They say the NBA Finals stage is where you earn the crown as the best player in the world. But what about the Olympics?
Although this year might be different, Team USA’s collective strength usually removes American players from this equation. However, it also opens the door for protagonists of different underdog stories to earn this mythical award. Of course, certain individual standards have to be met. But what if someone is already on track to do it?
Two games into the tournament, Luka Doncic has imposed himself as the best basketball player in Tokyo. He had an all-time great performance in the tournament opener — tied the second-highest scoring performance in Olympic competition with 48 points — following it up with a 25-point outing in a win against Japan. And he did it all without an NBA talent beside him.
What if he keeps this up? What if he leads Slovenia to a gold medal in his Olympic debut? Will that be enough for Luka to take the crown as the best player in the world?
It probably won’t. Even if he beats Team USA on his way to the gold, people will probably still give it to Giannis, LeBron, or KD. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s hard to say. But the fact is, we’ve never used international success as a measure of individual greatness. It’s partly because these competitions are almost exclusively dominated by U.S. basketball, but it’s also partly because we’ve never witnessed one player being so superior.
Even in years of aberration, when Team USA fails to secure the Olympic title, a team that wins the tournament does it by playing team-oriented basketball without a standout individual. But the Slovenian national team is and will be all about Luka Doncic. Assuming he takes them all the way, that might be enough for some to declare him the best basketball player alive.
Even if it doesn’t happen during the Olympics, Doncic becoming the best player on the planet seems inevitable — according to Play Virginia, he’s already a favorite to win the 2022 NBA MVP, which would make his case even stronger. But it’ll be a while until his team accolades catch up with the individual greatness he’s displaying on basketball courts. The only question is, will the latter ever overshadow the lack of the first?
If we are going to be fair, it shouldn’t — becoming the best player in the world requires some type of NBA success on the collective level. Unless people start valuing international success more — if that’s the case, Luka can make his case right now. He’s sure off to a great start.