When discussing the 10 to 15 greatest players in NBA history, they all have one thing in common: They were elite right from the start. Not just in the regular season, but also where it matters most — the playoffs. Michael Jordan scored an NBA-record 63 points in just his sixth playoff game. Wilt Chamberlain scored 53 points in his third playoff game. Luka Dončić, in his fourth playoff game, left his mark.
During Game 4 of the Mavericks-Clippers first-round series, Dončić put on a show with 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists. He became the third player to ever put up a 40-15-10 triple-double in playoff history. Dončić also capped the game off with a step-back 3-point buzzer-beater to win the game, making him the youngest player in NBA history with a playoff buzzer-beater. Dončić’s feats don’t end there, however.
Throughout the six games of Dončić’s first playoff run, he averaged an astonishing 31 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game and 8.7 assists per game. His 31 ppg is the sixth-best mark for players in their first playoff run. He is only topped by Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Anthony Davis — a group of current and future Hall of Famers is pretty good company. Dončić also became the first player to ever average 30-8-8 in his first playoff run, and the fifth to ever average that in any playoff run, with the other four being Jordan, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.
Back in March 1949, George Mikan set the record for most points in a playoff debut with 37. That record stood for more than 71 years until Dončić shattered it with his 42 points in his playoff debut. The craziest part about all these records Dončić is breaking is that he is doing it against two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers not only are one of the best teams in the NBA, but were also the fifth-best defensive team this season. Yet, Dončić still torched them with a record-breaking performance night in and night out.
Dončić’s name being thrown around with the likes of James and Jordan might seem crazy, as he is only 21 and just wrapped up his second season in the NBA, but it is well warranted — he had one of the best sophomore seasons ever.
This regular season, Dončić averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists. In NBA history, only Robertson and Westbrook have either matched or exceeded those numbers.
Throughout NBA history, when compared to players who were 20 years old or younger in a single season, Dončić ranks first in ppg, apg and player efficiency rating, and second in win shares per 48 minutes and box plus/minus. He will be either close to or at the top of almost any statistic you can think of when comparing the great 20-year-olds in NBA history.
Dončić is great. Fantastic. Exceptional, even. But what does this all mean? He’s obviously already a superstar at the ripe young age of 21, but is he a future Hall of Famer, or better yet, a future top-10 player of all time?
My answer is yes. Barring a serious career-derailing injury, I don’t see a reason why Dončić can’t end up as one of the 10 best players of all time. He is already off to a great start, as he’s breaking records, putting up huge numbers and taking a ragtag Mavericks team to the playoffs for the first time since Dirk Nowitzki donned the blue and white.
The next step for Dončić to stay on the “future top-10 player” track is to win an MVP award. I think he has a strong shot to do it next season and become the youngest MVP in NBA history.
Of course, what Dončić does next remains left to be seen, but if what he has accomplished so far is any indication, he has a bright future ahead of him.
“Luka Legend” is more than just a nickname. It’s a prophecy, and his story has only just begun.
Tom Aizenberg is a columnist. Contact him at