The Dallas Mavericks were one of the first franchises to go overseas to find a superstar with Dirk Nowitzki. Now they’ve struck European gold yet again with Luka Doncic. When the Mavs made a draft-day trade with the Atlanta Hawks in order to land him, some questioned how the Slovenian teenager would adjust to the NBA.
Doncic was one of the most accomplished young players in EuroLeague history, but the NBA is a step up in terms of talent, physicality, and speed. The young athlete’s gifts were clear, but his lack of obvious athleticism and defensive acumen led to concern. So far, Doncic has proved the haters wrong. But this isn’t what has surprised him this season.
Luka Doncic’s historic Rookie of the Year campaign
Doncic didn’t quite hit the ground running in the NBA — he only scored 10 points in his first game against the Suns. But he soon adjusted and showed glimpses of real stardom.
He first announced himself to the American audience in a win against the Houston Rockets. Doncic scored 11 points in a row late in the fourth quarter to secure a 107-104 victory. His performance included a clutch step-back three that soon became one of his trademarks.
A month later, Doncic became the second-youngest player to ever earn a triple-double as well as the first teenager to accrue multiple triple-doubles in a season. By the end of the year, anyone who doubted Doncic was clearly wrong.
The rising star averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, a stat line only four other rookies in NBA history have ever accomplished. He deservedly won Rookie of the Year.
Doncic levels up in his second year
After impressing everyone last season, Doncic followed it up with a sequel for the ages. People had modest expectations for the Mavericks now that Kristaps Porzingis was healthy. But no one expected Doncic to become a legitimate contender for the MVP award in his second season.
The statistics are gaudy: 30 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists a game. Having the third-highest usage rate in the league (37.1%) helps him get those numbers, but very few players can handle the ball that much and still be efficient.
Doncic has every skill valued in modern wing players. The 20-year-old can shoot threes off the dribble in the mold of James Harden. His passing vision has analysts comparing him to some of the best basketball players of all time. He doesn’t appear to be that quick, but his handle is so good that he can get to the rim with alarming regularity.
Doncic’s play has made him one of the biggest stories of the season. The NBA released the voting returns for the 2020 All-Star Game, and he garnered 1.5 million more votes than second-place James Harden. Doncic has been so dynamic that viewers can’t help but love him.
What’s surprised Doncic this season
So far, Doncic has taken his increased fame in stride. He knows how to say the right things in interviews. While speaking with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Doncic said his level of play has even surprised him. It’s a high level of humility for a player who has carried the nickname “Wonder Boy” since he was a 16-year-old prodigy already playing pro basketball in Spain.
More notoriety isn’t always a good thing. The brightening of Doncic’s star also leads to defenders getting overly physical with the phenom. His coach, Rick Carlisle, has already had to launch a defense of his star.
Doncic has lost his cool at times, but his response to being fouled is that he just needs to wear more pads under his uniform. When you dominate the league the way Doncic has, you can afford to have that attitude.
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