Firstly, Luka is scoring more points per game than second-year LeBron. What is interesting to note is that Dončić averages nine fewer minutes per game than LeBron did in the 2004-2005 season.
Although playing significantly less, Dončić is averaging better than James in nearly every statistical category. Even when accounting for pace, Doncic comes out on top. It’s worth noting that LeBron played a gargantuan 42.4 minutes per game in 2004.
LeBron’s Cavaliers were much less talented than Luka’s Mavericks. LeBron was asked to do more with a less coherent roster. And a simple eye-test would suggest that James’ defense at age 20 was far superior.
At the end of the day, getting lost in the weeds isn’t the point. However you slice it, Luka is approximately on par with year-two LeBron James. That speaks volumes in and of itself.
If Doncic can continue his upward trajectory as James did, multiple MVPs and All-NBA selections are on the horizon. LeBron found his way onto the All-NBA Second Team as a sophomore in the league; Luka appears destined for the same this season, if not better.
Luka is already mentioned in the same breath as players like James Harden, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo when referring to the MVP race. A look at FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR ratings reinforce Luka’s inclusion in the MVP discussion.