Luka Doncic’s pre-NBA film is a guide to what could be for him as a superstar
Sometimes, after a lackluster performance from Luka Doncic (like the one we saw Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks), I like to crank up the old YouTube machine and watch a movie about the young superstar In front He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. You know, Real Madrid and/or Slovenia stuff.
At this point in his basketball journey, Luka was a skinny teenager who was captivating basketball fans across Europe. Now he’s a perennial MVP contender with one eye on basketball’s biggest prize: the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
A lot has changed for Luka in recent years. When he played in Europe ahead of the 2018 NBA draft, he was thinner than he is now. He was lighter on his feet. His sweater was a little softer. He flew past the defenders at deceptive speed. His sidesteps were faster. He was more bouncy and explosive on the edge, whether it was ricocheting balls in traffic or vicious dunks.
I mean look at this guy:
In the clip above, he’s speeding across the pitch with a defender at his side. He just collects the ball, stands up and throws a fierce dunk. When was the last time you saw him in an NBA game? (The answer is November 12 vs Spurs, and the dunk looked a lot less cool than the one above.)
It all begs the question: does going back and watching pre-NBA Luka movies leave you with hope or despair in your heart?
The answer, as with most things: It’s complicated.
Mavs fans are aware of Lukas’ fitness issues this season (and his fitness issues in previous NBA seasons). It’s been talked about a lot on podcasts and written on websites. It’s no secret that Luka is currently trying to get in shape. And as always, Luke will get in better shape. Maybe it’s soon, maybe not, but it will happen.
That’s one of the reasons why watching these old Luka highlights is a source of sadness. At 22, Luka should still be in his physical prime. It shouldn’t trend downwards over the course of each season. He used to slide to the edge like a shapeshifter, now he rumbles to the edge like a 35-year veteran. It looks like he’s playing in slow motion, and the results are right there with the eye test. It’s sad to see those old Luka highlights because we know how incredible he could really be at the moment.
On the other hand, seeing his European film gives me hope for the future of The Wonder Boy. He has the physical gifts he needs. We don’t have to wonder what Luka might look like if he were a little faster because we saw it. And at 22, we know he can get back to that.
It’s also important to note that Luka is still a superstar. The guy made it to the First Team All-NBA twice (twice!) and he’s still one of the best players in the world. But he can do even more.
Thing is, we don’t want Luka to be the same guy he was as a teenager. The strength he’s added to his physique in the NBA has made him almost invincible—when coupled with his adept, unexpected speed. If he loses that step, he’ll be easier to contain. We want Luka to be a combination of what he was in Europe and what he is now – basically what Luka was in the 2019-20 NBA season. He needs his deceptive speed and his muscle. The muscle he added is all positive. It’s the other things that are worrying. But that’s also the stuff that can be dropped with a little more off-season focus.
So going back to the original question, does watching pre-NBA Luka movies leave hope or despair in your heart?
The answer for me is an initial minute of despair followed by infinite hope. The Mavs have that guy on her team, and he’s still only 22 years old. Once he finds the physical combination of his time at Real Madrid and his current situation in Dallas, he will be one of the most unbeatable players the league has seen – much like the 20-year-old we saw in Dallas making his second Season. We just have to hope he finds that perfect combination sooner rather than later. Any season that he isn’t in peak physical condition will ultimately be a wasted season when it comes to looking back on his legacy.
The good news: A lot of guys didn’t figure this stuff out when they first entered the league. It takes some time. As fans, it’s about being patient while trying to hold Luka accountable. We know what he’s capable of. We just want to see him get there.