Luka Doncic is one of the most exciting players in the NBA.
Dirk Nowitzki draws standing ovations just for checking into games these days.
Luca Doncic gives the Dallas Mavericks a franchise player type talent. This was a major NBA Draft win.
Dennis Smith Jr. does not figure to be a Dallas Maverick much longer.
Jessica and Dirk Nowitzki
Harrison Barnes fumbles the ball off his foot, sending the Dallas Mavericks’ chances of winning caroming out of bounds. Barnes just drops to the floor, completely prone on the hardwood, a heartbroken and frustrated figure. It only takes Luca Doncic a moment to get there and offer an extended hand.
The Mavericks’ do-everything rookie is the first teammate there. Doncic is the one who pulls Barnes up and tells him it’s all right.
This may be the thing that sticks out most from my first time watching Luka Doncic in person this season. Oh, there’s plenty else to remember from the night.
There’s the moment Doncic pulls off a behind the back dribble in the lane between two defenders, completing the move with an alley oop to Dwight Powell. There’s the time when would-be Golden State Warriors defensive whiz Jordan Bell tells Doncic no way after halting a drive – and then Doncic comes right back down the floor and loses Bell for a layup on the very next possession.
There is the step back 3-pointer he buries against Kevin Durant at the third quarter buzzer.
There is plenty to show why Luka Doncic is already NBA All-Star worthy as a 19-year-old rookie no matter how much Kevin Durant tries to dismiss that notion. Doncic puts up 26 points, six rebounds and five assists against the defending NBA champions on what’s clearly an off night.
Think about that for a minute. A 19-year-old who drops a 26-6-5 in game when he’s not at close to his best. Yes, the Atlanta Hawks will be kicking themselves for the next 15 years for that draft night trade that loomed absurd from the moment they made it.
But it’s Doncic the teammate that surprises in the closing moments of that Mavericks loss. All those early stories about the how Maverick veterans may be be put off by the brash teenager from Slovenia and the EuroLeague are long gone now.
Doncic is the one picking up Barnes, a six-year veteran making $23 million this season, after the vet doesn’t even get a shot off with the Mavs down 117-114 in the game’s decisive moment. This teenager isn’t just an All-Star, he’s already learning the responsibilities that come with carrying a team.
Yet, there is Durant — one of the best small forwards in NBA history — balking at the real possibility that Doncic could be starting in the All-Star Game as a rookie. Something that LeBron James didn’t even pull off.
“All-Star level?” Durant asks, definitely taken aback by the Doncic All-Star buzz. “He’s playing great ball. For a 19-year old to average 20-6-5 — definitely numbers you can look at and consider him for the All-Star selection.
“But there are so many great players out there at his position. So you never know.”
Doncic happens to be even leading Durant in All-Star voting at the moment. Which makes one of the league’s best players come off as more than a little petty.
Durant — who’s already left Russell Westbrook and seems inclined to leave Stephen Curry after this season to get more spotlight for himself — should probably get over it. For Luka Doncic is an All-Star.
Even in a season in which Houston Rockets lifeline James Harden makes dropping 57 points seem as easy as can be, Doncic may be the most compelling player in the NBA.
Players just aren’t supposed to be this good this young.
The Biggest Steal Since Kobe
It turns out Mark Cuban didn’t just pull off the steal of the draft as I wrote in June. Instead, he pulled off the biggest draft night theft since Jerry West conned the New Jersey Nets into not drafting Kobe Bryant in 1996.
Just like a young Kobe, Doncic is convinced he can take over any game. And he’s not shooting up air balls like young Kobe infamously did in that playoff series. Yes, Doncic goes 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter against the Warriors Sunday night.
But he still gets good shots. They just don’t fall on an off night.
That should frighten the rest of the NBA.
“He’s a brilliant player,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says of Doncic. “I think he’s already an All-Star.”
Cuban and the Mavericks must feel like they hit the lottery. They essentially still somehow won the NBA Draft lottery by picking fifth. Cuban never made a deal this good on Shark Tank.
Wisely, the Mavericks are doing everything they can to clear the way for Doncic’s brilliance. They’re about to jettison the once promising Dennis Smith Jr. in a trade because the second-year guard’s game does not fit with Doncic’s.
Doncic’s greatest attribute just may be his passing — and he needs the basketball in his hands to display all of his gifts. Hence, goodbye Dennis.
The Dallas Mavericks may be Dirk Nowitzki’s franchise forever, but any notion this is not already Doncic’s team is laughable. Nowitzki gets standing ovations just for checking into games these days. But Luka Doncic delivers the wows.
On this January visit to American Airlines Center, several of the concession stands are already out of several sizes of No. 77 Doncic T-shirts by game’s end.
This is what NBA superstardom looks like too. As one of the league’s all-time greats, Kevin Durant should recognize it rather than be jealous of it.
Luka Doncic may have arrived too early for Durant’s liking. But there’s no doubting he’s here.