There was a moment after Friday night’s slugfest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks that highlighted just how good Luka Doncic played. Doncic, fresh off of perhaps the most well-rounded game of his young career, got the chance to say good game to his idol, LeBron James. What it turned into instead was James calling Doncic, a noted bad motherf*cker, a “bad motherf*cker.”
The only way a game like that could end. LeBron dapping Luka and saying “you’re a bad motherfu***r” pic.twitter.com/i26iPJntTp
— Kazeem Famuyide 🍎 (@Kazeem) November 2, 2019
James had his best performance of the young season, going for 39 points, 16 assists, 12 rebounds and four assists in 43 commanding minutes that served as a reminder that despite everything that happened last season, he can of grab a game by its throat in a way that no other player in the league is capable of doing. This makes the fact that Doncic did a half-decent LeBron impression against the King himself all the more impressive.
Doncic is one of the NBA’s marvels. He’s just really, really good at basketball, mixing the skill that all the best Euroballers possess with an off-the-charts basketball IQ and a sort of fearlessness that most 20-year-old professional athletes do not posses. Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that he’s been playing pro ball for years, dating back to his days tearing up Europe with Real Madrid, but saying that explains it all sells short just how good he is at basketball.
In 38 minutes against the Lakers, Doncic put up 31 points and 13 rebounds with a career-high 15 assists. All of those were team-highs. The scoring was ridiculous — one of life’s simplest pleasures is when Doncic chucks a three with a 75 degree launch angle and it goes in, I submit Clip A and Clip B into the record as evidence — and the fact that he’s the Mavs’ best rebounder despite being 6’7 and not a particularly explosive athlete is a testament to his desire to do the dirty work needed to haul in boards. It also highlights the work he put in to get his body right during the offseason, something Mavericks management certainly noticed.
“He worked on his body in the offseason, and it’s clear,” Dallas general manager Donnie Nelson told Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer. “He came in loaded for buck this year.”
The thing that sticks out watching Doncic play, however, is his passing. His brain is able to process the game of basketball faster than most other people on the planet, sometimes seeing things before they happen and reacting to them as they are occurring. This is a James-like quality, but it doesn’t mean all that much if it’s not blended with skill and fearlessness as a passer that leads to him making plays happen. Fortunately for basketball fans, Doncic also has both of those things, which leads to stuff like some of the passing clips in following video.
🎥: Luka Dončić set a new career-high in assists with 15 in tonight’s game. His previous high was 12 assists, which he has hit on 3 separate occasions – most recently vs. SAC (3/26/19). (via @MavsPR) pic.twitter.com/lIy7R7eEiH
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 2, 2019
Doncic is cool, calm, collected, and perpetually in control of what is happening around him with the ball in his hands. There’s an obvious negative side-effect to all of this — he turns the ball over a decent amount, with his 4.6 turnovers per game tied for the sixth-most in the league — but seeing as how the Mavs are 3-2 to start the year and he is easily their best creator on the perimeter, the reward outweighs the risk. And besides, even with his years of professional experience, he’s still only 20. When you’e young mistakes are learning experiences, especially as he’s figuring out the tendencies of his new running mate, Kristaps Porzingis, the kind of player whose size and shooting ability should thrive next to a guy like Doncic. Plus, once defenses have to start really accounting for Porzingis’ versatility out of pick-and-rolls with Doncic, the precocious Slovenian should be able to make opponents pay.
There is legitimate, warranted excitement in Dallas, and much of that revolves around Doncic’s ability to take a step forward following his Rookie of the Year campaign last year. The early returns are awfully promising, and if they hold up, the Mavericks making the postseason for the first time since 2015-16 should become the expectation. If that doesn’t happen, and they spend this year getting their foundation set before building on it moving forward, that’s fine, too. Doncic, no matter what, will be a joy to watch.