J.J. Barea sees one major difference between Luka Doncic at age 21 and Dirk Nowitzki back when he was a spry young star chasing a championship.
“With Dirk, it was almost impossible to beat him in a 3-point contest,” Barea said Sunday. “With Luka, I got a chance.”
Beyond that, and the fact that they play different positions, Barea and the rest of the Mavericks can see a lot of similarities between the greatest player in franchise history and the youngster now charged with being the next great Maverick.
The first 10 days in Orlando have shown coach Rick Carlisle, as well as the veteran Barea, that Doncic will not be intimidated in the slightest by the playoffs. The 6-7 point guard, who has become the NBA’s top do-everything player this season if you go by his 14 triple doubles, is ready for the test.
“I can certainly sense that he’s sensing that we’re getting closer to that,” Carlisle said of the playoffs that will start in mid-August after an eight-game finish to the regular season. “I continue to see him raising the level of his game in all areas and refining his game in all areas and going really hard.
“When the best players go hard (in practice), the whole team goes hard. That’s one reason we’ve had really terrific practices here from start to now.”
Doncic, in just his second NBA season after winning rookie of the year in 2018-19, is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game this season. He has formed a nice chemistry with Kristaps Porzingis and they are poised to be a tandem to be reckoned with for years to come.
That doesn’t mean they can’t do some damage this year when the NBA restarts on July 31. In Doncic, the Mavericks clearly have their leader in more ways than just scoring, rebounds and assists.
Barea, who knows a thing or two about building championship teams since he partnered with Nowitzki in the 2011 title run, said he sees great things in the future for this team – the short- and long-term futures.
“We got a great group of guys, great team chemistry,” Barea said. “And then our best player, Luka. The way he’s playing right now, if we have him on our team, we’re going to have a chance. KP is a different type of talent that nobody has. And I think we have a great team around them.
“So yeah, we definitely have a chance. And we look great in practice. Luka looks better than ever. Definitely, we got a chance.”
In the respect that Doncic takes practice seriously, he sees a lot of Dirk in the young point guard.
“The thing I see is the competitiveness in both of them,” Barea said. “In anything they do. Dirk used to love competing in practice. Luka loves winning everything in practice. The talent level. They want to be the best player on the floor every single day, every single time. Those things are similar to when Dirk was young and getting into his prime.”
Carlisle agreed that, while Nowitzki and Doncic are wildly different players, they have some of the same basketball DNA. There’s not a lot that either of them wouldn’t do to win.
“An intense desire to win, an intense desire to be a great teammate and be categorically a leader, but in his own way,” Carlisle said. “Dirk was more of a quiet leader.
“Luka is emerging of a vocal leader than Dirk was. And it’s not surprising simply based upon the fact that the positions are so different. When you’re the point guard, you have the ball and everything kind of runs through you. So as we’ve gone on in practices here, Luka’s done a great job of leading the entire team, whichever team he’s on in a given day.”
Carlisle said that the Mavericks have been switching up squads for scrimmages the last few practices. It’s no longer just the first team against the second team, but stretches of pairing other players with some of the starters – combinations that may very well happen on the court during games.
With the Mavericks missing several key players, Carlisle said the they are “going to have to be ready to be creative” when it comes to pairing up lineups.
Having a squad of many multi-position players helps.
“That’s the game right now,” Barea said. “You got to have a high basketball IQ, know how to space the floor and drive. There’s no 1, 2, 3 (positions) anymore. Everybody’s going to be spread out, It’s going to be a pick and roll, drive and kick and hit threes. It’s going to be random basketball and the team that does it best is going to have a great chance.”
With Doncic leading, the Mavericks certainly fall into that category.