Was Luka Doncic the Greatest Rookie Ever?

When the Dallas Mavericks traded for Luka Doncic on draft night, Mavs fans everywhere rejoiced. He had taken the Euroleague by storm, winning Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP at just 19 years old.

If he had any doubters heading into his Rookie season, he quickly silenced them by putting together a Rookie of the Year season and breaking plenty of records along the way.

But how great was his Rookie season? Was it the greatest since Lebron James’ in 2003? Was it the greatest ever?

Let’s examine the facts.

Luka’s Historic Rookie Season

First, let’s look at pure stats.

In his Rookie season, Luka averaged 21.2 points, 6 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. He shot nearly 43% overall, but struggled a bit from the 3-point line, shooting less than 33% for the season. Though some of the 3-pointers he did hit were almost legendary.

Right off the bat, that puts him in elite company. Only one other Rookie in NBA history has averaged at least 21 points, 6 assists, and 7.5 rebounds – Oscar Robertson.

luka doncic rookie stats

However, limiting the field by assists might not be fair to big men, so let’s see what happens when we remove that condition.

If we look at only points and rebounds, there have been 20 players, including Luka Doncic, that averaged at least 21 points and 7.5 rebounds their Rookie season. All of them averaged more than Luka’s 7.8 rebounds per game but all of them except for Oscar Robertson were either forwards or centers.

It’s actually more impressive that Luka made this list as a point guard/shooting guard.

And just so we’re clear, look at the names on this list.

Wilt Chamberlain, Elvin Hayes, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson – these are all-time greats.

But back to the point.

Here’s something else to consider: All of these guys played more minutes than Luka did his Rookie season. I mean, yeah, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 37.6 points and 27 rebounds as a 23-year-old Rookie, but also played over 10 more minutes per game than Luka. The same is true for Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Oscar Robertson. They all played over 42 minutes per game, while Luka played 32 minutes per game.

minutes played by all-time great nba rookies

Ok so what if we look closer at his position – guard. How many Rookies averaged at least 21 points and 6 assists per game?

Besides Luka and The Big O, there’s just one other player, Allen Iverson, who averaged 23.5 points and 7.5 assists – again, while playing significantly more minutes than Luka.

There’s just no player that has matched Luka’s all-around production with as much efficiency.

By the way, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t even mentioned LeBron James yet.

Luka vs. Lebron – Rookie Season

LeBron averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists his Rookie year. Close to Luka’s 21/8/6 line, but not quite. Luka edges out LeBron in just about every statistical category, both traditional and advanced. He recorded a higher PER, True Shooting Percentage, Rebound Percentage, Assist Percentage, and Box Plus Minus, and he had more Win Share Per 48 minutes and a higher Value Over Replacement Player.

luka doncic vs lebron james rookie season

You don’t have to know what all of those mean to know Luka was better.

But there’s something else that puts Luka above all of these other great Rookies.

Luka has proven to be a record. Breaker.

Luka vs. the Record Books

In just his Rookie season, Luka became the youngest 20-point scorer in franchise history, the youngest player to make 7 3-pointers in a game, the first teenager in NBA history with a 30-point triple-double and the first teenager with multiple triple-doubles, and the youngest player to record three triple-doubles. He has four of the five triple-doubles recorded by teenagers in NBA history.

There are other Rookies who set amazing records.

Wilt Chamberlain owns the record for the most points per game and points and rebounds in a game for a Rookie. (Those records will never be broken, by the way.) LeBron was the youngest to score 40 points in a game. Magic Johnson won Finals MVP his Rookie season, for crying out loud.

It’s no small thing to say that any Rookie is the greatest Rookie of all time.

And depending on how you weigh things, you could easily put any of those guys above Luka.

Was Luka the Greatest Rookie Ever?

Even as a Mavs fan, it’s hard for me to say that Luka was the greatest Rookie ever. Even if you take out Wilt Chamberlain’s gargantuan season (will we ever know how to view his stats?) it’s hard to ignore Michael Jordan’s 28 points, 6 assists, and 6.5 rebounds on 51% shooting while more than doubling Luka’s Win Shares Per 48 minutes and dwarfing his Total Win Shares count. For that matter, Magic Johnson almost matches Luka’s statline with 18 points, 7 assists, and nearly 8 rebounds per game with, again, more win shares per 48 minutes than Luka and – oh yeah – a Finals MVP award. And then you have Oscar Robertson who averaged a near triple-double as a Rookie and broke the record books forever.

There’s no doubt that Luka was one of the greatest Rookies ever. Was he THE greatest? That’s up to you. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments and let me know what you think.

Luka Doncic Records and Accomplishments

  • First teenager to record a 30-point triple-double
  • Second player in NBA history to post 2,000+ points, 750+ rebounds and 500+ assists in their first 100 career games (the other is Oscar Robertson)
  • NBA record of 20 straight games with at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists (Previously held by Michael Jordan with 18 consecutive games)
  • Youngest player in NBA history to record three triple-doubles
  • Only player in NBA history to record two triple-doubles before the age of 20
  • Has four of the five triple-doubles recorded by teenagers in NBA history
  • Youngest player to have 35-point triple-doubles in succession (Previously held by Oscar Robertson)
  • First player in NBA history to record 30+ points, 12+ rebounds, and 15+ assists in a game with 30 minutes or fewer played
  • First player in NBA history to record multiple 30-point triple-doubles in games with 30 minutes or fewer played
  • Second-youngest player to record a triple-double at 19 years and 327 days old (10 days older than the youngest player ever, Markelle Fultz)
  • Fifth player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in his rookie year (Others are Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Tyreke Evans
  • Youngest player in NBA history with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a game
  • Broke Mavericks franchise record of most triple doubles with 22 in just 122 NBA games (Previously held by Jason Kidd with 21 triple-doubles)