Considering that eight months ago, a lot of us had never seen Luka Doncic, it’s remarkable how much we know about him now and how much he’s become a part of the NBA landscape.
We’ve come to expect that step-back 3-pointer to splash into the net. We still ooh and ahh when he goes behind the back with the dribble in traffic on his way to the paint.
And we have enjoyed the boyish charm, that constant smile when he’s on the court and even the way he shakes hands with each referee before every game.
But All-Star weekend showed us something else – or maybe it was just a reminder on a national stage – that the Mavericks’ rookie point guard has in abundance.
When he fell behind in the first round of Saturday’s skills competition, he pulled up from midcourt and heaved a shot toward the rim in an attempt to beat the LA Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, who already was at the 3-point line sizing up what he expected to be a game-winning conventional 3-pointer.
As soon as he let the half-court shot fly, Doncic was smiling about his ploy.
That shot didn’t go in, although it did bounce off the backboard and rim. But when Kuzma missed his first 3-pointer, Doncic had a reprieve and he quickly launched and made a trifecta to move on to the second round, in which he was ousted by Atlanta’s Trae Young.
But it was that smile and the almost nonchalance with which Doncic fired up that half-court try that won over the crowd at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
Through the course of the weekend, Doncic was miked up during the Rising Stars Game on Friday night and finished an assist shy of a double-double. His comments during play and breaks in the action were a hit on social media.
On one trip down the court, he was yelling out “Look, I’m Fox” because he was motoring coast to coast with the ball at a breakneck pace like Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, known widely as one of the fastest players in the league.
What we all tend to forget is that Doncic doesn’t turn 20 until the last day of February. And yet, he’s become a darling for fans and, much to his chagrin, the media, too.
Doncic isn’t opposed to fulfilling media responsibilities. But he’s more interested in just playing the games, having as much fun as he can and putting in as much time playing Fortnight as he can.
Of course, there also has to be time for promotional and endorsement opportunities.
It’s not easy to envision what Doncic will be like in three, five or 10 years. But he’s got the framework in place to be a superstar. He plays a style that is unique. His combination of size, strength and deceptive quickness make him very hard to stop when he’s on the attack with the ball.
And while there are a lot of players who are quicker than Doncic, his first step is equal parts quick and long. Plus, he knows how to use the angles to get an edge against quicker defenders.
And, of course, the stepback 3-pointer is a weapon that nobody has quite figured out how to defend yet.
Wrap it all together and the Mavericks’ brass of proprietor Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle have themselves an honest-to-goodness heir apparent to Dirk Nowitzki.
And his charisma no doubt will draw in fans from all over, not just MFFLs.
The weekend wasn’t all about Doncic, of course. Dirk Nowitzki hit all three of his shots in the All-Star Game Sunday night and totally justified commissioner Adam Silver placing Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade in the game as special roster members.
It was a terrific farewell for Nowitzki, who knows this will be his last All-Star Game, even if it isn’t his last NBA season.
But this weekend was about the future more than anything else, as far as Maverick fans are concerned. They have lots to look forward to with the coming stages of Doncic’s career.
The next chapters will unfold in the final 25 games, starting Friday against Denver at American Airlines Center.