At the tender age of 20, Luka Doncic is better than that dude Dirk Nowitzki was at the same age.
There. We said it.
It’s an undisputed fact based in numbers and even the great one himself admitted last year that Doncic is “way ahead of where I was” as a rookie.
OK, that doesn’t mean we are witnessing the next legend in the making. Nobody knows what tomorrow brings. We don’t know what the basketball gods – or the Mavericks’ management tasked with putting a great team around Doncic – have in store. And we don’t know whether Doncic has 5, 10 or 20 more years in him as an NBA star. He’s already been a pro since he was 14. So the body clock is maybe a little older than some 20 year olds.
But then again, so was Nowitzki’s.
What we do know is that we should learn from what happened two decades ago.
Those of us old enough to remember probably didn’t pay enough attention to Nowitzki’s first few seasons in the NBA. The Mavericks still were irrelevant when he was a rookie. And while they became playoff-caliber shortly thereafter, much of it was because of the presence of Steve Nash and Michael Finley.
It took a few years – and the departure of Nash and Finley before the Mavericks became championship-caliber. That happened when Nowitzki had been in the NBA for five or six years.
Do any of us really remember those early stages of the journey that would lead to Nowitzki being the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history, winning a championship, an MVP, having streets named after him and getting statues erected someday?
Not well enough.
That’s why we should learn from the past and all take a vow to soak in every moment of Luka’s formative NBA years. Enjoy this climb. It won’t always be easy to watch. But, also, you don’t always notice awesome-ness when it’s happening. The Mavericks are a rising team in the NBA. They have every reason to be excited about the future.
But let’s not dismiss the present as merely a steppingstone to bigger things. He’s got extraordinary pressure on him, but as he said during training camp, he’s had pressure for years, so what’s new?
“He’s a 20 year old, but he’s an exceptional 20 year old with a lot of experience for his age,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “In the back of my mind, I always have the understanding that he is young. On the other hand, he’s got exception wisdom beyond his years for the game. And he’s got a thirst to win. It just makes him very unusual.
“It’s just become one of the facts of his basketball life. He’s been ahead of the curve since an early age. After his first year in the NBA, I believe he has an understanding that it gets harder because people are going to come at you harder. But on the other side of it, there are things you learned the first year and can implement the second year to try to make your job easier.”
Doncic clearly has superstardom in his sights. He averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6 assists per game and was the runaway choice for rookie of the year.
They were the sort of numbers not seen out of a rookie since Oscar Robertson nearly 60 years ago.
Even LeBron James didn’t reach that level, averaging 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists, although his numbers would rise markedly in his second season and stay well above that until . . . well, now.
Doncic has all the skills needed to be great because he can do some of everything.
He might not be the pure shooter that Drazen Petrovic was, but he’s close. He might not be the elite athlete that Sarunas Marciulionis was, but he’s close. He might not have the size of Nikola Jokic, but he’s close.
And he’s super-smart on the court, which when you add it to all the other skills makes the 6-7 guard pretty remarkable, certainly one of the best ever to come out of Europe – or any other country – at the age of 20.“
There is another asset working for him: toughness. When Doncic got the ball slapped out of his hands by LA Clippers’ rookie Terance Mann, he bowed up against the second-round draft pick. Mann delivered a shove to the neck area of Doncic, who didn’t back down in the slightest and had to be restrained.
It was a take-no-guff response. So don’t let the oft-present smile and guitar strums after made 3-pointers fool you. He can handle anything anybody dishes out.
In short, Doncic is a total package. He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch grow. Nobody knows what he’ll be like at 25, but watching the next years will be a gift for Maverick fans, especially knowing that he won’t wilt under a limelight or a fistfight.
“I said it the first day,,” Carlisle said. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. I think he’s that special.”