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For Luka Doncic to take the next step, his training will have to become as important as his game

J.J. Barea went on J.J. Redick’s podcast and brought up how Doncic is still a “kid” in regards to training. That will have to change.

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Luka Doncic is not in shape. That’s not a controversial statement, not a troll and also not an indictment on Doncic not able to become the star most think he can be. It’s just the truth.

Everyone who watches the games can see it — Doncic isn’t as crisp as he was in the bubble or for most of last season and he’s, well, just a bit puffier, to put it kindly. The Mavericks and Doncic have shooed those questions away, of course, because I doubt Rick Carlisle wants to call his best player chubby after a dispiriting effort. Oh wait.

This reflects in Doncic’s numbers and the Mavericks season. Dallas is 1-3, with two blowout losses in four games. Doncic is shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and an appalling 9.5 percent on threes, despite his counting stats still looking OK at 23.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. The biggest indicator that Doncic is laboring? He’s shooting 59.3 percent from the restricted area. Last season, that number was 72.6 percent. The Mavericks role players aren’t hitting shots and Dwight Powell looks lost, so that doesn’t help, but a lot really is on Doncic’s shoulders.

If you don’t believe it still, take it from J.J. Barea. Barea was recently a guest on J.J. Redick’s podcast and had a lot to say about a lot of different topics, one of which was Doncic. Here’s what Barea said about Doncic’s training.

“Well, he’s still a kid,” Barea said. “He’s still chilling, I think he’s still chilling, he’s still growing. He still hasn’t, in a good way, he still hasn’t taken the next step, if you know what I mean. When he starts really training and really working and really getting ready for the NBA, he’s gonna be a monster.

“Right now he’s still, he’s a kid. He still thinks he could pull it off like this. He’s still getting better every year, but he’s still a kid. When he becomes 24, 25, when he becomes a man he’s gonna be a real problem. He loves the game, he loves his teammates, he loves to compete against the best — he wants to compete against the best.”

It makes sense. Doncic has been a basketball prodigy since he was 13-years-old. He’s been a professional basketball player for more than half of his entire life. At 21-years-old, you could argue that right now, this stretch, is probably the hardest basketball has ever been for him. Things have come so easy to him that it’s not a surprise to hear Barea talk about Doncic not being a hardcore trainer during offseasons — when things come as easy to you as basketball does to Doncic, would you obsessively workout every day you’re off the clock as a millionaire 21-year-old? I sure as hell wouldn’t.

Since everyone wants to compare Doncic to Dirk Nowitzki, let’s do it here, really quick. Dirk famously was rough his rookie season, so bad that he’s talked publicly about how he thought about leaving the NBA after his rookie season and going back to playing in Europe. Dirk got his ass kicked his rookie season and that seemed to steel his resolve to get better. He had no choice. He had to work hard on his body as well as his game. The results spoke for themselves.

Maybe this is that season for Doncic. He’s looked uncomfortable and upset with his performance so far. We even saw him work on his game after the dispiriting loss to the Hornets on Wednesday, so it’s clear Doncic is aware this start is not to his standards. The good news is that he’s still only 21. There’s plenty of time for Doncic to learn this lesson, as Barea said. The learning just might not be that fun to watch.