Two of this season’s biggest NBA stars are Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic. As both become cornerstones for the league, people are debating which prodigal talent they’d rather build a team around. You can’t go wrong with either. A clear difference, however, makes one player better than the other.
Luka Doncic is a complete offensive wing player
Scouts have known Doncic had the potential to be special for nearly a decade. He’s always been advanced for his age. Leaving his native Slovenia at the age of 13, Doncic joined and immediately faced players older than he was.
By the time he was 16, he already made his debut for Madrid’s senior team. Two years later, he became the youngest to ever win EuroLeague MVP. When he entered the draft after that season, the kid nicknamed “The Wonder Boy” faced high expectations. Teams were also concerned about how he’d adapt to the NBA’s higher standards.
Doncic quieted his critics in no time flat. He became Rookie of the Year after averaging 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists per game. Only four other players in NBA history put up similar numbers: Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Tyreke Evans.
This year, Doncic has delivered an encore. Triple-doubles are a little more common in recent years, but it’s still stunning to see a 20-year-old averaging a triple-double this late into the season.
Doncic’s ability to control an offense on his own is exceedingly rare. He can shoot off the dribble in the vein of James Harden. He can get to the rim consistently thanks to the tightness of his handle and intelligence about using his size against smaller defenders.
If teams load up to stop him from scoring, Doncic can use his high-level court vision to find open teammates. His ability to hurt defenses from every area of the court has drawn comparisons to some of the best players of all time. And those comparisons are totally merited.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s physical dominance is unstoppable
Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, is a superstar no one saw coming. He arrived in the NBA as a spindly teenager needing years of molding to become a legitimate NBA player. “The Greek Freak” has put the work in.
Last season was the first time when Antetokounmpo fully fused all of his gifts. First-year coach Mike Budenholzer gave him the platform to succeed by giving him more space on offense, and Antetokounmpo used the space to devastate opposing teams. He averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists per game, becoming the third-youngest MVP in the past 40 years.
Antetokounmpo’s theme of constant forward progress has continued this year. The MVP has been even better this year. He’s averaging more points (30) and more free throw attempts (10) despite playing slightly fewer minutes per game (31). He’s even shooting threes at a higher rate than ever, which opens the floor even more for his teammates.
Keeping Antetokounmpo away from the rim is an impossible dream for the rest of the NBA. He’s a one-of-a-kind athlete who can get from the three-point line to the basket in one dribble. He basically dunks whenever he wants.
Antetokounmpo also shows real growth as a playmaker. It would be easy to say he’s playing at the peak of his powers. But considering the trajectory of his career, Antetokounmpo will likely keep improving for a few more years.
Defense is the difference
Both Doncic and Antetokounmpo are generational talents any franchise would be thankful to have. Their status in the NBA is a testament to the growth of basketball as a global sport. If you were in a position to choose one of these two players, then Antetokounmpo is the smartest choice.
The 25-year-old’s defense is the greatest advantage either player has over the other. He’s learned to leverage his athleticism, strength and long arms in order to wreak havoc on the defensive end.
Antetokounmpo can guard four positions with ease, as well as some of the more finesse-style centers in the league. He made the NBA’s All-Defensive Team last year and will surely do so again this year. The Greek athlete is also a prime candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Doncic is an incredible athlete, too. He can use his size and rebounding ability to stop teams from scoring. But he’s never going to be a lockdown defender like Antetokounmpso Both players have a ridiculously high ceiling, but Antetokounmpo has the skill set to affect the game in more ways than Doncic.
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