After almost 2½ seasons, Luka Dončić has achieved so much that there’s really only one thing left between him and basketball immortality.
And there’s not a thing he can do about that except keep on doing what he’s doing.
Oh, there might be one other item on the to-do list, but one ring at a time.
First, consider what he’s accomplished in 160 NBA games. Rookie of the Year. First-team all-NBA in his second season. And now, voted in as a two-time All-Star starter.
In case you hadn’t noticed, this is the kind of respect that took Dirk Nowitzki more than a decade to receive. While people were reluctant to include him among the NBA’s elite for the longest time, that’s definitely not the case for Dončić.
In fact, it was the fourth year for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic before they even made an NBA all-star team, much less started in the game twice.
Clearly, Luka is engaging in next-level stuff when it comes to being a European player in the NBA who can come in with as much street cred as LeBron James or anybody else that has played in the league as a teenager.
Coach Rick Carlisle credited an often taken-for-granted part of the world for Luka’s meteoric rise.
“When you refer to the fact that it hasn’t always been easy for international players and sometimes it takes time for guys, one of the factors that really intensifies the ascent of a guy like Luka is social media,” Carlisle said. “He’s probably got 4-million followers on Instagram. All of his highlights get tweeted and retweeted constantly.
“He’s got tremendous swag with the way he plays, great magnetism and charisma on the floor. Those kind of things, they’re coming at you. He captured the world really in his first year and he has not let up on the gas pedal.”
Dončić simply plays the game. In that respect, he does have a lot in common with Nowitzki, who never sought adulation, but rather did his job and let whatever came his way happen organically.
For Dončić, life in the NBA is going to be much different than it was for Nowitzki. Great things are expected. He’s set the bar outrageously high from the very start.
And the clock is ticking.
“Yeah, it’s been quick,” Dončić said. “But I just try to prove myself on my court. I can tell the time is flying. I can’t believe it’s my third year already.
“Just playing in the NBA for me is the biggest accomplishment. Every kid that plays basketball dreams of being able to play in the NBA. I think that’s my biggest accomplishment.”
If you were worried that staying humble would be a problem for Luka, it’s not. When asked about finishing tied with Damian Lillard in the voting process for All-Star starters, then getting the nod because fan balloting was the tiebreaker, Dončić said:
“I was surprised I was tied, to be honest. I didn’t expect I was going to start this game. I know Lillard may have deserved it more than me.
I just want to say at the end of the day in two years, everybody will know he was an all-star, not a starter or non-starter. In a couple years, nobody is going to know who started the game. They’ll only know if you were an all-star. That’s the point, to me.”
Dončić was named to the West starting unit along with Golden State’s Steph Curry in the backcourt. They both were voted ahead of Lillard, Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell, all of whom would have been worthy starters.
He’s the second Maverick (Jason Kidd) to be voted in as an All-Star starter in the franchise’s history and the first to be voted in twice.
““It’s certainly well-deserved,” Carlisle said. “I had no doubt that he was going to be a starter in the game. It’s great for the organization. It’s great for our team and it’s great for him.
“We’re early on in what’s going to be a long and sensational career. Each year he’s gotten better. Each year, he brings a new tool out of the tool box.”
In that regard, he’s very much like Nowitzki.
Pseudo-All-Star break: The Mavericks had their sixth consecutive day without a game on Saturday and it will be two more days before they are scheduled to play Memphis on Monday at American Airlines Center.
It’s been almost like an All-Star break, except the players didn’t get to go anywhere and there have been some robust practice sessions.
“We’ve had several practice opportunities, which is rare certainly in a season like this,” Carlisle said. “We raise the intensity by raising the intensity. We’re in a very serious part of the season. We made progress in recent weeks, but we’re coming off a loss to Portland and that was disappointed. We got two home games and then we go on the road and these are all good teams.
“The competitiveness of practice has been very good. Today, we did a simulation of a game, did some scrimmaging because that was something we needed because we haven’t had a real game situation. It’ll be eight days by the time we play on Monday. It’s a very unusual situation.”