In examining his third NBA All-Star game appearance in just his fourth season in the league, Luka Doncic came to this conclusion during Saturday’s Media Day on the shores of Lake Erie.
“It’s more for the people who can really dunk,” said the Dallas Mavericks superstar point guard. “People don’t come here to look at me.”
Maybe, maybe not. But for those fans from far and wide who have had the pleasure of watching Doncic play, they know he’ll put on a show when he’s on the pitch.
Just ask New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green.
After Doncic gave 49 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists to the Pelicans in the Mavs 125-118 win over New Orleans last Thursday, Green said wryly, “Luka isn’t playing!”
Green laughed and added: “He’s a great player and we have to give him his credit. He came in here and dominated the game.”
Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and now Doncic are the only players in NBA history to rack up an impressive 49 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. But it has become as routine for Doncic to participate in some of the game’s greats as the cup of coffee he often enjoys.
Opponents have always brought more battle to the table when facing Doncic. They even, sometimes, together on the 6-7, 230-pound point guard and send a plethora of players his way in an effort to control him and out of his game.
But Doncic uses his eagle eyes to fend off double teams and make the right basketball play leading to a basket.
During a recent game against Philadelphia while still playing for the 76ers before they traded him to Brooklyn, security guard Seth Curry discussed how Doncic “was a big fight” for Philly after the Mavs’ lost child finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists.
“He did everything – tear us apart in defense, score, get his teammates involved (and) show off,” Curry said. “When he missed, guys would come to him to fight.
“He just did what he wanted out there. It was just hard sledding for us.”
Sledding has been tough for many people who have met Doncic, especially in recent weeks leading up to Sunday’s All-Star game in Cleveland, which starts at 7 p.m. In the past 10 games, Doncic has averaged 35.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.8 assists while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from past the three-point arc.
Even more astonishingly, Doncic has averaged 41.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and seven assists in the past four games, while scoring 47.8 percent of his shots and 45.8 percent of his three-pointers. And he’s been efficient enough to break the 45-point mark three times in the last four games, including a career-high 51 points in a Feb. 10 game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
In that game against the Clippers, Doncic was 7-of-9 from a three-point range in a first quarter, setting LA on fire for a great 28 points.
“I didn’t think he was going to get that hot, but you know he figured it out,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think it’s tough shots he took, but he’s done a great job playing the game.”
Lue thanks coach Jason Kidd for taking Doncic’s game to the next level and getting Jalen Brunson to initiate the attack more so Doncic can be fresher in the fourth quarter.
“I think J-Kidd did a good job of just moving him too,” Lue said, referring to Doncic. “He’s off the ball and now comes around the corner to DHOs (dribbling handoffs).
“Just move a lot more, and he just can’t jam to get through the middle and get out of a pick and roll every time.”
An even deeper dive into Doncic’s evolution reveals he is sixth in the league in scoring (27.5), 17e in rebounding (9.2) and fifth in assists (9.0). He is also the only guard in the top 26 in rebounds and equals 20e made in three-pointers at 2.8 per game.
“I think this year has been my best year yet,” said Doncic. “And I have to keep improving.”
Doncic has improved so much that during a recent game against Indiana, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle ordered an umpire to whistle a carrying foul against Doncic. When asked about that, Carlisle, who has coached the Mavs for the past 13 years, laughed and said:
“You should try to find something to slow the man down. I mean, even if all you have to do is beg for a phone call.”
One thing Doncic has done is improve his status by winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award this season. Doncic, the preseason favorite to win the award, didn’t exactly get off to a rocking start this season – by his lofty standards – but has been picking up some incredible steam lately.
However, MVPs and other prestigious individual awards aren’t even high on the boxes Doncic wants to tick off his list. On Media Day on Saturday, 22-year-old Doncic said, “I want to win the championship.”
Answering questions from the international media, Doncic spent much of Saturday’s interview session talking about his native Slovenia, which qualified for the first time in men’s basketball for the Olympics last summer and was promoted to the bronze medal. match, where they lost to Australia.
“Fourth place is never great,” said Doncic. “It’s the worst place you could ever be, but we came a long way, mainly because we didn’t even know we were going to the Olympics.
“I will always represent my country. It’s just a pleasure. It’s just something you do with the heart, and I’ll always be there for my country.”
As far as being with Team LeBron (James) and being teammates with Golden State Warriors superstar guard Stephen Curry in the All-Star game, Doncic gave this description about one of the Splash Brothers.
“It’s just amazing the way he plays the game,” he said. “Every time we played against the Warriors, we were a little bit afraid that he would go for 60 points.
“Everyone would love him on their team. He’s the best shooter ever, but the way he moves, the way he helps everyone. I think the underrated part is his screening because nobody wants to get rid of him. If he puts down a good screen, it’s hard for the defense. He’s just an incredibly great player.”
The same can be said about Doncic, who appears in his third All-Star game in just his fourth season. By contrast, it took Stephen Curry seven seasons to earn his third All-Star place, and it seems that Kevin Durant, Karl Malone and the late Kobe Bryant had five years before each made their third All-Star appearance.
Also, Doncic now has four 45-point career games, tying Mark Aguirre for the Mavs’ franchise record in that division. In addition, he leads the NBA in the past three seasons in 20 points, five rebounds and five assists with 15 – Harden is second with 10.
“We can sit here all day and talk about (Doncic),” Kidd said. “The things he does on the pitch for himself (and) for his teammates are incredible.
“I think we’ve used every noun(s) adjective to describe his playing, and he only gets better when the stage is big.”
And the stage is sure to be big on Sunday, though All-Star games are usually more fluff than serious. Still, there’s no denying what Doncic accomplished in his journey to playing on one of the NBA’s biggest podiums.
After Doncic scored 32 points in the first half of his 51-point blast against Los Angeles, Clippers forward Nicolas Batum said: “I mean, (Doncic) is a great player. We tried to switch from one to five.
“He made hard shots. That’s who he is.”
Indeed, that’s who Doncic is. He is a tough, multi-talented player that many fans leave the comfort of their homes and spend their hard-earned cash to watch him play.