If the first regular season game against the San Antonio Spurs is any indicator, then the answer is yes to a new and improved Dončić.
But if we want to get a fuller picture, let’s take a step back and look at what we’ve seen from Luka Dončić over the summer.
The World Cup was a tale of two games, when it comes to Luka’s leadership. That’s how I would summarize Luka Dončić’s performance as the new captain and leader of the Slovenian national team during this year’s World Cup tournament.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, to take it one step further. The two most important games of the World Cup for Slovenia were a tale of two vastly different captain and leadership performances from the superstar; a great one and a greatly disappointing one.
Unfortunately, the disappointing one was the last game Slovenia played in the tournament and will therefore stand as the illustration of a lot of Luka Dončić’s inadequacies. But that’s not the whole story.
After Luka Dončić lost his cool on multiple occasions during that game - and ended up getting ejected in the quarterfinals against a much deeper Canadian team - fans and media alike were deeply upset by Luka’s behavior and lack of growth in this area.
And they were right. Luka took a step backwards in that game, and to all the people who hadn’t followed the whole tournament, it was just more of the same.
As bad as that performance was in terms of the lack of poise, restraint when meeting unfair calls and bad body language, this game does not tell the whole story of Luka’s stint as captain.
The reality is that Luka Dončić showed a level of leadership in that tournament that we haven’t really seen before. It peaked in the Australia game right before the infamous Canada game.
In that game, if you paid attention, you saw him be more out of himself in the sense that his mental focus was on his teammates and the team, rather than on himself and his frustrations.
And that may just be a recipe for growth for him. When his teammates were upset about bad calls, he was actually the one to hold them back a few times in that tournament.
He led the way with good body language overall, encouraging his teammates, and though he still had a constant conversation with the refs (they all do), he seemed to pick his battles better and even waited for breaks to have discussions with officials.
Against Australia, widely considered a top three favorite with a handful of NBA players, he did not stay back to complain about bad calls, leaving his teammates to play defense four on five. He did not sulk or show negative body language even close to the extent he had in the past.
This stands in stark contrast to how he handled himself in many Dallas Mavericks games last season. I saw great improvement, and I was very excited to write about Luka Dončić‘s growth as a captain and leader.
Then the Canada game happened.
And since our memories are short and our attention spans shorter, the Canada game is all everybody remembers about Luka’s behavior in the World Cup.
But what actually transpired during that tournament was a great sign of development from Luka Dončić - and a good indicator of what we can expect from him this year.
This season, Luka has more support in his leadership than he has had in a long time. Kyrie Irving has even said that he feels like it’s time to do less talking and more leading.
Grant Williams is another teammate who may prove a valuable support to Luka. He is competitive and vocal to the extent of annoying, but that seems to tickle Luka, and the chemistry between the two has been high from the beginning.
To add to this, the chain of events that led to Luka’s behavior positively affecting games may turn out to be a game changer for him.
The fact that he also felt the consequences when he reverted back to his old ways, is a great lesson to learn. And it may come at the exact right time in his career.
From someone who watched every game this summer and covered the World Cup, I am here to remind you that all signs point to Luka Dončić reaching a new level of growth this season.
As people, we learn, make mistakes, slip up, fall down - and get up again. To grow, we need to fail and if we try to avoid mistakes, we get stuck.
That’s even more accurate for high performing athletes. Luka took a step back in that final game. But before that, during the summer and in the previous games, he had taken two steps forward. Growth is not linear.
Luka Dončić is a person who will get to you. Everybody feels a certain way about him. Some people hate him, most people love him. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his mental state in his behavior. Whether he is your favorite or the guy you think is pulling his team down, he evokes strong feelings in everybody.
And when it comes to basketball, feelings matter. It’s what keeps us glued to the tv for a preseason game, what makes us wake up in the middle of the night in the hope of catching our team get the win - and it gives us hope and light in a sometimes hopeless world.
When bombs are falling on civilians and people we know fear for their lives, politicians wage wars and do their best to divide us - sports will always be a unifier.
Sports is not - as some argue - a distraction for the masses. It has the potential to change the world for the better, to bring a divided country and world together and remind us that maybe we’re not so different after all.
Because despite a world divided, we, as sports fans, all share these feelings of heartbreak, excitement or letdown. They’re what makes us human, something that connects and links us as human beings.
And every time Luka Dončić makes us feel exhilarated or upset or even angry, he gives us a gift. The gift of basketball feelings and connection. Find more of them here.