Jason Kidd did something that almost made national headlines this week when he wisely distracted us from his team’s performance by declaring that Luka is better than Dirk. In his words, Luka’s otherworldly numbers this season put him “in a Jordan atmosphere.”
There’s nothing terribly controversial about the first opinion, although I do think it has to be viewed in the light of Luka Doncic playing in a completely different era of basketball, even though he and Dirk Nowitzki were in the same season teammate. As for the second part, maybe Kidd was just trolling, or maybe he actually believed it. It’s best not to say it. Some of us old-timers would even have a hard time seeing LeBron as inhabiting Michael Jordan territory (except for sheer longevity, James beats them all).
Jordan elevated the league to its all-time high with a 6-0 record in the NBA Finals and ended his baseball career playing 82 games in each of the past three championship seasons. Hell, he played 82 games for the Washington Wizards at age 39. If Luka is in that “vibe”, it’s only because he currently has a 0-0 record and a chance to perform perfectly in the Finals.
So let’s focus on comparing it with the man on the statue outside AAC. There’s no doubt that Luka entered the league at full speed compared to 1998 when Dirk entered NBA waters. At 24 years old, Luka is undoubtedly closer to the top of the league— His starting All-Star status is a no-brainer, while Dirk has rarely started — and he has tied the German’s career total of four All-NBA selections. He’ll likely surpass that this summer.
Dirk led the team to the NBA Finals in his eighth season. Luka is entering his sixth year, and I wish I hadn’t said that when I said that the extremely average talent that Mark Cuban and Nico Harrison have gathered around Luka won’t be playing basketball in June. wrong. As I said, Kidd probably wants us to turn a blind eye to his team’s 7-8 slide in January that dropped Dallas to eighth in the Western Conference. The next 10 games include Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Cleveland, Indiana and New York, and February isn’t looking that hot either.
We can’t judge Luka on front office missteps, but it does beg the question of how long he will stay. Dirk endured a lot of personnel missteps for 21 seasons, but a championship in 2011 led him to prioritize personal happiness over accomplishments over the next few seasons.
As for the raw numbers, on the surface, Luka appears to have Dirk beat. but it is not the truth. When you look at Dirk’s MVP season totals — 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists — yes, it looks like Luka is getting close by halftime. Luka averaged 10 points more per game, had the same number of rebounds, and surpassed Dirk in assists, becoming the highest-scoring player in the game. But you have to consider the “stat inflation” in today’s game. In ’07, when Dirk won the MVP award, the Mavericks were averaging exactly 100.0 points per game. That’s top ten in the league. The Golden State Warriors lead at 106.5.
Memphis ranks last in the league today with a winning percentage of 107.5. The Mavericks were 118.9 until they sent their junior varsity team to Minnesota on Wednesday (it would be a crime for fans not to get half their tickets refunded), while Indiana led the league at 124.8. So, about 15 years ago, scoring 30 points was a lot harder than it is now.
In addition, Dirk’s career three-point shooting percentage is 38%. If you’re talking about guys who changed the league, scoring from 7 feet out of 23 feet was unheard of before Nowitzki. Today, the league’s biggest teams that can’t shoot three-pointers are a liability. Although Luka is having his best three-point shooting season, his career three-point shooting percentage of 34.3% is still a long way from catching Dirk. Nowitzki has always been profitable at the free throw line – his career free throw percentage is 87.9 percent. This is another area where Luka has improved this season, but at 78% this year and 74.4% for his career, he’s not in Dirk’s atmosphere.
For Mavericks fans, the only thing that truly matters is the team’s privilege to follow the greatest German player of all time and the greatest Slovenian player of all time. Will Luca’s achievements go beyond this? Will he sing “We Are the Champions” off-key from the AAC balcony? one day?
Barring the greatest trade deadline move in history next week, that’s not going to happen in 2024. It wasn’t easy to get Luka to the playoffs just once in his first six seasons. Each failed roster rebuild increases the difficulty. That’s no disrespect to the league’s best 24-year-old, which is what makes Kidd’s “MJ vibe” comment so laughable.
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