Leading up to the NBA Awards show on June 24th in which Luka Doncic will officially be announced as the KIA NBA Rookie of the Year I wanted to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of Luka’s top moments during his incredible Rookie season.
Doncic Top Rookie Moments
Respect from his Elders
As a 19 year old Slovenian Rookie it would not be surprising for many NBA vets to dismiss Luka Doncic until he pays his dues in the league. The opposite happened in fact, when asked about Doncic many players went way beyond the simple, “he’s a good young player with a bright future if he works hard” comment and actually gave shining reviews of their encounter with him.
“That Dude good…he gonna be a problem, he already a problem” – Draymond Green
“Hes unbelievable…experienced…always at his own pace” – Steph Curry
“He has a veteran, pro level game…hes a special talent” – Paul George
“The thing that impressed me most was his vision…last year I didn’t have half the reads he has now” – Donovan Mitchell
“Hes been having a lot of moments…as soon as I saw him flip the ball up there I was just like, hes gonna make this…hes a really really good player, not just for a rookie” – Damian Lillard
“His stepback three is patented now…you can tell that hes not shy, not afraid of the moment, hes gonna be a force.” – Kevin Durant
“The game seems awfully slow for him” – Brad Stevens
“The guy doesn’t look much like a Rookie…confident beyond where you would expect…I think hes already an All-Star” – Steve Kerr
“Better than advertised” – Derrick Favors
“His court vision is something I haven’t seen in young guys like that in probably, forever…” – Dirk Nowitzki
Luka Cares About the Young Fans
In the midst of a battle with the Golden State Warriors, Luka came flying down the court to try to score against Draymond Green on a fast break. Running full speed and elevating for the finish, Luka winds up barreling into the crowd and into the check of a young fan sitting courtside. Luka knew the collision was not your typical trip into the crowd and he spent a minute checking on the youngster, rubbing his head, and making sure he was going to be okay. Then at the end of the game, in typical classy Luka fashion, he goes over to the fan and gives him his game worn jersey and an autograph. It is great to see an NBA player who genuinely cares about the fans and their well being.
There were many moments where Luka gave back to young fans without expecting anything in return. Another great on was in February when Luka signed his game shoes and game them to a young fan after the game. I am not sure who was more excited here, the kid or the adult…
Toying with Uncle Drew
November 24th – Dallas vs Boston
In Luka’s 18th game as a pro he had a previous great 19 year old rookie phenom in Kyrie Irving come to town. In a 9 point Maverick win Luka did not have his greatest statistical game but he showed us flashes of what was to come.
In a late shot clock situation in the first quarter Luka calls for the ball and gets Kyrie isolated at the top of the three point arc. Showing the calm, cool, and savvy of an NBA veteran, Luka hits Irving with the step back, fakes the shot, and ducks under Kyrie who jumped out of his shoes trying to get to the step back. Luka catches nothing but nylon on the leaning three and strikes a pose so everyone can stop and think about what just happened. It was a small moment in an early season game but this let everyone know, Luka is clutch.
Rejecting the King’s Rule
November 30 – Dallas at Los Angeles
This play did not have a huge impact on the game or look that impressive at the time but any chance you get to block LeBron James twice in a row is a big deal. I’m sure this goes double for Luka who was very open about being a bit starstruck when he stepped onto the court with the King. Luka was giddy, smiling ear to ear at center court before the game but once they rolled the ball out he was all business.
December 23rd – Dallas at Portland
With 0.6 seconds in the game, the Mavericks down 3 and in-bounding from the baseline, Luka made the impossible happen. On a pinpoint pass from Jalen Brunson, Luka was able to shake Mo Harkless and dart to the very corner of the court to release a deep fadaway that had to rainbow over the backboard to have a chance. As the ball is in the air you can see Wes Matthews throwing his hand up, knowing it was going to drop. Mavericks and Blazers players alike were absolutely stunned. DeAndre Jordan has a look on his face like “who the hell is this kid” and Luka himself looks in disbelief as he walks back to the Mavericks bench.
The HalleLuka game
December 8th – Dallas vs Houston
Although he had already had some great games, this night was the Luka Doncic coming out party. At home, against the reigning MVP in James Harden, the Mavs honored their young draft pick in a big way and he responded by putting a team of veterans on his back for a come from behind win.
During a second quarter timeout the Mavericks had Isaac Lee and Jason Gallagher performed “Halleluka,”
With three minutes left in the fourth quarter Luka had only 10 points on 3 of 13 shooting as the Mavs trailed the Rockets 102-94, leaving them with just a 4% chance of winning the game at that time. Then, with HalleLuka still ringing in Mavs fans heads, something miraculous happened.
11 straight points from Luka Doncic put the Mavericks back on top as he punished Clint Capela and PJ Tucker with step backs and aggressive drives. Luka out-dueled the reigning MVP at just 19 years old with just 22 NBA games under his belt.
When Luka get a big on him at the top of the key it is a wrap. His first step and tight handles allows him to blow by them and then just as they take a big step to recover he pulls it back creating huge space for him to get off that sweet jumper.
This is nothing new, Luka Doncic has been dropping people with his step-back since his days with Real Madrid.
A Monster Triple Double
January 27th – Dallas vs Toronto
Measured by Game Score this was Luka’s best game of his Rookie season. It may have been a team loss but it was still an impressive accomplishment going against Kawhi Leonard, the best perimeter defender in the League.
Luka was only 1 of 3 players to put up 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game this season along with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. He was scoring at will, putting the ball right were teammates needed it, and fighting off a really good Raptors team on the boards.
Although the Mavericks lost, this was a really good came that came down to last minute. The Mavs were down 119-112 with less than 30 seconds left when Luka sized up Kawhi Leonard and knocked down a contested three from the top of the key to cut the lead down to 4. Time ran out on the Luka comeback but his ability to score on the best perimeter defender in the NBA is just remarkable.
Luka Drops PG13
December 30th – Dallas vs Oklahoma City
In a home win against the Oklahoma City Thunder Luka Doncic had his smooth ball handling on display. Paul George is 4x NBA All-Defense and one of the 3 NBA finalists for 2019 NBA Defensive Player of the Year as he terrorizes ball handlers on the perimeter and forced a league high 2.2 steals per game.
Luka Doncic, unfazed by the daunting matchup, drove PG hard to the left, hesitated like he was going to spin in the lane, then left PG on the deck as he scooped in for an easy layup.
The Timberwolves Take-Over
January 11th – Dallas at Minnesota
No, it wasn’t a triple double but it was one of the best games Luka Dončić has had all season. This 29 point, 12 assists, 8 rebound performance came at a time before the Mavericks traded 4/5 of their starters and were still in the Playoff hunt. Visiting a talented Timberwolves team, also chasing the Playoffs, Luka out-dueled 2x All-Star and 2016 Rookie-of-the-Year Karl-Anthony Towns.
Luka had a go-ahead floater over Karl-Anthony Towns with 1:30 left in the game. A go-ahead dunk in traffic over KAT with 1 minute to play. Then a DEEP go-ahead pull up 3 over KAT with 23 seconds left to seal the win. Luka had all his skills on display in the last two minutes of this game. He can beat you inside with size and skill and can take it to the perimeter for long range daggers.
Which Way Did He Go?
Luka’s handles, basketball IQ, and passing ability are so advanced that he loves toying with defenders and entertaining the crowd. Several times throughout the season Luka like the pull the fake pass move around the rim that had big guys guessing, “which way did he go?” As he he has the ball in the lane or in the post with a defender right up on him with their arms up, Luka puts the ball behind the defenders back as if he passing, then pulls the ball back to shoot, find an open teammate, or really whatever he wants to do. He even had Rudy Gobert, the odds on favorite for 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, spinning in circles with this ball trick as Luka layed it up for an easy two.
The Mile High Dunk
March 14 – Dallas at Denver
With 2 minutes left in the game and the score tied at 95, it was once again time for Luka to shine. He starts his magic by taking Millsap into the post and getting him to bite on a pump fake with a gorgeous up-and-under finish to put the Mavs up 2.
Fast forward to 20 seconds left in the game and it is Luka Doncic bringing the ball up the court with the Mavs trailing 98-97. With Gary Harris, a very good defender in his own right, hounding Luka at the top of the key he gets a ball screen from Maxi Kleber and gets the switch defensively. Luka blows right by Mason Plumlee and goes flying in for a dunk on Millsap’s head while being sandwiched between the two Nuggets. This was a totally different type of game winning move we have seen from Luka, traditionally it has been the stepback. He was decisive, aggressive, and athletic in his attack of the rim and was able to finish through contact.
Nikola Jokic ended up using the last 5 seconds to swoop around Dwight Powell for a game winner but that does not diminish the clutch dunk from Luka against one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Bloopers and Funny Moments
Luka plays with a level of joy that I have never seen before. He is incredibly competitive and it shows, but he also knows how to enjoy a moment and not take himself to seriously. This last video gives you a sense of that joy as you go through some of the bloopers and funny moments that he and his teammates have experiences this season. Some of the best stuff in here is from Luka’s trip to All-Star weekend in Charlotte where he and Dirk had some great interactions.
It is crazy that all of this has happened in just one year. Having Luka Doncic as part of the Dallas Mavericks is the gift that keeps on giving. I cannot wait to see what memories next year will bring but hopefully it includes some Mavericks Playoff moments! Let me know which of these Luka moments was your favorite or if it was something else that I missed.