Right now, the NBA is as exciting as it has been in years. Superstars are spread out across the league. The Golden State Warriors are stuck in a holding pattern, stripped of their super team status. And two of the must-watch players in the sport hail from entirely different generations.
The Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, at just 20 years old, is the next NBA superstar. And LeBron James, shaking off a 2018-19 slump with the Los Angeles Lakers, is again one of the strongest forces on the court. Not bad for his 17th year in the NBA.
The connections between the way these two stars play goes deeper than simply being great at the same time.
How a young Luka Doncic matches up to a young LeBron James
These two players aren’t just connected by hype. Doncic increasingly finds himself compared to LeBron in particular. Despite their physical differences, it turns out there’s one major way Luka Doncic really might be the next LeBron James.
It’s the passing acumen.
Doncic exhibits a level of basketball IQ so rare that LeBron is the most recent player that comes to mind who displayed that ability so early. Doncic reads the floor, gets the ball out of his hands under incredible pressure, and hits targets that no one else was even looking for. At just 20 years old, Doncic has the mindset and the command of his teammates’ positions to change the flow on offense in situations that would shut down most players.
Well, players not named “LeBron James,” who continues to combine both high basketball IQ and brutally physical drives to prove why he’s still one of the best in the game.
Doncic vs. James: two masterful performances in one game
Doncic’s second year in the NBA looks to cement his superstar status. LeBron’s 17th is a return to form. Surprising no one, when the Mavericks and the Lakers met this year, it produced possibly the best game of the year so far.
In fact, both Doncic and LeBron tallied triple-doubles. Their final lines were 30-10-15. They became the youngest and oldest players to hit those numbers in NBA history, and they did it in the same game.
They both put on a show with their passing games. The contest showed off LeBron’s no-look pass heroics, and Doncic’s freakish ability to get the ball into a teammate’s hands while being absolutely mobbed. It was also a clinic for each star’s step-back 3-pointers. Luka Doncic and LeBron James aren’t playing quite the same game as Houston Rockets’ isolation magician James Harden, though. They’re quicker to release the ball, hinting at a nasty drive before suddenly dipping back into open space.
The game went into overtime, because seriously, how could it not? In the end, Doncic couldn’t blow past the relentless one-two punch of LeBron and Anthony Davis. Los Angeles took the contest 119-110.
What does LeBron think about Doncic?
After that overtime throwdown, LeBron had something to say to Doncic. A little close listening and lip-reading in the tweet above makes James’ feelings on his young opponent explicit.
We can’t reprint the whole phrase here. In summary, LeBron likes the type of game Luka Doncic plays. The respect between these two is palpable. Neither player hesitated to measure up against the other in one-on-one situations.
While some fans decry the current era of the NBA as the best friends league, clearly, these two players feed off the friendly competition. It’s not about convincing each other they’re enemies. It’s about taking on the challenge, putting up the biggest numbers possible, and hugging it out at the end.
Mavs and Lakers aren’t at rivalry status. But Doncic versus James makes each of these games must-watch television. And it doesn’t hurt that the Mavericks’ outspoken owner Mark Cuban regularly spars with LeBron in the media. Anyone looking for a great game of basketball should tune in whenever these two go at it.