Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic has inspired comparisons to legends like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in less than two and a half seasons of his NBA career.
Among active superstars, Doncic’s game might most closely resemble that of perennial MVP candidate James Harden, who acknowledged on Saturday night that he believes these comparisons are legitimate.
“There are some similarities,” said Harden after the Mavs ‘115-98 win on the road sparked the Brooklyn Nets’ eight-game winning streak. “He never lets anyone speed him up and he gets what he wants. That’s rare for a man at a young age. I think he’s 21 years old. And to be able to dictate the game and control the game like he does, we all know he has a very, very bright future.
“The Mavs have a special one.”
Harden’s comments weren’t necessarily in response to Saturday night’s game in which he was the only All-Star available for the nets, with Kevin Durant (thigh) and Kyrie Irving (injury maintenance) out.
“Anyone who is in the line-up and is fit has to be better, and that starts with me,” said Harden, who had 29 points and six assists, but only had four points after half-time.
Doncic had 27 points on 11-of-21, six rebounds and seven assists in victory, an impressive but routine performance for a player who averages 28.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game .
Even so, Doncic was flattered when he heard Harden’s praise.
“It’s something you can’t even describe when someone like this says something about you,” said Doncic, who previously talked about studying Harden, specifically his bounce back and his ability to draw fouls. “It’s just amazing. I really appreciate it. I watch him. He’s an amazing player and just very special.”
It was Dallas’ seventh win in their last nine games as the 16-16 Mavs climbed back to 500.
A major factor in the Mavs resurgence has been multiple players recovering from COVID-19 and regaining their rhythm. Starters Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Richardson and Reserve Dwight Powell missed longer distances due to the coronavirus, and backup point guard Jalen Brunson missed several games due to health and safety protocols despite never testing positive.
The other big development during the Dallas turnaround was perhaps the best stretch in Doncic’s spectacular young NBA career.
Doncic, who turns 22 on Sunday, has averaged 31.6 points in the last nine games, shooting 51.6% from the floor and 46.1% from the 3-point range. He had the three top rated performances of his career in the regular season of his career – 46, 44 and 42 points – averaging 7.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists. He wore the Mavs, much like Harden wore the Houston Rockets, for eight years before they were traded to Brooklyn that season.
“Harden has been in a situation where the offense has really centered on him in recent years,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. “Our team is similar to Luka, but our style is a little different from Houston and Brooklyn. Both are Generation-type players. No question about it.”