By 90Min
December 20, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, we compared Vinicius Jr to Zion Williamson, emploring you to believe the hype of both these monumental youngsters and labelling them the 'guaranteed stars' of the next generation. 

It appears this upset a couple of people, namely Luka Doncic and Jadon Sancho. Though we are not going to revoke those claims - Vinicius and Zion have only improved their stock in the weeks since, with the Duke player continuing his rampage through the NCAA and Vinicius sparkling with increased game time - we may have missed a step.

Because, to be the solidified stars of the next generation, it helps if you've already had some time to embed yourself in the current generation, like, I don't know, Sancho and Doncic have. 

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The Slovenian seems to have particularly taken the snub to heart, exploding fully onto the scene after an impressive start to the season with an 11-0 stretch in a back and forth Texan derby between himself and the Dallas Mavericks versus James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

He would go on to win the clash for his side with what's fast becoming his trademark clutch shot - a herky-jerky how-did-he-do-that step back three-pointer. Essentially, all hail Luka - or, if you prefer, Halleluka

Sancho, for his part, has been a more strident press-hoarder from the get-go in 2018/19, garnering widespread attention - at least on these shores - with every roulette, every show-and-go, every pump fake of his right foot and, as has been especially apparent this season, every assist. 

The teenager now has 11 across all competitions this season, with his six scores making that 17 goal contributions across 23 games. That's six more than Vinicius has this season, for those still taking stock.

As we know by now, Doncic is a petty stat-packer these days, so, upon seeing Sancho's 11 assist haul for the season, he decided to raise that total by one in one game against the Denver Nuggets on December 18th. And, after spanning three successful years with Real Madrid before he came to the NBA, he could certainly better anything offered up by the Brazilian in Los Blancos' famous colours. 

However, if there is one thing that separates Doncic and Sancho from Zion (notice the first name moniker - that's the big time right there) and Vinicius, it's the way in which they were undervalued in the days before their blossoming. 

Now, their preeminent talents were such that this could never be described as an ugly duckling, rags to riches ascent. Save your Hanz Zimmer-esque rallying tunes for another time. No, everyone was well aware of the gifts they pertained. They just weren't aware enough.

The two prime culprits of this egregious overlooking were the Atlanta Hawks and Manchester City, though the Sacramento Kings and the Phoenix Suns, as well as all remaining Premier League teams, didn't cover themselves in glory. Oh, and I guess we can throw ourselves into that category. Again, sorry.

To clarify this, Doncic, Madrid's youngest ever debutant at 16, was operating outside of America's collegiate system (NCAA), as the only prominent member of the 2018 draft to come from the EuroLeague (relax, all you Dzanan Musa heads). 

If you're unaware of this difference, that means one player (LD) was playing with grown men, some of them former NBA stars, while the other (EVERYONE ELSE™) was playing with kids his own age. Oh, and one played 70 games - just 12 off an NBA regular season - while the other played (take eventual first pick Deandre Ayton) 31. 

That's 51 less, for all you math heads (maybe you should join up with the Musa heads?). 

Oh, I forget, and one was this professional league's - the second best in the world behind the NBA - MVP for the 2017/18 regular season and Finals.

AND YET. Who was chosen first (Suns) in the draft? Ayton. Who was chosen second (Kings)? Marvin Bagley III. Who was third (Hawks)? Well, Doncic, but not for long - he was traded down to Dallas for their fifth pick (Trae Young) and a 2019 first-round pick. Shame, shame, shame on all of you. 

Out of this year's Rookies, he now has the highest points per game (18.4), second highest assists (4.9) and rebounds (6.7), and comfortably the most minutes per game (32.5).

As Bill Simmons put it on the Jalen & Jacoby Show: "I think that's one of the five worst trades of this century." 

Or, as Sacramento coach Dave Joeger even more damningly declared to ESPN: "Perhaps there was an idea that there was a ceiling on him. I don't see it, unfortunately for us. But he's great for them and he's great for our league."

Well, Manchester City's loss of Jadon Sancho can't be much better. Sure, City wanted him, they showed this with a contract, but not enough to convince him that he had a sufficient future there. While the caveats remain that he probably wouldn't have got the same game time had he stayed in Manchester and they could yet buy him back (a feat much harder to do in basketball), it's still egregious. 

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And, in a way, even more so for the rest of the Premier League. Why does this ethereal forward have to cross an ocean (well, a 'channel') to Borussia Dortmund, one of Europe's finest teams, in order to garner minutes and development?


Well, for whatever reason, it happened. And the English and Slovenian sensations have made these decisions more confounding with each minute they play, each highlight they produce. They seem to share, and equally delight in, this free chip on the shoulder they received.

Adapting to pastures new is never easy, especially when those pastures have very different languages and cultures, but these two have made it look a breeze. And, let's remember Luka has done this twice now. 

So, maybe they aren't as exciting as Zion or Vinicius, or as individualistic, but with prodigal team play and wisdom beyond their years, they are certainly just as guaranteed to succeed.

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