As a fresh-faced 19-year-old rookie in the NBA in 2018-19, Luka Doncic showed poise beyond his years in earning Kia Rookie of the Year honors. The phrase sophomore slump apparently never entered his mind in 2019-20, as this season has proven to be a boisterous encore for the Dallas Mavericks' All-Star point guard.
So far this season, he has averaged a triple-double for an entire month (in November), broke Michael Jordan's string of consecutive 20-5-5 games (Nov. 1-Dec. 14) and leads the league in triple-doubles (13). That has all paid off for Dallas, which is 36-23 and has already surpassed last season's 33-49 mark. In one measure of his vast rise in popularity, Doncic went from finishing fifth among Western Conference frontcourt players in 2019 All-Star voting to ranking No. 1 among West guards (with more than 6.1 million votes) and starting in the 2020 All-Star Game.
There's every reason to believe there's more greatness to come from Doncic and, best yet for Mavs fans, he turns 21 on Feb. 28. In celebration of Doncic's milestone birthday, below is a collection of what current and former NBA players, coaches and executives shared about what makes Doncic such a special talent.
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'He makes it look easy'
“I’m a big fan of his. I watch Luka night in and night out. In the NBA today, some people just [have] the NBA app. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know a lot of people got jobs and work, but they’ve just got the NBA app. So they just look at the stats. They just look to see if a guy had 30 [points] and 15 [rebounds], and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, he’s nice.’ Luka plays the right way. So, even if he does have numbers, if you watch the game, he makes the right play, too.”
-- Thunder All-Star guard Chris Paul
"He's got crazy skills. He does it all. And he's not your average [second-year] guy. He plays like he's been in the league for years. He makes it look easy."
-- Celtics All-Star guard Kemba Walker
"He understands the game.Knows how to play the game. And knows how to run the offense. He's a walking triple-double. It's just amazing."
-- Former All-Star Tim Hardaway
"Larry Bird with a point guard’s mentality.... He has a Chris Paul mentality. Chris Paul is the guy who does the things Luka Doncic does, but [Doncic] is just in a much bigger frame, at a young age. The game definitely slows down for him. He has the ball in his hands and he sees the play. He sees what they’re gonna do or who’s gonna help."
-- Former All-Star center Theo Ratliff
"I love his vision, love his presence, love his confidence. Just a huge fan. I had a conversation with someone and we were going back and forth with Trae Young and Luka, and I said 'I got Luka.' This kid is so far ahead of where he should be."
-- Former NBA coach PJ Carlesimo
"I think he's a special talent. And he's unique, man. The mindset he has and as young as he is ... it's very rare. I haven't seen that in a lot of players. And he has an arrogance to him that I've never seen in a young guy that talented or a lot of guys. I mean, they can act like they got it, but when the time comes to to do certain things on the floor, some guys just shy away from it and kind of ice away from it. But he takes the challenge and does it."
-- Former All-Star Shawn Marion
"This guy was playing in huge games [in the EuroLeague]. This guy is playing in front of rabid fans and he's playing against guys [in EuroLeague] 15 years older than him. The pressure he's been under as a young player ... this is nothing to him in terms of pressure -- playing in the NBA. That's why I think you see his level of poise and control during a game at a young age. We have never had a more prepared young player come into this league."
-- NBA TV analyst and former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy
"[Clippers executive] Jerry West talked about it [in another story], he said that he will ultimately be the best that will wear a Mavericks’ uniform. And that is no disrespect to Dirk Nowitzki. He has had an incredible career. Luka Doncic, if he stays on this trajectory, he is going to be one of the best to play, period ... much less for the Mavericks. His impact on winning that’s the big thing."
-- NBA TV analyst and former NBA player Greg Anthony
'His mentality is just different, man'
"He's absolutely great for the league, both now and going forward. He's a star now and is just getting started. Everybody can't wait to see where this is going."
--Warriors coach Steve Kerr
"Luka is street smart. Luka has been through it. ... Nothing rattles him. Luka's not backing down. All the respect is coming his way."
-- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
"The kid's been playing pro ball since he was 14. Here he is almost averaging triple doubles and not even 21. His mentality is just different, man."
-- Former NBA All-Star and Pistons legend Rip Hamilton
“He has this look on his face where he doesn’t get frustrated, other than when he rips his jersey. You never know what he’s thinking.”
-- Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo
'He's just a baby in this thing'
"He's a different animal, man. At that size, with that handle and those skills ... at that age. It doesn't seem fair."
-- Kemba Walker
"You all see it. He goes out there and gets triple-doubles and is able to put up 30 every night. So I got a lot of respect for him. He's a great player, and I'm looking forward to matching up against him."
-- Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson
“I worked out with him a couple of years ago, actually. And I didn’t know much about him. I was 16. He was 17. I thought he was like a pro, like 25.”
-- New York Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett
"He’s very young, he’s very exciting. The scary thing about that is he still has 15 years to go. Imagine, him at 28/29 in his prime, he’s going to be one of the greats.”
-- Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal, in an interview with the Daily Star
"He's just a baby in this thing, 20 years old and already doing what he's doing."
-- Tim Hardaway
“[Heat teammate Goran Dragic] just tells me how he saw Luka grow into being the player that he is. So, you have to be a fan of him because he definitely has worked for it. He’s been around the game for so long, and what he’s doing in the league now is no surprise to him or to other people who knew him. I’m a fan of his. Very fun to watch him play.”
-- Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler
"He's just ready. He plays his own game, he plays at his own pace. He makes other people better. ... He's special."
-- NBA TV analyst and former All-Star Caron Butler
"He’s been a pro longer than I was."
-- Hall of Famer Dave Cowens, who played 11 NBA seasons
"I’ll tell you what: coaching against him is really hard. I know that much. We had a hard time with him. ... We were trying hard to guard him, but we weren’t doing it very well.”
-- Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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NBA.com's Steve Aschburner, Shaun Powell, Sekou Smith and Michael C. Wright contributed to this story.
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