Your new European basketball wunderkind is also your new League Pass king. He stands 6-foot-7, weighs a robust 218 pounds, wears an undershirt like he’s playing in your local rec league, and is here to not just win games, but also to capture your attention. Be it through your cable provider, NBA League Pass, or a [redacted] stream, Luka Doncic makes for must-watch TV.
This has been coming for quite some time. When Doncic was still playing for Real Madrid in Spain, we’d get doses of his talent through YouTube compilations or Twitter highlights. But there was always going to be skepticism about Doncic until he played in the NBA. He sat out summer league, making our wait a little longer. Now, though, he’s impressing us even more than before.
Through 19 games, Doncic is averaging 19 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and an average of about two or three “Holy shit” moments each game. He’s also shooting 39.8 percent from deep. In Wednesday night’s game against the Rockets, Doncic faced his older looper in James Harden and displayed dazzling glimpses of the same kind of herky-jerky game Harden thrives on, but with his own twist.
Haaaalleluuuuuukaaaaa... pic.twitter.com/0mE1oYokrX— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 29, 2018
Doncic was in full control. He pump-faked and jab-stepped until he saw an opening and took it. He created space for himself with a dribble in a pinch. He ran the break, faked passes, and swished jumpers and finished with 20 points, six rebounds, and two assists. Oh yeah, and he crossed over the entire Rockets defense on his way to a dunk that summed up the 128-108 Mavs win:
GET UP LUKA! pic.twitter.com/vP4uuwgtJt— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 29, 2018
I’ve always subscribed to the theory that to be the best version of a League Pass team, the main source of entertainment has to originate from the team’s lead ball handler. Blake Griffin going off for 40 points or more doesn’t have the same kind of appeal as Steph Curry doing the same thing. Watching the former feels like more of a chore, while watching the latter is an out-of-body experience. Even Harden, who is Houston’s featured player, doesn’t quite do it for most.
The Doncic experience has so far appealed to the same kind of sensibilities as Curry, even if Luka’s game is closer to Harden’s. One of the underrated qualities about watching Curry, and now Doncic, is the allure of the unknown. Their games seem to expand within a game, opening up the possibility to see a type of move that’s unique from anything else you’ve seen on the basketball court. They seem to be playing a different game than most, and control the tempo and direction of a game like it’s a yo-yo tethered to their deft hands.
LUKA!!! pic.twitter.com/GgRhSTlCaY— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 29, 2018
And yet, Doncic’s biggest accomplishment may be not that he can create this kind of universal fascination, or that he’s the clear front-runner for Rookie of the Year (he is), but that his work on the court is directly translating to success. The Mavs are 10-9 this season and currently hold the eighth spot in the West. They have the fifth-best point differential in the conference and, as of Thursday morning, the 10th-best offense in the league and the 10th-best defense. This is about the best-case scenario one could have predicted for Dallas before the season, and one that’s even more surprising after a 3-7 start. The Mavs aren’t particularly deep, but they’re making the very crucial strategic decision to let Doncic run the team. Age is only a number, and in this case, the Mavs’ 19-year-old already plays like a savvy veteran.
There are still issues with Dallas’s roster. But it’s already clear that the Mavs have created a bright future for themselves. So, for now, there’s nothing wrong with kicking back in the present and enjoying the Doncic show.