Luka Doncic has set the NBA on fire it is truly something to behold as he makes a mind-boggling pass or hits a shot that defies logic. It may seem extreme to compare him to someone as great as Larry Bird but the similarities are quite real. In this article we will take a closer look just how eerily similar the two players are.
Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic is often compared to Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird, with his head coach (and ex-Bird teammate) Rick Carlisle making remarks connecting the two on multiple occasions.
ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Doncic about the comparison to Bird, wondering if he had watched the Hall of Famer’s film in the past and if he agreed with the assessment.
Doncic acknowledged that he has watched a lot of Bird’s film but did not agree with the comparison as of now.
“You can’t compare me to Larry Bird,” said Doncic, who noted that he has “more and more games to go” and a “long time” ahead of him in his career.
“I just want to keep scoring, having fun out there playing basketball,” Doncic added.
Bird is one of the game’s all-time greats, and as Carlisle noted, his ability to make everyone on the court better is one of the things that makes those two special.
Carlisle isn’t the only ex-Bird teammate to align Doncic with the Celtic great. Former Celtic Cedric Maxwell said that Doncic was “Larry Bird reincarnated.”
It’s lofty praise for a player who just turned 22, but Doncic has been sensational in his two-plus years in the league. He is averaging 28.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game over his past two seasons. Bird stuffed the stat sheet as well, averaging 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists for his career.
We can compare them in many ways (which after 10 or more years will be easier to do) but it is still to early to do so…
As said, young Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic is the closest thing to Larry Bird since the real thing walked off the court in Barcelona with a gold medal around his neck.
Magic Johnson said at Larry’s retirement in 1993 at Boston Garden, “there will never, ever, ever be another Larry Bird.”
Luka Doncic has so many skills and qualities Bird also possessed: great self-confidence, superb body control, creativity, excellent court vision and passing ability, and unshakeable competitiveness. He is a fine rebounder, a solid defender, and relishes taking the big shot. He is a big shot maker and a great decision maker with the ball. Both are physically tough, focused, and very driven to succeed with very high wills to win.
Bird and Doncic both won the Rookie of the Year award, 39 years apart. Their individual rookie per game averages are pretty similar, particularly in scoring:
Bird: 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 47.4 FG%, 40.6 3-pt%, 83.6 FT%, 1.7 steals
Doncic: 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6 asssists, 42.7 FG%, 32.7 3-pt%, 71.3 FT%, 1.1 steals
Both are triple-double magicians. Luka isn’t quite as good a rebounder and not as creative as a passer, but is a better dribbler and driver off the bounce. He is not as good a shooter, especially from the foul line. Bird was also a better post-up player and offensive rebounder.
Like a great scout, Bird could quickly size up the ability and tendencies of teammates and opponents. He would then go to work on helping make his teammates better while exploiting the weaknesses of his foes with a seemingly bottomless tool kit of drive, smarts and skills.
Having played high-level European basketball since he was 14, Luka also developed a similar basketball savant sense. Like Larry he was not one to beat opponents with great leaping ability and speed, so each learned to win with his basketball smarts and extremely high skills, as well as great competitiveness.
They also share a coach/teammate. Luka’s Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle was Larry’s heady
teammate on a championship team and three NBA Finalists from 1985-87. FYI: Larry thought so highly of Rick that he made him his assistant with the Indiana Pacers from 1997-2000, and tabbed him as Pacers head coach in 2003.
Dirk Nowitzki noted that as a kid he used to get up in the middle of the night in Europe to watch Bird inthe NBA Playoffs. He humbly said he was not in Larry’s class, pointing out that Bird was more ambidextrous and greater in all phases of the game.
Carlisle now has the chance to mentor another Euro superstar in Doncic. Just 21, he has already been playing pro ball for seven years, and like Bird, is seen as a basketball genius – even the legendary Jerry West has called him such.
The one area of the game the 6’7 Doncic is superior to Larry in is ballhandling. Basically a big guard, Luka can create off the dribble for himself or others like Bird. He can finish at the rim without explosive dunks by using his strength, body control and brain to create space and angles like Larry. Once he gets his shoulder past you, it is very hard to stop him without fouling. Comparatively, Bird used his effective left hand far more to finish on drives, however, and was a more creative driver.
At the same age or NBA experience, Luka is stronger and wider than Bird, who was very slender growing up and still growing into his 6’9 frame as a young NBA star. Larry grew six inches one summer in high school to go from a 6’1 local college guard prospect to a 6’7 monster seemingly overnight.
Bird took his guard skills, great basketball IQ, and unsurpassed hand-eye coordination to another level with his enlarged frame and competitive drive. He channeled all the angst of his poverty-stricken upbringing in basketball-mad Indiana and used all the doubters as extra motivation to become the best player in the world.
Unlike what many think he possessed underrated athleticism (he was a better leaper and faster before back and Achilles injuries) and was highly creative with his passing and shotmaking, as well as a ruggedly determined rebounder.
Having a great nose for anticipating passing lanes, Larry was also a great team or help defender, good enough to make three All-Defense Second Teams back when the coaches voted on the award, not the media. Doncic is probably a better one-on-one defender at this early stage of their careers.
Right now, Doncic is not nearly as ambidextrous. Bird once scored 20 points in a game at Portland – left-handed – and usually made a few baskets and outlet passes as a southpaw. One way in which they differ at this stage is vocally. Luka is much more demonstrative, emotional, and unafraid to boss his older teammates around. Bird was very introverted and poker-faced, and rarely complained.
At the end here are some statistical measurments that are available on https://basketball.realgm.com/player/Luka-Doncic/Comparison/54148/Larry-Bird/4617. So you can make your own thought regarding comparing one Hall of Famer and the other on its way there.
Only time will tell us if Luka Doncic can be better than Larry Bird but it seems promising thus far.