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Luka Doncic Is Only 20, But He Could Be The Next MVP Of The NBA


Luka Doncic has only been in the NBA since last season, and already sportswriters are crowing he is on course to be one of the best of all time.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Now it's Luka. Deep 3 over Forbes (ph) - Luka magic.

KELLY: Luka magic - he is only 20 years old. But if Doncic makes it seem he's been playing professionally for years, that is because he has. He made his pro debut at just 16 in Spain. Now he is playing for the Dallas Mavericks, and he is one of the leading MVP candidates. Tim Cato writes about the Mavericks for the website The Athletic.

Hi there, Tim.

TIM CATO: Hi. How are you doing?

KELLY: I am well. Thank you. And I'm going to throw a stat in here to get us going, which is, I read only two players ever have recorded 40 triple-doubles before the age of 21. Those two players are LeBron James and Luka Doncic.

CATO: Luka is a special case where he is a 6'8" point guard, essentially. So you know, he's tall; he sees over defenses. He's much taller than what you would think of as the guy who's, you know, standing at the top of the court, starting the offense, dribbling the ball at all times. But that's the player he is. And at the same time, he can also act in some ways like a big man - and then, of course, averages just buckets and buckets of points. So the combination of those three things is just, you know, incredibly unique.

LeBron James is the closest we've ever seen to it, and the parallels are really staggering to what Luka is doing compared to what LeBron was doing. They're very, very similar through, you know, their first year and a half or so. And that's remarkable because LeBron, if he isn't the best player of all time in this sport, then he's the second best.

KELLY: He has a case to be made. Yeah. Did the Mavericks know he was this good when they got him?

CATO: They knew he was good. They felt like he was the best player in the draft. They were confident that he was the player that they were going to try to draft. But no, no (laughter). Even this has been a surprise, both how good he was his rookie season and then these further steps he's taken to be this good in his sophomore year.

This franchise is very international-based. Of course their best player of all time is Dirk Nowitzki. And you know, they do a good job scouting overseas, and I think that played a large factor in their ability to scout and, you know, highlight Doncic as their key target going into last year's draft. But frankly, has blown them away - it's been a spectacular first a hundred games or so.

KELLY: Does he act like a 20-year-old when he is not playing? I mean, he's so clearly all-pro on-court, but he's really, really young.

CATO: Yeah, you have to kind of get him doing the things he loves. He's still a little bit shy around the media sometimes or things like that. But you talk to his teammates, and he's absolutely still a 20-year-old. He loves playing Fortnite; he's the guy who's always posting on Instagram. At his core, he's definitely a 20-year-old who has maybe 600 pairs of shoes in his closet is something I've heard about himself. So...

KELLY: (Laughter) Wow.

CATO: But you're also right that he just never looks like it on the court. He looks like someone forged his birth certificate and he's actually, like, 33 because he plays with that type of poise most of the time.

KELLY: And are fans in Dallas, they're all in?

CATO: They're all in. It was a very natural progression to see Dirk Nowitzki retire. A young rookie came in - an international rookie - and just took the league over and took this team over. It's very privileged for Mavericks fans to be able to go from one to the other. And I do think they consider themselves very lucky. But at the same time, they're just overjoyed. And they are fully embracing Lukamania (ph) - what he has been, what he will be in the future and, you know, already very quickly becoming a superstar in Dallas, of course, as well.

KELLY: That is Tim Cato. He writes about the Dallas Mavericks for the website The Athletic. He has been talking to us about the basketball phenom who is Luka Doncic.

Tim, thanks so much.

CATO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN TESH'S "ROUNDBALL ROCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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