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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Houston drops first of three

Mariners heat up late to take series opener over Astros

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the playoffs just a little over a week away, the Astros started their last week of regular-season games in Seattle against the Mariners. A couple of wins against them would secure Houston's spot as the AL West's second playoff participant, with Oakland all but having locked up the first spot sitting six games in front of Houston with seven left to play. Here is a quick rundown of the opener from T-Mobile Park:

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 1.

Record: 27-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (7-2, 3.06 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA).

Bitter end to an impressive start for McCullers Jr.

Both starting pitchers would take a scoreless deep late into Monday night's game. While the Astros were trying to figure out Marco Gonzalez, Lance McCullers Jr. was repeating the success of his last start, a seven-inning two-hit start against the Rangers.

McCullers Jr. allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, then proceeded to retire the next fourteen batters before a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Mariners their first hit of the night. He would go on to finish the sixth before things unraveled in the seventh.

A leadoff walk would result in a run after an error by Jose Altuve left runners on first and second, setting up an RBI-double to give the Mariners the first run of the night and a 1-0 lead. McCullers Jr. looked like he was going to cap off his night by stranding the runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts, but before he could get the last out of the inning allowed a three-run home run to blow the game open at 4-0. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 102 P.

Mariners take the opener

Despite getting several hits against him along the way, Houston could not get anything substantial going against Gonzalez, who would shutout the Astros over eight innings of work. After Enoli Paredes finished the seventh, Brandon Bielak would take over out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth.

He struggled mightily, loading the bases with no outs, including a hit batter before allowing a two-RBI single to extend Seattle's lead to 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the top of the ninth, getting a two-out double by Carlos Correa, who would score on an RBI-single by Josh Reddick. That would be too little, too late as the 6-1 score would go final as the Mariners took the opener, keeping the Astros' magic number at two.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will be another 8:10 PM Central start on Tuesday. On the mound will be Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA) for the Astros and Ljay Newsome (0-1, 6.35 ERA) for the Mariners.

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