The last time we have seen players score this much in the early stages of their career, it takes us back to the days of Michael Jordan. After all, Doncic is right there with Jordan with the highest points per game average in the playoffs. At one point, Doncic had a higher total than Jordan, so it led to debates about Doncic and Jordan’s game.
When you look at the first four playoff series that both Doncic and Jordan had, do we see a close comparison? In terms of postseason success, the two are on track for a similar path. Regarding individual production, one player stands above the rest.
As a note, we went through each playoff series for the first three years. For Jordan, there is an extra playoff series. That second-round playoff series brought Jordan’s playoff total to 20 games, so we have an equal comparison of games for both Doncic and Jordan.
Here is the full comparison between Doncic and Jordan through their first three playoff series.
Luka Doncic’s First Playoff Series (2020)
First Round vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Result: Mavericks vs. Clippers 2-4
Series Stats: 31.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 8.6 RPG, 8.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG
In Doncic’s first playoff appearance, he impressed the world. Doncic came upon a losing end, but he nearly averaged a triple-double and helped carry the Mavericks, who were without Kristaps Porzingis in their playoff series. That included scoring 42 points in his first playoff game, which included shooting 14-15 free throws.
Doncic helped the Mavericks tie the series at 2-2 with a triple-double of 43 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists. After that, the Clippers won the next two games. In Game 6, the Mavericks lost by 14 points, but Doncic finished with 38 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists to nearly finish with a triple-double.
Michael Jordan’s First Playoff Series (1985)
First Round vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Result: Bulls vs. Bucks 1-3
Series Stats: 29.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 8.5 APG, 2.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG
In Jordan’s first playoff appearance, he also came up short in the first round like Doncic. He did not hit 40 points through his first four playoff games, but nearly averaged 30 points per game across the four games. Jordan had two double-doubles of points-assists in the series, as well as 35 points in Game 3 to help the team stave off elimination.
In the final game, Jordan scored 29 points and made 17-20 free throws, but the Bucks won by four points. For the series, Jordan was the primary scorer on the up-and-coming Bulls and immediately became a star across the league.
Luka Doncic’s Second Playoff Series (2021)
First Round vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Result: Mavericks vs. Clippers 3-4
Series Stats: 35.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 10.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.4 BPG
In his second attempt, Doncic nearly led the Mavericks to the second round. Doncic had one triple-double in the series and at least four double-doubles. Doncic scored a triple-double in a Game 1 victory and helped the Mavericks race to a 2-0 series lead. Despite 44 points in Game 3, the Mavericks lost by 10 points.
The Clippers tied the series 2-2 after a 25-point win in Game 4. Doncic scored 42 points in Game 5 for the win. After the Clippers won Game 6, Doncic did everything he could in Game 7 with a playoff career-high 46 points, but the Clippers won by 15 points.
Michael Jordan’s Second Playoff Series (1986)
Result: Bulls vs. Celtics 0-3
Series Stats: 43.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.7 APG, 2.3 SPG, 1.3 BPG
Jordan had a legendary three games in his second playoff appearance, but it was against a very stacked Boston Celtics squad. The Celtics were led by Larry Bird, who was coming off his third straight MVP performance. The Celtics were purely better than the Bulls on paper, but Jordan still made this series competitive.
In the first game, Jordan scored 49 points despite the Bulls losing by 19 points. In the second game, Jordan scored 63 points and shot over 50% from the field; the Bulls still lost by four points. When the Celtics swept the Bulls, Jordan scored just 19 points, but it caught Bird's attention after the series.
Luka Doncic’s Third Playoff Series (2022)
First Round vs. Utah Jazz
Result: Mavericks vs. Jazz 4-2
Series Stats: 29.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG
The first round against the Jazz marked the third series for Doncic in his career. However, he missed the first three games of the series due to an injury. When Doncic came back, the Mavericks led the series 2-1. In his first game back, the Mavericks lost by one point and he scored 30 points.
Doncic helped the Mavericks take the series by scoring 33 and 24 points. In Game 5, Doncic had a double-double of 33 points and 13 rebounds. In the series clincher, Doncic nearly had a triple-double with 24 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. At this point, Doncic now owned a 9-10 record in the playoffs.
Second Round vs. Phoenix Suns
Series Stats: 32.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Doncic nearly hit a new career-high in the first game against the Suns with 45 points. He followed that up with 35 points, but the Mavericks lost both games. The Mavericks rallied to win Game 3 as Doncic nearly recorded a triple-double with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. In Game 4, Doncic had 26 points and 11 assists.
After his 28-point, 11 rebound effort in a Game 5 loss, that meant that Doncic owns a double-double in four of the five games played. Doncic has technically made it farther than Jordan in his third season, so there is that, but Doncic’s playoff numbers are significantly lesser than Jordan's.
Michael Jordan’s Third Playoff Series (1987)
First Round vs. Boston Celtics
Result: Bulls vs. Celtics 0-3
Series Stats: 35.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 7.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, 2.3 BPG
The third playoff series for Jordan was another tough test. Jordan was pitted against the great Larry Bird for a second consecutive year. For the second straight time, Bird's Celtics eliminated the Bulls in three games. Jordan once again put up a stellar line with 35/7/7.
Jordan scored 35 points in the first game, but the Celtics won by four points. Then, Jordan scored 42 points in a nine-point loss. The final loss saw Jordan produce 30 points and 11 rebounds, but the Celtics won by 11 points. At this time, Jordan now owned a 1-9 record in the postseason and had lost six straight games.
The Full Comparison
Luka Doncic: 32.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG (21 Games)
Michael Jordan: 35.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 6.9 APG, 2.4 SPG, 1.5 BPG (10 Games)
When you look at the overall stat line, the two players are pretty close in individual success through their first three attempts in the playoffs. Jordan has the edge in points, as well as the defensive stats, while Doncic is a better rebounder and playmaker. When looking at the numbers, a couple of ideas come to mind.
For starters, Doncic is the best rebounder on his team. The team’s best big man is Dwight Powell, who puts up about 6 points and 8 rebounds a night. Doncic is stronger and able to get to the point and hold his own, despite being a point guard. If he had a true center, he wouldn’t have to rebound as much and would be able to push the ball more. You see what he can do with his assists numbers in the half-court. Meanwhile, Jordan always had a solid big man that could rebound, which took the pressure off of him.
Jordan was a flat-out better defender; hence, why he owns a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Doncic has never been viewed as a strong defensive player, so naturally, Jordan is going to own more in steals and blocks. The tiebreaker comes down to the scoring, which Jordan might have a slight advantage over.
From a team standpoint, there are similar parallels. For example, Jordan was bounced in the first round in three straight years. Doncic was eliminated in two years. By Doncic’s third year, he made the second round, while it was the fourth year for Jordan. It took Jordan five years before playing in the Conference Finals. With the Suns owning a 3-2 lead, seeing Doncic eliminated would keep him on pace with Jordan’s trajectory from a team standpoint, while his numbers are on a similar trajectory.
In the end, fans from Dallas should love what they see. Both players are putting up big numbers with little star power surrounding them. When Jordan put up his big totals, he was not playing with a true second superstar like Scottie Pippen. As for the Mavericks, the second-best player on the team right now is probably Jalen Brunson. It took the Bulls a few years to build around Jordan. When they did, the Bulls three-peated two times in the same decade. Could the Mavericks follow the same model?