Why those quick to crown Luka over Harden need some perspective
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:
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.
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.
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.