A coordinated social media campaign isn’t necessary.
Ringing endorsements from coach Rick Carlisle or those who’ve faced him are also not required. There is no hype needed to shine a spotlight on Luka Doncic, the second-year Mavs star who is generating a buzz with each brilliant game he logs.
When you join the elite list of players to average a 30-point triple-double in a 10-game span (Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James) and you do it before turning 21, your superstar status is easy to verify.
Doncic has played his way into any conversation about this season’s best players and lands in the No. 3 spot in this Week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
His versatility and all-around dominance to date is drawing favorable comparisons with where James was at the same point in his career many years ago. Their head-to-head matchup on Nov. 1 — which the Lakers won in overtime — is already one of the season’s most entertaining games. Their matching triple-doubles that night also seemed a fitting tribute to their similar styles as jumbo facilitators for their teams. Doncic went toe-to-toe with the player he most admired growing up and the mutual respect overflowed afterwards.
“You never know who you can inspire along your path,” James said then. “For me, playing the game the right way, getting my teammates involved and playing for the purity of the game, I was able to inspire a kid that wasn’t even in America. That’s pretty special.”
His current magical run has seen Doncic shred opponents while confirming all those comparisons to a young LeBron — albeit with a more polished offensive repertoire at the same stage.
“He was already a great player last year, borderline All-Star. He’s for sure an All-Star this year,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Doncic logged a 35-point triple-double against his team. “He just looks like he knows he’s the best player on the floor out there.”
Doncic made history with his performance against Golden State, setting a record for consecutive 35-point triple-doubles (and sharing a record with Allen Iverson, too).
“He’s having a phenomenal year,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know how else to characterize it. His ability to balance the paint game with the outside game makes him really tough to deal with for opponents, and he’s on a really great roll right now.”
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The Top 5 this week in the 2019-20 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Season stats: 30.5 points, 13.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.5 steals
Anything you do, Giannis can do better. He jumped in on this season’s triple-double parade with 24 points, 19 rebounds and (a career-high) 15 assists in Thursday’s win over Portland. It was his second triple-double of the season and 16th of his career. Wilt Chamberlain (three times), Oscar Robertson (three) and Larry Bird are the only other ones to have done what Antetokounmpo did on Thursday.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Season stats: 25.0 points, 11.1 assists, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals
Lakers legend Magic Johnson is convinced LeBron is on track for his fifth Kia MVP. With the Lakers riding their five-game (and counting) win streak to the top of the NBA standings, it’s easy to see why so many are aboard the James train. Anthony Davis is also operating at an MVP-level, giving the Lakers the look of a team bound for a championship chase.
3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Season stats: 29.9 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 1.4 steals
Just 14 games into his sophomore season and Doncic has skipped the line with one outlandish performance after another. Already this week Doncic posted the first 40-point triple-double of his career in a win over the Spurs. Two days later, he got the first 35-point triple-double in under 30 minutes in NBA history.
4. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Season stats: 38.4 points, 7.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals
Russell Westbrook would appreciate it if you don’t try to normalize Harden’s greatness. It’s impossible to do that when Harden rips off a stretch of eight straight games (all wins) scoring 35 or more points … or when a 27-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist night (like he had Thursday in a loss to Denver) qualifies as an “off night.”
5. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
Season stats: 25.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists. 2.2 steals, 1.1 blocks
Leonard’s load management situation is what it is. His impact on winning for the Clippers is not complicated. And now that he has Paul George healthy and in a groove, the 1-2 punch they bring on both ends of the floor is something to see (just ask Boston). The Rockets will get a chance to see what they can do against them tonight (9:30 ET, ESPN).
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Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet and I’ll get back to you!
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The Next Five
6. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
7. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
8. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
9. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
10. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
And five more: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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