We look at how Luka Dončić compares to NBA legends LeBron James and Larry Bird through their first five NBA seasons.
Tuesday’s tour de force against the New York Knicks was the Slovenian’s best performance yet. In a 126-121 overtime win, Luka put up 60 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists, becoming the first player in NBA history with a 60-point, 20-rebound triple-double. And the last player with a 50-20 triple-double was Wilt Chamberlain in 1968.
Dončić joins legends Chamberlain, George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players ever to put up a 60-20 game.
Dončić was accountable for 85 points if you include his assists, one fewer point than Kobe Bryant accounted for in his legendary 81-point game in 2006. According to ESPN Stats & Info, NBA teams over the last 20 years were 0-13,884 when trailing by at least nine points with 35 or fewer seconds left in the 4th quarter before Luka and the Mavs pulled off the seemingly impossible.
We know Luka’s first four-plus seasons have been sensational, but how would they stack up against some of the all-time greats? Since we as human beings love comparing human beings to other human beings, let’s check out Dončić’s first five years and see how similar they are to LeBron James and Larry Bird.
Thanks to Basketball-Reference, we can directly compare the stats through Luka, LeBron, and Larry’s first five seasons. Those were and are the age 19-23 seasons for James and Dončić, with less-than-ideal supporting casts. For Bird, it was his age 23-27 seasons with some of the best supporting casts we’ve seen in the last 40 years.
Looking at the basic counting stats, Luka and LeBron have nearly identical scoring numbers ahead of Bird, with Larry Legend winning the rebounding battle and Dončić easily taking home assists, though lacking in steals and blocks. Bird shot more efficiently overall, but his era wasn’t too focused on three-point shooting. Luka and LeBron got to the line far more frequently, but at a lower percentage than Bird.
Digging into the advance stats, it’s clear that in terms of win shares and value over replacement player, LeBron and Larry towered over Luka through year five, though Dončić has more than half a season to close the gap. Bird is lagging in player efficiency and true shooting percentage, but was able to put up excellent numbers on offense despite a much lower usage rate than his peers. Though Larry was a superior defensive player by the numbers, LeBron’s early career VORP put him on his GOAT path.
Dončić signed a five-year, $215 million rookie designated max contract that has him signed through the 2026-27 season. Through his first NBA half-decade, Luka will have earned just over $69 million, per Spotrac.
LeBron also signed a max contract after his first four seasons in the league, though his amounted to just four years and $60 million. Through his first five seasons, James earned $31.8 million, more than $5 million less than Dončić will make this season alone.
And Bird’s five-year entry level contract paid him just $650,000 a year, meaning Luka’s contract this season will add up to 11.4 times more than the estimated $3.25 million Boston Celtics great earned through age 27.
While he’s not in the pantheon yet, Dončić’s career trajectory could put him in the conversation with some of the best NBA players who ever did it. Here’s to hoping he remains healthy and productive so we can see some more incredible nights like he had Tuesday for the Mavs against New York.
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