DALLAS — LeBron James is the lone name that keeps coming up when searching for comparisons for Luka Doncic‘s production as an NBA teenager.
Doncic came a rebound shy of becoming the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double on Wednesday, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists while leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 122-119 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. It marked the third time in the last five games that Doncic, 19, had posted a statistical line previously achieved only by James among NBA teens, according to basketball-reference.com’s database.
“I mean, it’s amazing,” Doncic said. “You all know that he’s my idol, so it’s just amazing to be there.”
James had 22 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a win over the New Orleans Hornets on Dec. 26, 2004 win, four days before his 20th birthday.
Doncic had 23 points, six rebounds and 12 assists in a Dec. 18 road loss to the Denver Nuggets, putting him in company with only James among NBA teens. James had 41 points, six rebounds and 13 assists in a March win over the New Jersey Nets as a rookie and a 26-point, six-rebound, 12-assist performance in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in December of his second season.
In a Dec. 20 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Doncic had 32 points, five assists and four steals. The only time a teen matched or exceeded each of those numbers was James’ 36-point, five-assist, four-steal outing in a Dec. 2003 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I say it all the time, he’s playing more like a multi-year veteran than a 19-year-old rookie,” said Dirk Nowitzki, the longtime face of the franchise who is passing the torch to Doncic.
James recently mentioned Doncic while listing players he’d like to play with, which was the four-time MVP’s way of downplaying his comment that it would be “amazing” to be teammates with Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis one day.
“Maybe some day, we’ll see,” Doncic said with a smile.
James is one of several perennial All-Stars who have raved recently about Doncic, who is averaging 19.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists, which are strikingly similar to James’ rookie stats (20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists). The list includes Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Davis.
“That’s special, special to me,” Doncic said. “I see what they say, so it’s like even more and more energy to work harder to be a better player.”
At 19 years and 301 days old, Doncic would have broken Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz‘s record for the youngest player to record a triple-double in NBA history. Fultz was 19 years and 317 days old when he got his triple-double at the end of last season.
History, however, wasn’t Doncic’s concern as the Mavs ended a six-game losing streak.
“I was just hunting the win,” Doncic said. “If we were up by more points, maybe I would [chase a triple-double]. In this close game, I was just hunting the win.”
Guard J.J. Barea carried the Mavs for most of the fourth quarter, when he had 11 of his 18 points and three of his seven assists. But with the score tied and 42.4 seconds remaining, coach Rick Carlisle called a play to put the ball in the rookie’s hands, resulting in Doncic getting fouled and hitting the go-ahead free throws.
“Definitely at the end of the game, especially last possession, Luka should have the ball,” Barea said. “He likes it. He likes that situation. He’s a playmaker. He’s big, he can pass, that stepback he can get off on anybody. If we need a shot there at the end, it’s good for us to have the ball in his hands.”
After rebounding a Davis miss, Doncic split a pair of free throws on the Mavs’ next possession. He sealed the win with another rebound on a missed 3-point attempt by Davis, who had game highs of 32 points and 18 rebounds in the Pelicans’ fifth straight loss.
The American Airlines Center crowd showered Doncic with MVP chants while he was shooting the free throws in the final minutes. He’s getting star receptions at home and on the road, where fans regularly gather at the Mavs’ hotels and call for Doncic to sign autographs.
“He’s made a name for himself,” Nowitzki said. “Any time you’re known by just your first name after just a few months in the league, that’s a great sign.”