It’s a weird time to be a NBA fan in Texas right now. With multiple big name departures (and the uncomfortable public feud between legendary coach Gregg Popovich and former Spurs star Kawhi Leonard), the San Antonio Spurs seem vulnerable for the first time in several decades. The injury-laden Houston Rockets recently jettisoned veteran Carmelo Anthony and have hobbled to a 9-11 start, losing their fourth-straight game last night to the Dallas Mavericks—who, against all odds, might finish this season as the best NBA team in the Lone Star State. And there is exactly one reason for the Mavs’ unexpected success this year: Luka Doncic.
The nineteen-year-old entered the league this year with mixed expectations. He began last year as the projected number one pick in the 2018 draft, but ultimately fell to third overall before the Atlanta Hawks snapped him up. The Hawks then inexplicably traded the Slovenian star to the Mavs for Trae Young, who Dallas had drafted with their fifth-overall pick. Young is having a great rookie season for the Hawks, but Dallas has been the clear winner of that trade so far. Doncic has been unbelievably good, averaging 19 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game—shooting 39.8 percent from three. He’s led Mavs to a 10-9 record; they’ve won seven of their last eight games with victories over some of the league’s best teams, including Golden State, Boston, and Oklahoma City. Perhaps more importantly, Doncic has emerged as one of the most entertaining players to watch this season. Check out his highlights from the Mavs’ blowout win against Houston Wednesday night:
Doncic has seemingly won over his pre-draft critics. His appeal is undeniable: he’s a lanky, 6-foot-7 European dude with a kind of hunched-over dribbling style. He actively seeks to embarrass defenders, jacks up deep threes, and isn’t scared off by the occasional air ball, all of which makes him incredibly fun to watch (as Deadspin’s Chris Thompson wrote, “even [Doncic’s] goofy failures are good television”). Doncic openly prioritizes fun in his game, and we’re all better off for it.
There’s a somewhat cultish Doncic fan club forming. This was the scene at Doncic’s first meet-and-greet event last month:
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) October 27, 2018
And popular sports and culture news website the Ringer even went so far as to immortalize Doncic in song, parodying Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as an emotional ode to Doncic:
Ringer Records is proud to present "Halleluka," inspired by the Mavs’ savior, Luka Doncic 🎶 pic.twitter.com/FU5UlrZ7bR
— The Ringer (@ringer) November 27, 2018
His emergence as a true superstar has come at a critical time for the Mavs. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’s longtime face of the franchise, hasn’t played yet this year due to injuries, and the forty-year-old German is inarguably well past his prime. Dallas saw plenty of success in the Nowitzki era, making the playoffs nearly every season from 2000 to 2016 and winning a championship in 2011, but the team has struggled badly in the last few seasons, bottoming out with an abysmal 24-58 record last year.
Enter Doncic. Only four players in the history of the league have averaged at least 19 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists in a rookie season: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, and Sidney Wicks. Are we saying Luka Doncic is the next Michael Jordan? We don’t have to. Just watch the tape.
LUKA 🤩 pic.twitter.com/MCzxGUMQ0L
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 25, 2018
This is borderline stupid.
Rookies shouldn’t have such great passing vision. Luka Doncic is 19.pic.twitter.com/UuwDrQ77Pb
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 22, 2018
Oh my goodness Luka Doncic. Shield your eyes Hawks fans. pic.twitter.com/Vfd0Wt0Vnl
— Luka Wobčić (@WorldWideWob) September 30, 2018
Imagine not drafting Luka Doncic pic.twitter.com/zbjw6qeqAe
— 12upSports (@12upSports) November 18, 2018
— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) November 20, 2018
Well, OK, maybe he’s not quite Air Jordan:
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) November 20, 2018
But he’s Luka Doncic. And he’s steadily winning the hearts of Texans.