19 year old Luka Doncic is taking the NBA by storm. His performance and production so far this season is great for NBA player, much less a rookie teenager.
It’s hard enough for a teenager to even make the NBA, of those that do, only very few are actually ready to hold down a significant role. It’s very rare, in fact I found less than 20 players in the history of the NBA that were able to average at least 10 points per game as a teenager. Many of those that do have proven to be MVPs, Hall of Famers, All-Stars, and Scoring Champions.
We are only 20 games into the season, but where does Luka currently rank among the best teenagers to ever play professional basketball?
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10. Dwight Howard, 2004-2005
The Orlando Magic drafted Dwight Howard #1 overall in 2004 right out of high school. What separated Howard as the Superman among Men when he was a teenager was not only his incredibly large frame but his strength an muscle definition at a young age. A lot of the time big guys need a few years to develop the muscle to be able to hang with NBA Centers, but Dwight Howard looked like he was born ready. Although he did not win Rookie of the Year, losing to a #2 overall pick Emeka Okafor, he showed flashes of his eventual dominance in Orlando. Dwight had several huge games including a 5 game stretch that included these three state lines:
In his prime, there were few other players that were as dominant of defenders and rebounders as Dwight Howard. He has some impressive individual awards and statistics: 3x Defensive Player of the Year, 5x All-Defensive Team, 8x All-NBA, and 8x All-Star, 19th all-time in block, 15th all-time in rebounds. His greatest team accomplishment was in 2008 when he and the Magic beat Lebron and the Cavs 4 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Championship. Howard was a monster, averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds a game. He was then sent packing 4-1 in the Finals by his soon to be teammate Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
9. Anthony Davis, 2012-2013
After 1 year at Kentucky, winning a National Championship ans setting the all time NCAA single season blocks record, the New Orleans Pelicans drafted Anthony Davis with the #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Davis had the size of a center, an incredible wingspan, and guard-like ball skills that separated him from all other prospects. Like Howard, The Brow failed to win Rookie of the Year, an honor that went to Damian Lillard that year, but made it clear he was going to be a force to be reckoned with. His 24 point 12 rebound, 3 block game against the Jazz and a 20 point, 18 rebound game against Memphis stand out as a few notable performances.
In his 6 seasons in the NBA Davis has won the blocks title 3x, made the All-Star game 5x, All-Star game MVP, 3x All-Defensive team, and it seems like a matter of time before he captures an MVP award, posting averages of 27 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.4 blocks per game this season. With limitless potential, it will be fun to see where Anthony Davis goes from here.
8. Kobe Bryant 1997-1998
In his Rookie year as an 18 year old, Kobe only saw about 15 minutes and 8 points per game for a 56 win Lakers team dominated by Shaq. Even though this 1998 season was Kobe’s second year in the league he still averaged the fewest minutes of any player on this list and took the 3rd fewest shots of anyone else (shocker, I know!). Kobe was relegated to bench duty behind Eddie Jones and saw even less time when it came to playoffs and his role was shrunk down to 20 minutes per game.
Fans saw Kobe as the second coming of Michael Jordan and expressed their excitement by voting him as an All-Star starter in 1998. Even though he was a backup and the third leading scorer on the Lakers, Kobe was voted by fans over teammates Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel who were chosen as All-Star reserves. Kobe remains the only teenager to ever start an NBA All Star game.
Kobe’s best game at age 19 came against the Portland Trailblazers when he scored 26 points with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. This seems minuscule compared to the 25 times the Mamba has put up 50 points in a game, including his ridiculous 81 against Toronto, 62 in 33 minutes against Dallas, and 60 in his last ever game in 2016. The 35.4 points per game that he averaged in 2006 was the 8th highest single season mark in NBA history, topped only by Wilt Chamberlain (5x), Michael Jordan (1x), and Rick Barry (1x).
7. Kyrie Irving, 2011-2012
Even at the age of 19 Kyrie showed the composure and mastery of the game as a seasoned Uncle Drew. Kyrie was the prize that the Cavaliers earned for being so terrible in 2011, the year after LeBron left, only winning 19 games all year. They selected Irving #1 overall*, and wound up winning a whipping 21 games the next year. The Cavs also took Tristan Thompson #5 in that draft, passing on Klay Thompson who went #11 and Kawhi Leonard who went #15. They would have been the dynasty that the Warriors are/were if LeBron still came back after his fling with D-Wade and the Raptor.
Irving won Rookie of the Year in 2012, and after 7 seasons in the NBA he has racked up 5 All-Star game appearances, All-Star game MVP, and an NBA Championship in which Kyrie hit one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history with his step back game-winning 3 over Steph Curry in game 7.
Kyrie asked to leave LeBron and the Cavs in 2017 and was traded to Boston, but this coming summer Kyrie Irving could be on the move again as he will finally be a free agent and be able to choose his own destination.
6. Stephon Marbury, 1996-1997
Stephon Marbury was the #4 pick in the 1996 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and immediately traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the #5 pick, Ray Allen, and a future first round pick (ended up being Rasho Nesterovic). After that year, even though both players had very good season, it looked like the Timberwolves absolutely won the day by trading up for Marbury. Pairing a 19 year old Marbury with 20 year old Kevin Garnett looked like it could put the Wolves in position to build something special.
In that season Marbury and KG led the Timberwolves to a 40-42 record and a birth in the Playoffs as a 6 seed. He took over several games in his age 19 season, including a 30 point 11 assist game in Denver and a 17 point, 17 assist game against the Bucks team that traded him on draft day. The Timberwolf pups struggled in the playoffs against a Houston Rockets team loaded with eventual Hall of Famers in Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Charles Barkley, but Marbury made his presence know by averaging 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 7.7 assists in a 3 game sweep by the Rockets.
Few players have every played with he flair and style of “Starbury,” an attribute he surely picked up from the courts in New York City where he grew up. He ended up having a fairly rocky NBA career, but had several very exciting seasons back home at Madison Square Garden for the New York Knicks. By age 30 Marbury was out of the league, making it to 2 All-Star games and earning All-NBA honors twice. The story has a happy ending, however, as Marbury found a second home in China and became a beloved star in the Chinese Basketball Association, even at age 41.
5. Kevin Durant, 2007-2008
The year before moving to Oklahoma City, the Seattle SuperSonics drafted the KD, the Slim Reaper, out of the University of Texas #2 overall, right after Portland chose Greg Oden #1. Portland must have thought Kevin was too weak to excel in the pros due to the fact that he was the only NBA Combine participant not to be able to complete a single rep on the 185 bench press.
KD of course got the last laugh, with his next level skills and Championship, Finals MVP, and MVP credentials he can stand with the greatest of NBA legends. His career scoring average of 27.18 is 4th All-Time behind Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Baylor, and just ahead of Lebron James who sits at 5.
He had a great rookie season at age 19 and for a 20 win Sonics team and capped it all off in his last game of the season where he scored a season high 42 points to go along with 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks in Golden State against the Warriors.
Seattle Supersonics fans and Greg Oden supporters (You know your out there), shield your eyes…
4. Carmelo Anthony, 2003-2004
The Denver Nuggets selected Carmelo Anthony as the third overall pick after his amazing Championship run at Syracuse University where he won the National Championship. Even in his Rookie year Carmelo showed he was an elite NBA scorer. He had 6 games that season where he scored 35 points or more, including a 41-point outburst against Ray Allen and the Seattle SuperSonics.
Melo was able to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 43-39 record and an eight seed in the playoffs in his rookie season. The fun didn’t last long as the Nuggets were quickly wiped out by MVP Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves in 5 games. Funny, even as one of the best teenager performances of all-time, Carmelo Anthony could not take home the Rookie of the Year award which went to LeBron James. But, in the two head-to-head meetings that season, the Nuggets won both and Melo outscored LeBron each time. Side note, how did neither Melo or LeBron make the All-Star game in 2004 ahead of reserves: Brad Miller, Andrei Kirilenko, Sam Cassell, Jamaal Magloire, and the artist formerly known as Ron Artest.
Melo was one of the most dominant scorers ever, his 24 points per game career average is good for 20th all-time, and doing that over 16 seasons has placed him as the 19th leading scorer in NBA history. In January 2014 Anthony went absolutely bonkers in Madison Square Garden, setting a New York Knick and MSG records with 62 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Fun fact thought, Melo failed to account for a single assist in that game, why would you pass when everything you toss up is going in?
3. Moses Malone, 1974-1975
Men lie, Women lie, numbers don’t. Moses Malone quickly made a name for him self in the ABA after being selected in the third round of the 1974 draft with his dominant rebounding skills. As a member of the Utah Stars, Malone was the first player to make the jump directly from high school to the Pros. He built on that by becoming the first teenager to be named to an All-Star team and one of only two teenagers to accomplish that feat along with Kobe Bryant.
This was no fluke season by Moses, he went on to play 21 seasons in the NBA, posting career averages of 20 points and 12 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game, peaking with a 31 point 15 rebound season in 1982 with the Houston Rockets. Hall of Famer, 13x All-Star, NBA Champion, Finals MVP, 3x MVP, Moses Malone was an absolute beast!
2. Luka Doncic, 2018-2019
The Dallas Mavericks traded up with the Atlanta Hawks to draft Luka Doncic #3 overall in this year’s draft. As a 19 year old, Luka cam into the league as the most accomplished 18 year old of all time. “WonderBoy” started last year by winning the 2017 Eurobasket tournament with Slovenia, he was named the MVP of EuroLeague (considered the second best league in the World), won the Euroleague Championship with Real Madrid and was named Finals MVP, and capped off an incredible age 18 season by winning the Spanish Liga ACB Championship in which he was named MVP.
Even with all of these accomplishments, the Suns and Kings passed on Luka because they though he was not athletic enough and did not know if his game would translate to the NBA. Just 20 games into his career, the GMs of those teams may be kicking themselves for passing on the 6’7″ playmaker, shot creating wizard that is Luka Doncic. He has already made a number of acrabatic step back threes and buzzer beaters on-route to leading the Dallas Mavericks to their best start in 3 years. His poise and diverse skill set make Luka such a unique talent that puts him in elite company when it comes to production as a rookie, let alone a teenager. As you can see from the other players on this list, it is very rare for players this young to be efficient from the 3 point line. Even some of the greatest shooters in NBA history werent able to shoot 40% from 3; Durant shot 29% from 3 in his age 19 season, Melo 32%, Kobe 34%.
Right now Luka will have to settle for being the second best teenager to ever grace an NBA court, but with 3 quarters of the season to go I will not put a ceiling on what Luka Doncic can accomplish. He is a proven winner and student of the game that plays with unmatched joy and passion. Luka is coming for the King!
1. Lebron James, 2003-2004
As a high schooler in Akron, Ohio he had already been dubbed King James by the media. Skipping college and jumping straight to the Pros, LeBron James was selected #1 overall in the 2003 draft by his hometown Cavaliers, and Cleveland rejoiced. Even as a teenager in the NBA, LeBron wasted no time making sure that his title of King was given for good reason. He put on such a show that the Cavs went from dead last in attendance in 2003 to 9th in the entire NBA in 2004.
Lebron was a scoring machine, even as a rookie nobody could keep him from the basket. He scored 30+ points on 13 times that year including a 41-point, 6 rebound, 13 assist game against the New Jersey Nets. LeBron also flirted with triple-doubles on a weekly basis in his rookie year, notably a 32 point, 10 rebound, 9 assist outburst against the Portland Trailblazers.
He won Rookie of the Year and managed to drag an awful Cavaliers team to a 35-47 record, missing the playoffs by just 1 game. The next year LeBron and the Cavs missed the playoffs by a measly 1 game, however that would be the last time James has missed the playoffs. 13 straight playoff appearances, 14x All-Star, 3x NBA Champ, 3x Finals MVP, 6x All-Defense, 4x League MVP. #5 All-Time in scoring, #16 in steals, and #11 in assists. He continues to climb up these lists, at age 33 he looks as strong as ever, lets see how high he can climb.