For those who were fortunate enough to tune in to today’s game 4 matchup between the Mavericks and Clippers, you just watched an event that has little historical precedent. Luka Dončić, on a bad ankle, without his best running mate, against a finals favorite, after playing 46 minutes, hit a shot beyond belief at the buzzer to tie the series against the Clippers, capping off a superhuman performance where he went for 43 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists. It was a special, heart-stopping performance that rivals any playoff outing I can remember. I also believe, 20 or so years down the line (after several titles, MVP’s, and etcetera in Luka’s trophy case), this masterpiece will take its rightful place alongside three other virtuoso performances that I can think of, as the moment where the NBA world realized it was watching a once-in-a-generation-type talent.
As mentioned above, there are three other performances in NBA history that immediately remind me of the one I just watched:
-When Magic Johnson, as a rookie, started at center in place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 finals. He proceeded to drop 42 points on the Sixers, clinch the series for the Lakers, and win finals MVP, still the only rookie in the history of the league to do so.
-When Michael Jordan, in his 2nd year in the league, exploded for 63 points against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the 1986 playoffs, albeit in a double OT loss. Larry Bird famously remarked after the game, “I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
-When Lebron James, at age 22, surrounded by notably inferior talent, scored the Cavs’ final 25 points (49 in total), to take the heavily-favored Pistons to a game 7 in the 2006 Eastern semifinals.
-And when Luka Dončić, who 6 months ago couldn’t order a beer at American Airlines Center, after putting up 40 against the finals favorite on a bad ankle, hit the game-winner to tie the series. There are so few comparisons to this performance, because there are so few peers to Luka at this stage of his young career.
By my eyes, Luka is the best player to enter the NBA since Lebron James. When all is said and done, barring injuries, he’ll be better than KD, better than Steph, better than Kawhi, better than Giannis. In his age 20 season, he just put up numbers (29/9/8) that none of the aforementioned have ever attained in their careers. He did so while still having notable improvements left to make as an athlete and a shooter, both of which I see as a “when”, rather than “if”. He also did so, it bears repeating, at age 20.
Barring any major offseason shakeups, I was pretty confident that Luka was going to be my MVP pick for next season. I felt I had a hot take in the hole that I was ready to drop before the season’s opening tip: by the end of the 2020-2021 season, Dončić will be considered by almost everyone to be the best player in the world. Luka, with his transcendent brilliance, has splashed a bucket of ice-cold water on that once bold claim and upped it for us–he might be the best player in the world already.
For anyone who didn’t know before 3:30 EST today, now you do: we’re living in Luka’s world. There are only a handful of players that I can recall in my lifetime who are so brilliant, so special, so extraordinary, that every time I turn on the TV to watch them, I feel genuinely lucky to have that opportunity. Luka is one of those players, and due to his heroics this afternoon, we get to watch him for at least two more games this season, and, thankfully, many, many years after that. How lucky we are.