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Luka Doncic’s NBA debut had more ups than downs

The Dallas Mavericks need Doncic to be a star. Wednesday was a good start.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a long summer full of YouTube highlights and social media shooting session clips, Luka Doncic made his much-anticipated debut in last night’s 121-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

The matchup featured two of the top three picks in the 2018 NBA Draft with DeAndre Ayton taking center stage to the tune of 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He looked every bit deserving of the No. 1 pick.

Doncic’s stat line doesn’t look as nice as the Arizona product. The Euroleague superstar scored 10 points on 5-of-16 shooting (including 0-of-5 from deep), eight rebounds and four assists. He also succumbed to four turnovers, though one was a pass that bounced right off DeAndre Jordan’s hands and another was a palming violation that refs will arbitrarily call throughout the season.

Doncic was brilliant in the first quarter. He looked made for the moment. NBA debut on national TV against the first overall pick? Dude was nails.

One on of the first possessions, Doncic displayed his vision and awareness, confidently attacking the paint with his left hand and reaching around Ayton to set Jordan up for the bunny.

A little bit later in the quarter, Doncic displayed his craftiness, distorting his body to get the shot off against Ayton.

Just like he did in the preseason, Doncic used his eyes to move the defender before lofting a pass to Jordan right by the rim. Similar to a quarterback moving the safety before rifling a pass to the receiver, notice how Doncic’s subtle look to Dorian Finney-Smith causes Trevor Ariza to hesitate just enough. Easy buckets.

We all knew at some point this season Doncic would make a play leaving us shaking our heads in disbelief, amazed to see a 19 year old have a feel for a game few have. I don’t think we thought it would be five minutes into the first game. The flair and silky-smooth passing grew his lore overseas, and it’s encouraging to see some of that savviness carry over so far.

Overall, the first quarter was exactly what the Mavericks wanted to see. Doncic was confident, got to his spots, read the floor and looked to have total command of the court. But once he picked up his second foul with about four minutes left in the quarter the wheels seemed to come off.

Rick Carlisle promptly preserved his prized rookie on the bench until about 5:30 minutes left in the second quarter, but even then, Doncic couldn’t last the rest of the quarter before picking up his third foul.

In the second half, Doncic had every opportunity to find the groove he had before the foul trouble. Carlisle opted to play the third overall pick for the entirety of the third quarter and giving him a break with 8:44 left in the fourth. That’s more than 15 minutes straight of game play and more than enough run to take the legs away of a rookie who is perhaps not quite yet in NBA shape. Doncic sunk his shooting percentages in the final frame, missing all four of his shot attempts.

If we’re trying to poke holes in Doncic’s debut, it’s that he was pretty inefficient. If we’re looking for positive takeaways, it’s that he had a masterful first quarter before foul trouble got him out of sync.

Even though his shot and touch disappeared, he was still able to impact the game in other ways. He rebounded the ball well and gelled immediately with Jordan in the pick and roll.

All in all, Doncic looked like a player ready for the spotlight. And he gets another crack at it Saturday in Dallas.