Every-Thing Sports

Why those quick to crown Luka over Harden need some perspective

Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Luka Doncic is the new "it" guy in the NBA Bubble, and it's easy to see why. He's been leading his Mavs team to a very competitive 2-2 tie against one of the Western Conference contenders in the L.A. Clippers. He put up a 40-point triple double in game four and hit the game-winner at the buzzer in overtime. The 21-year-old Slovenian is a superstar that's put the league on notice. After a really good rookie campaign (21/8/6 pts/reb/ast), he followed it up this season by damn near averaging a triple double (29/9/9 pts/reb/ast), started the All Star game, and routinely put the Mavs on his back leading them to the seven seed in the West.

While he draws comparisons to some of the game's best playmakers, his game resembles a current star who's not as beloved: James Harden. At 6'7 and 230lbs, Luka is taller and a tad bit heavier than Harden (especially after Harden's recent weight loss). With a bigger frame, and a willingness to mix it up, Luka is a better rebounder. Luka is more of a true point guard and Harden is more of a scorer as a combo hybrid, but both are good distributors of the ball as they each have never averaged less than six assists per game in their time as primary ball handlers. The step-back jumper is what Luka has used as his go-to offensive weapon. It's something he has clearly patterned after Harden, especially given Harden's success with the move over the last few years.

The question at hand: Why is Luka celebrated, while Harden is maligned? Luka has a game very similar to Harden's. He has even taken one of Harden's patented moves and incorporated into his repertoire. Let's take a look into the differences between these two superstars:

Lukability

On the surface, Luka is a smiling and friendly European baller who seems to be very engaging. Harden is perceived as aloof and not as open with the media. Harden's tone when talking is monotone and comes off as filling an obligation, while Luka seems to relish the spotlight. Harden's penchant for getting after refs for calls (whining and/or flopping) makes him less likable. Couple that with the fact that Luka has only been in the league for two years and hasn't managed to alienate anyone, adds to his likability.

Clutch gene

As I stated above, Luka went for a 40-point triple double and hit the game winner at the buzzer to tie his playoff series at two. Harden went for 32/8/15 in a three point loss that tied the Rockets' series with the Thunder at two games a piece. He couldn't close out the game on offense or help make a key stop on defense in game four. Not to mention his past playoff failures, it's easy to see why Luka is being seen as more clutch so early on in his career than Harden has been.

Recency bias

Luka is the flavor of the month right now. He's like a "new" pair of retro Jordans that have been re-released for the 3194th time. It's an almost carbon copy of something we've seen before, but it has a different wrapping, packaging, and millennial twist to it. Food products often re-package themselves as "new and improved." In reality, there's been a slight change from the original, but the marketing has been ramped up to the max to boost sales. That's what I see here between Luka and Harden. Luka is the "new and improved" Frosted Flakes only because they've figured out how to make the "old" formula (Harden) taste better with recent advancements in the science behind making it.

I love basketball. I grew up playing, studying, and watching the sport. I'm not saying Luka is better than Harden, or vice versa. That is an opinion-based narrative for each person to make. Personally, I'd take Luka over Harden in most cases, depending on the makeup of the rest of the roster. But that's just me. Call me a hater all you want. Deep down, you and I both know he has something special about him that Harden doesn't. I harken back to one of my favorite episodes of Chapelle's Show when Charlie Murphy (RIP) did his True Hollywood Stories and spoke of meeting Rick James. In the sketch, Charlie said something like Rick had an aura he hadn't seen in other famous people before. Luka has that aura. Harden is special, but he doesn't have an aura. And that's where the comparison ends.

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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