Why comparing Luka Doncic to Rockets’ James Harden is silly

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The endless comparisons between Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic and Houston Rockets superstar James Harden has everyone focused on the wrong thing.

If you’ve been paying attention to the NBA of late you’ve likely noticed two things: Houston Rockets star James Harden has resumed his unguardable tour and Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic has become the NBA’s prized possession. These days, Doncic is more commonly described as the “21-year-old” than he’s called by his real name, which has become noticeable for viewers.

Another thing we’ve heard regarding Luka is the plethora of comparisons to Harden. We’ve already discussed why these comparisons are baseless, but that hasn’t stopped them from being made.

The overwhelming take is that at this stage of his career, Doncic has accomplished as much as Harden did at the same point of Harden’s career. This argument is based solely on age, which is what the media has gone out of their way to highlight.

But Doncic is in his sixth season of professional play, so if we wanted to see if he’s on Harden’s level, it would be better to compare Harden’s sixth season to Luka’s, as that would be more of an apples-to-apples comparison.

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Why Luka can’t be compared to Rockets’ Harden

During the 2019-20 season, which is Luka’s sixth professional season (including four seasons of international play), he achieved the below:

  • Led Mavericks to 7th-best record in the Western Conference
  • 6th-most total points scored
  • 4th-most total assists
  • 22nd-most 3-pointers made
  • 68th-most steals
  • 22 games of 30+ points
  • 5 games of 40+ points
  • 10th-most total win shares
  • 66th-best True Shooting percentage (58.5 percent)
  • Most Improved Player finalist

In the 2014-15 season, which was Harden’s sixth season as a pro, he yielded the following results:

  • Led Rockets to 2nd-best record in the Western Conference
  • Scoring leader in total points scored
  • 6th-most total assists
  • 4th-most threes made
  • 3rd-most steals
  • 25 games of 30+ points
  • 8 games of 40+ points
  • 2 games of 50+ points
  • First in total win shares
  • 9th-best true shooting percentage (60.9 percent)
  • MVP Finalist (finished runner-up to Steph Curry)

We should also point out that the Rockets made it to the Western Conference Finals, although we can’t make a comparison in that department yet, because we’re only two games into the opening round of the 2020 postseason. Doncic didn’t finish this season as an MVP Finalist, and he didn’t have any 50-point games, which are just two of the significant differences between each player’s sixth season of professional play.

The team success is significantly different, as Harden’s Rockets won 68.3 percent of their games during the 2014-15 season, despite Dwight Howard missing 50 percent of the Houston Rockets’ games. By comparison, Doncic’s Mavs won just 57.3 percent of their games in 2019-20, and Kristaps Porzingis played in 76 percent of the Mavs’ games.

In essence, Harden was asked to do more with less during his sixth season, and the Rockets had more team success than Luka’s Mavs, while Harden also had more individual success than Luka did this past season.

At the end of the day, Luka is one of the best players in the league, there should be no debate about that. But we should allow him to be a legend in his own right (which he’s well on his way towards becoming).

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Comparing him to Harden is erroneous, considering what the two of them accomplished in their sixth season in the league. But not only that, it undermines Luka’s accomplishments, which is unfair to Luka.