It seems impossible that Luka Dončić is still just 23 years old. In part that’s because his game possesses so much old-man savvy; it’s also because he arrived in the NBA as such a finished product. It was easy to watch Luka, even as a rookie, and feel like he’d been in the League for years.

In fact, he’d spent the four years before his NBA arrival as a teenager playing for Real Madrid against the best competition in Europe. In 2018, fresh off a EuroLeague title and MVP performance, he decided he was ready to make the jump to the best League on the planet. He landed his first SLAM cover with a story that proclaimed him the best international prospect of all time. Four seasons in, it’s hard to argue.

Drafted by Atlanta, he quickly found himself in Dallas thanks to a draft-night trade for his fellow Starting Lineup teammate, Trae Young. Once in Big D, the 19-year-old rookie immediately looked like a seasoned veteran. He was a full-time starter from Day 1 and finished his debut season as Rookie of the Year. Somehow, he’s only gotten better since.

He was nothing less than dazzling in his second season with the Mavs, averaging just shy of 29 points and 9 assists and pulling down better than 9 rebounds a game—all numbers that have gone up in his postseason runs. Now, in his fifth season, he has established himself as an MVP candidate for the foreseeable future. And part of the fun is that he knows it.

Not many guys can get away with laughing like Luka does on the court. When he’s rolling, hitting long threes, getting to the basket, shaking defenders with his handle or bullying them with his size, Luka can’t help but let fans and defenders alike know he’s enjoying himself. When he’s on his game, he looks unstoppable.

Hard as it is to believe now, Luka had his share of skeptics before he landed in the NBA. For some reason, they weren’t sure his game would translate to the States—as if size, shooting, court vision, passing, clutch play and mastery of the pick and roll were somehow only valuable on the other side of the Atlantic. Apparently, those folks hadn’t been watching tape. Or maybe they just didn’t see what should have been obvious.

It’s impossible to miss now. His game continues to draw favorable comparisons to some of the best and most versatile players in NBA history, from Magic Johnson to Jason Kidd to LeBron James. That last one is fitting: Luka has said his favorite player growing up in Slovenia was LeBron. And just last season, LeBron called Luka his favorite player in the League today. They say game recognizes game. In this case, it’s not a stretch to say greatness recognizes greatness. 

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