Following Luka Doncic's dazzling triple double performance against Milwaukee on Saturday, I found myself questioning the 21 year-old phenom's place among the "greatest of all time" at this stage in their careers. Not only did Luka out-duel 25 year-old NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on Saturday night, he also became the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in triple-doubles as he dismantled the league's top defense. Has Luka already earned a seat at the table when it comes to the "goat" conversation?
If the eye test raises the question as to whether Doncic deserves a seat at the table among NBA "goats," the stats answer with a resounding yes. Of course, Luka must pass the test of time for anyone to seriously compare his overall career achievements to those of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. But I don't find it premature to view him as a potential Jordan. I actually find it astonishing that less has been made of Doncic's early career achievements.
In his sophomore campaign alone, Doncic has outperformed the 20-21 year-old performances of each of the future Hall of Famers mentioned above. In fact, statistically speaking Luka Doncic is the greatest 21 & under player in NBA history… and it's not even close.
Points, Rebounds, and Assists Per Game
Michael Jordan was still playing college ball as a 20 year-old. Nevertheless, even in his rookie NBA season at the age of 21, the widely regarded "goat" did not post the kind of numbers Doncic has this year. In fact, 20-21 year-old Luka Doncic has outscored, out-rebounded, and out-assisted 21-22 year-old Michael Jordan on a nightly basis while playing 4.4 less minutes per game. Doncic also bested 20-21 year-old LeBron, Kobe, and Magic in these statistics while playing 8.5, 4, and 2.4 fewer minutes respectively.
Advanced Statistics only reinforce Luka's title as the 21 and under goat. With the highest Player Efficiency Rating, Total Rebound Percentage, Assist Percentage, Win Shares Per 48 Minutes, and Offensive Box Plus/Minus among the group, there's no questioning Luka's offensive superiority to the others early in their careers. The Slovenian superstar's near tie with Michael Jordan in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes and LeBron James in Box Plus Minus reveals his overall impact on the games in which he plays, and his 58.5% True Shooting Percentage places him just behind Jordan while far ahead of James and Bryant as a shooter.
Expanding the Pool
Of course there are NBA greats outside of Jordan, James, and Bryant who have performed at an elite level prior to the age of 22. Bigs like Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan have posted higher field goal percentages than Doncic while guards such as Kevin Durant, Trae Young, and Allen Iverson have shot better from deep. Nevertheless, the overall production of these players pales in comparison to Luka as reflected by his superior Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares Per 48 Minutes, and Box Plus Minus. Doncic's top Assist Percentage and second-to-Tim Duncan True Rebound Percentage make him the group's most well-rounded player while his 29.1 points per game make him the group's highest scorer.
Entering the GOAT Conversation
Many will argue that 3 years in the EuroLeague gave Luka a leg up on the competition prior to his historically great first two seasons. And while Luka Doncic has proven to be the most polished 21-and-under playmaker in NBA history, the young star must reduce turnovers and grow defensively to sniff the achievements of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. Nevertheless, those who witnessed young Luka tie Michael Jordan for the 5th most 35-10-10 games in NBA history on Saturday night know that Luka can finish as a top 10 all-time player if he only maintains his current level of play over the course of a long career. Should the 21-year-old develop his game further as most players his age do, expect to hear Luka's name in the same sentence as Jordan's for more than just a shoe endorsement.