Numbers don't lie: Luka Doncic's historic sophomore season is second to none in the NBA's modern era

In the history of the NBA, there's only been three players who averaged 25-plus points at the tender age of 20: Kevin Durant (25.3), LeBron James (27.2) and Luka Doncic (30.0). We have not seen a 20-year-old do what Doncic is currently doing in the league right now. Through 23 games, he's one rebound and one assist shy of averaging a triple-double, and he's the only player right now that ranks in the top 15 of the league in points (3rd), rebounds (15th) and assists (2nd) per game.

Every game the Dallas Mavericks' emerging superstar plays, it seems like he's rewriting the record books. He's already broken Michael Jordan's record for most consecutive games of recording 20-plus points, five rebounds and five assists, as well as demolished Magic Johnson's record for most triple-doubles before turning 21 (Magic had seven while Doncic is already up to 15 with two months left before his 21st birthday). 

When you hold his numbers up side-by-side with some of the greatest second-year seasons we've seen in the modern era of the NBA, which for the purpose of this article starts when the 3-point line was introduced (in the 1979-80 season), it becomes pretty clear that Doncic's sophomore season so far is the best we've seen. And when you factor in Doncic's age, it makes what he's doing all the more impressive:

Year 2Luka DoncicLeBron JamesMagic JohnsonLarry Bird

Age

20

20

21

24

PPG

30.0

27.2

21.6

21.2

RPG

9.8

7.4

8.6

10.9

APG

9.2

7.2

8.6

5.5

PER

31.5

25.7

25.7

19.9

When comparing sophomore seasons, his scoring has been better than LeBron James' second year (30.0 to 27.2), his assist numbers are higher than Magic Johnson's (9.2 to 8.6), and while Larry Bird has him beat in rebounds (10.9 to 9.8), Doncic is pretty darn close. He's been compared to one of these three superstars at one point or another in his young NBA career already. However, the truth is we haven't seen anyone like Doncic so there isn't an accurate comparison for him. His height means he's traditionally considered a small forward, standing at 6-foot-8, but he's Dallas' undisputed point guard, and is already among the NBA's top passers. He's not conventionally athletic, like LeBron or Magic, but he uses his size and sneaky quickness to get past defenders and finish at a high clip around the rim.

It gets a little tricky when comparing players of today to previous eras. Even LeBron's second season involved a totally different style of play than what Doncic is playing in right now, and it might seem foolish to anoint Doncic as having the best second season in the modern era. Still, when you adjust the statistics on a per 100-possession basis to nullify the pace of today's game, he still comes out on top:

Year 2Luka DoncicLeBron JamesMagic JohnsonLarry Bird

PPG

43.2

34.3

27.2

25.6

RPG

14.2

9.3

10.9

13.2

APG

13.2

9.1

10.8

6.6

Even when the playing field is leveled, Doncic's numbers still hold up. He's reached the 40-point mark three times already this season, and his offensive play is the driving force behind the Mavericks (16-7) having the third-best record in the Western Conference. He earned Player of the Month in the West for November after averaging 32.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.4 assists over 14 games, with a true shooting percentage of 63.9 percent. That might not seem noteworthy, but think of how loaded the West is, with James Harden, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and LeBron putting up MVP-type numbers of their own. Now think about the fact that a 20-year-old has had arguably a better start in 2019-20 than each of these superstars through the first six weeks of his sophomore season. It's unprecedented.

What we're witnessing is historic, and with each passing game, Doncic continues to improve. He doesn't squander under pressure either. He instead welcomes it, even when playing against LeBron, the player he idolized growing up. In the first game the Mavericks and the Lakers played against each other this season, Doncic looked like a seasoned veteran on the floor. He finished with 31 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in a game that was one of, if not the most, electrifying game of the NBA season so far. 

LeBron and Doncic dueled it out over four quarters, with LeBron proving to everyone that he's still the greatest, and Doncic showing that he's every bit capable of one day claiming that title himself. It was like LeBron and Doncic were playing their own personal game of H.O.R.S.E. The Lakers opened the game with a lob pass from LeBron to Anthony Davis for a dunk. On the following play, Doncic pulled off the exact same thing to Dwight Powell. It was like watching a teacher and his protege. After that game, LeBron called Doncic a "bad m----- f-----" as the two exchanged pleasantries.

In a single week in November, Doncic posted a 42-point triple-double performance against the Spurs, followed that up with a 35-point drubbing of the Warriors where he scored 22 points in the first quarter, then capped the week off with another 40-point outing against the Rockets. LeBron was previously the only player in NBA history to have multiple 40-point, 10-assist games before his 21st birthday. 

Doncic did it twice in a four-game span.  

One of the greatest assets of Doncic's offensive game is his ability to score in the pick-and-roll. As of Dec. 10, Doncic is the second-ranked pick-and-roll ball-handler in the league, generating 1.114 points per possession (minimum 100 possessions). His versatility in scoring out of the pick-and-roll is what makes him so special. Take this play, for example, against the Lakers where he uses the high screen from Kristaps Porzingis to get Kyle Kuzma on him to then nail his patented stepback 3 in his face:

Or his ability to accelerate off a pick to get to the basket where he can finish in a number of creative ways. This, by the way, was supposed to be the big knock on him, that he wasn't athletic enough to get by defenders. He's since crushed that narrative very quickly: 

Compared to the other players from his 2018 draft class, outside of Trae Young, who is also having a stellar sophomore season averaging 28.8 points and 8.4 assists with the Atlanta Hawks, there isn't another second-year player within arm's reach of what Doncic is doing. What sets him apart from Young is the fact that Doncic's efforts translate into winning basketball games. Yes, on paper the Mavericks are a better basketball team, but it begins with Doncic. He leads the league in overall box plus/minus (13.2), offensive box plus/minus (10.7) and Value over Replacement Player (VORP) with 2.9. What this all means? There is not a more efficient player on offense in the league right now than Doncic.

LeBron previously had the most impressive second season that we've seen in the modern era, and while there is still a ton of basketball to be played this season, what we've seen from the first month and a half from Doncic indicates that he's not slowing down anytime soon. He's put the Mavericks in a position to get back to the playoffs for the first time in four years, and he's certainly a heavy favorite to make the All-Star team after narrowly missing out his rookie season. He's also among the top three or four players mentioned in the MVP conversation. If Doncic is this impressive now as a 20 year old, imagine what he'll look like when he's 25 and in the middle of his prime. 

Jasmyn Wimbish has been closely following the NBA since Dirk Nowitzki hit his sweet signature jumper to send the Miami Heat packing in 2011. She's a graduate of the University of Kansas and Northern Arizona... Full Bio

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