What Mavericks fans are seeing from Luka Doncic in the first month of this NBA season is more than anybody could have reasonably expected.
Even more than those who have watched Doncic for a lot longer than people in Dallas could have seen coming.
Maxi Kleber spent three years playing professionally in Europe before joining the Mavericks in 2017. He had a much closer view of Doncic during his formative, teenage years than anybody in Texas, save for perhaps Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
Even with that vantage point, Kleber has to do a double-take when he sees things like what happened Monday night. Doncic rolled up a career-best 42 points to go with 11 rebounds and 12 assists, joining LeBron James as the only players under 21 to record a 40-point triple-double.
“He’s crazy,” Kleber said after the 117-110 win over the Spurs. “It feels like in his second year now, that he has so much experience. You don’t even watch him as a guy who’s, like, in his sophomore year. You don’t see that at all.
“It feels like he’s the veteran leading the team for, like, 10 years, and knows everything that’s going on out there.”
With the way Doncic has started this season, everything is on the table. You want to put him in the MVP conversation? Nobody would argue. He’s averaging 29.5 points (fourth in the NBA), 10.7 rebounds (11th) and 9.3 assists (second).
You want to compare him with James or any other superstar past or present? Go right ahead. He’s only 85 games into his NBA career, but his numbers are comparable to Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, James and any other non-Wilt Chamberlain superstar you want to mention.
The point is that we may not be giving enough credit to just how accomplished Doncic was, even before he set foot in the NBA.
“First of all, I think the European competition is underestimated here because it’s really good basketball,” Kleber said. “And they play very physical. If you want to compete there, especially as a young kid like Luka (did), they make it hard on you because they don’t want a young kid coming in there and showing off.
“I would have expected him to surprise people (in the NBA) just because people talk European basketball down and they didn’t really know what to expect.
“But I don’t think anybody would have expected this.”
“This” is six triple-doubles in the first 13 games this season. “This” is leading the Mavericks to an 8-5 record, better than some analysts figured was within their capabilities.
“This” is proving at least some people very wrong about the scouting that was done on Doncic during his European time with Real Madrid.
“A lot of people didn’t think he was this good, let’s be honest,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy went third in the draft.
“Donnie Nelson was very consistent going back two years that he was the best player in the draft last year, by far. And he was right. He’s a great young player, who’s accepted a lot of responsibility. And is handling things very, very well.”
And he’s getting better as this season is progressing out of its infancy and into the meat of the schedule. Over the last nine games, Doncic is averaging a triple-double: 31.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.
He’s getting to the free-throw line 10 times a game in that span and making 83.3 percent of those shots. That’s the kind of free points that make good players great and great players unstoppable.
“And he doesn’t shy away from big situations,” Kleber said. “It’s just crazy. The way he played (against San Antonio), when he made that 3-pointer, the step-back, that was pretty outrageous.”
Luka’s dominance is becoming obvious to everybody. Jalen Brunson came into the league with Doncic last season as rookies and he’s watched the rapid growth with the same wide-eyed amazement as everybody else.
“He’s obviously great,” Brunson said after a robust practice Tuesday. “Just to see the strides he’s making as young as he is, it’s very special to see. Not just from a basketball standpoint, but seeing him right after draft day to now, it’s night and day. He’s a great teammate, a great person.
“He’s a great teammate on and off the floor. Obviously, there’s a lot of hype around him, but off the court, he’s just another dude.”
That description certainly doesn’t apply to anything he’s done this season on the court.