Luka Doncic will turn 21 years old on Feb. 28. But the Dallas Mavericks’ ultra-talented point guard received an early birthday present Thursday when he was announced tonight on TNT as a starter for this year’s All-Star Game.
For Doncic, the celebration begins in earnest as he became the first member of the Mavs to start in an All-Star game since Dirk Nowitzki replaced an injured Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup in the 2010 midseason classic that was played before a record crowd of 108,713 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
This year’s All-Star game will be Feb. 16 in Chicago, and even before the starters were announced Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers had no doubt that Doncic belongs in the starting lineup.
“He deserves it,” Rivers said. “It’s surprising because it’s his second year (in the NBA), but I don’t think it’s very surprising when you watch his play. If you just go by his play, there’s no doubt that he deserves to start.”
Besides Nowitzki in 2007 and ‘10, the only other member of the Mavs to start in an All-Star game was Jason Kidd in 1996. Ironically, like Doncic, that also was Kidd’s second season in the NBA.
In the All-Star voting by the fans, Doncic had 4,598,323 votes and finished second overall behind LeBron James (4,747,887) of the Los Angeles Lakers. Fan voting accounted for 50 percent of the votes for the All-Star starters, while a media panel accounted for 25 percent, and votes by current NBA players made up the remaining 25 percent.
With his flair for dramatics, Doncic has led the Mavs to a 27-16 record and a No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. The 6-7, 230-pounder enters tonight game at Portland fourth in the league in scoring (29.1), 16th in rebounding (9.7), third in assists (9.0), and is 13th in 3-pointers made per game (3.0).
In addition, Doncic leads the NBA in triple-doubles this season with 12, which is the most in a single season by any player in Mavs history.
“He’s playing amazing,” said Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, who also is one of the Western Conference All-Star starters. “He’s getting everybody involved, getting to his spots, making shots.”
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Doncic terrorized players around the NBA last year en route to being named the league’s Rookie of the Year. So much so that Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr described him as a mix between the legendary Larry Bird and Houston Rockets’ perennial All-Star James Harden.
“It’s all legitimate, but I stay away from the comparison game because I think it’s important that this kid is his own player, and he truly is,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Look, each month he continues to develop and learn more and hone certain skills even more, and it’s very exciting.
“He’s a very exciting player to watch. I understand the hype.”
Since Doncic brings a total package to the table that centers on exploiting defenses at all cost, a lot of game-planning from opposing players and coaches is focused on trying to slow him down.
“We’ve studied him a lot for obvious reasons, and this is what I’ve learned,” Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “He scores in such a variety of ways that if you’re not really good in whatever way you choose to (defend him), the punishing aspects, the ripple effects of any mistake are highlighted.
“Let’s say you decide to double-team him. He’s big and he’s gifted and he passes. He picks off corners with laser passes as good as any player that I’ve seen.”
And that’s not all.
“I think you’ve seen people play some zone, you’ve seen people switch out on him,” Brown said. “You’ve sort of seen it all, and I can honestly say without any sort of gamesmanship response that there’s not much that you can point to and say, ‘Yep, that’s the way to guard him.’
“I think that the attention Luka gets from just an opposition coaching perspective – and I scout these guys only twice a year – is generated just because he’s good and deserves the attention that he gets.”
That attention, Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban acknowledged, is apparently showing up at various box offices across the NBA.
“LeBron, last year, and the (Golden State) Warriors were the only players/teams that never played to an empty seat,” Cuban said. “With Luka, we’ll see teams that normally don’t draw, they start selling out.”
All to see the NBA’s latest young superstar.
A generational player, Doncic is a 20-year old from Slovenia who plays with steely eyes and a kid-like laughter and is as dominant as any player in the NBA today. Those are just a few of the principal reasons he’s an All-Star starter.
“What Luka’s doing is incredible,” Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “The numbers he’s putting up at his age, it’s hard to put into context.
“He handles himself so well with the ball, he engages his teammates. Obviously he takes what the games give him — whether it’s scoring or passing — and his rebounding from that position is phenomenal.”
While it’s imperative that coaches like Chicago’s Jim Boylen dissect Doncic’s game in an effort to get a leg up, they marvel at the way that he continues to play at his own pace.
“I think the game has really slowed down for him, even more than last year,” Boylen said. “If he gets even with you, you can’t get back in front of him.
“He’s perfected the step-back going to his left, he finishes multiple ways going to his right, he makes good decisions when he crosses the free throw line, which is the most difficult thing in our league to learn as a young player. He’s fearless.”
And he’s an All-Star starter.
“He’s had a hell of a career in a year-and-a-half,” Rivers said. “Him and probably six other guys are having MVP years.
“And that’s impressive when you think about how young he is and what he’s doing for this franchise.”