Luka Doncic doesn’t have to be Harden if Kristaps Porzingis is The Unicorn | Opinion

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The comparison turned out to be an affront to basketball humanity, because these days it’s better to be compared to Kyrie Irving or Ben Simmons rather than James Harden.

As the Dallas Mavericks start their 2021-22 regular season on Thursday in Atlanta without Rick Carlisle as their head coach for the first time since 2008, they do so with the Luka Doncic Problem.

Luka is one of the best players in the world, who is a problem for two teams: The Mavericks, and whoever the Mavericks play.

The comparisons between Luka and Harden exist for a reason, which I alluded to shortly after the Mavs’ season ended with a second straight first-round playoff loss to the LA Clippers.

The reaction was that Harden is a selfish ball hog whereas Doncic is a sefless distributor, and I should be extradited to Jupiter for Sports Stupidity.

Last week, I visited with former Mavericks guard Jason Terry, and asked him how should fans expect Doncic will improve under new coach Jason Kidd.

I never used Harden’s name.

“Luka has to trust that every play he does not have to come back and get the ball,” Terry said. “It’s similar with James Harden down in Houston when I played with him for two years.”

Don’t shoot the messenger.

This is Jason Terry making the comparison, not some sports nerd journalist whose best friend is a dog that’s only into the friendship because of the free food.

“(Harden) felt like everything had to go through him, and that he had to make every play. Make every assist. Make every basket,” Terry said.

I asked Doncic (awkwardly) if he believes his game compares favorably to Harden, who was named the NBA’s MVP in 2018.

“I think my game is my game,” Doncic said on a zoom call with the media on Tuesday. “Everybody plays their own way, so I don’t know. I never pay attention to this so I don’t know.”

Uber talented players, like Harden and Doncic, usually know they are their team’s best chance on every possession.

“I think (coach Jason) Kidd will get (Doncic) to understand that he doesn’t necessarily have to be that in order to have success,” Terry said. “(Harden and Doncic) both have the ability to have the ball in their hands, and get their own shot off regardless of what defender is on him. And then the ability to pass it.

“There are three guys in this league who can do that — Luka Doncic, James Harden and LeBron James. The way they pass the ball is right where you want it. Their court vision, and their feel for the game is the best.”

Kidd’s success with the Mavericks will depend on Luka not having to do as much as he has.

If Doncic has to be James Harden, we know how it ends. It ends with a nice little regular season followed by a first-round loss in the postseason.

“The only negative (to that game) is that over a duration of a season, and into the playoffs, fatigue is going to set in,” Terry said. “You can’t spend a whole season with the ball in your hands, the defense looking at you; the same thing happened to Giannis Antetokounmpo (of the Milwaukee Bucks).

“Giannis was like that until he gets a guy like (teammate) Jrue Holiday, and gave more offensive opportunity to Khris Middleton. It took the pressure off of Giannis and he didn’t have to expend so much energy. So late in games Luka will be fresher and will have some energy.”

The way this works is if Luka has teammates not only that he can trust, but also who can finish.

That starts more with Kristaps Porzingis than Tim Hardaway Jr.

For Doncic, and the Mavs, to be more than what they were under Carlisle, Porzingis has to be the player he was before his knee injury when he was with the New York Knicks.

He’s looked good in the preseason, and nothing like the zombie who did so little in the playoffs when his head coach had moved on to players other than KP.

But, it’s the preseason.

GM Donnie Nelson and Carlisle left the Mavs after the most recent playoff flop because both felt they were no longer the people to find solutions to the Mavs’ problems.

The Mavs’ problem is surrounding one of the best players in the world with teammates he trusts so he doesn’t have to be James Harden.

That starts with Luka Doncic, and, with this team, can only end with Kristaps Porzingis.