Luka Doncic has made the improbable possible so many times, his biggest moments almost don’t feel all that improbable anymore. That sounds silly to say, but the moments are stacking up.
Doncic has been in the NBA for five seasons now, and is a few games into his sixth campaign. It didn’t take long for his first “Luka magic moment” of the season, a catchphrase coined by Mavericks television broadcaster Mark Followill. In Dallas’ second game against the Nets, Doncic scored 49 points, 14 of them in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. He made a career-high nine three-pointers, four of which came consecutively in the final three minutes of a close game, turning what seemed like a probable loss into an improbable win. The final three was a doozy – a heavily contested, almost jump-hook from the right wing that banked in perfectly through the net.
That moment in isolation was incredible, amazing even! But anyone who has watched Doncic since his rookie season knew that the likelihood of that final three was good. Because at this point, it’s not surprising when Doncic pulls a rabbit out of a hat.
Doncic has stacked these moments upon each other throughout his still-brief NBA career, and the fact that he’s still just 24 is perhaps the most shocking thing about all of it. It started his rookie season, when he scored 11 straight points in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter in a closely contested game against a good Rockets team to steal a win. That same season he tossed in maybe the most audacious shot of his career – a one-handed teardrop three from the baseline with less than a second remaining to send a game against the Trail Blazers into overtime. In his first playoff series, playing against established stars in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in Game 4, Doncic drilled a game-winning three as time expired to tie the first round series at 2-2. This despite the Mavericks having already lost key players in Kristaps Porzingis, Jalen Brunson, and Dwight Powell due to injury.
In his third season he made a miraculous three-point floater against the Memphis Grizzlies to win the game, stepping through two defenders and launching the shot almost like he was in the paint and not stumbling past the three-point line. Later that season he played in his first Game 7, on the road against that same Clippers team. Despite the loss, Doncic did everything he could – he scored 46 points, dished out 14 assists, and grabbed seven rebounds. His fourth season was his best yet from a team-success perspective – the Mavericks made it to the Western Conference Finals, despite facing the universally favored Phoenix Suns in the second round. The Mavericks blew the Suns out in Doncic’s second-ever Game 7, scoring 35 points on 19 shots, a feat made all the sweeter after Phoenix All-Star Devin Booker taunted Doncic in the Suns’ blowout win in Game 5. After that moment, in Games 6 and 7, the Mavericks outscored the Suns by an average of 30 points per game, all led by Doncic.
Even in a bitterly disappointing fifth season that saw the Mavericks finish 11th in the West and outside of the play-in tournament, Doncic still racked up more improbable moments. He posted the NBA’s first ever 60-20-10 game against the New York Knicks, leading a furious rally in the fourth quarter capped off by another outrageous shot – a putback off an intentionally missed free throw to send the game into overtime, which the Mavericks then won.
So you can see why, when Doncic did what he did last week against the Nets, the expected reaction from most longtime Doncic observers wasn’t slack-jawed awe and more of a laughing shrug. He did it again was amongst the most prevailing thoughts, I’d wager. It’s why “Luka magic” is such a great phrase – Doncic’s entire NBA career has felt like a magician at his peak, inventing new ways to entertain, impress, and inspire wonder. Also, as mentioned before, occasionally pulling some rabbits out of hats.
Even with Doncic’s flaws exposed more on the bigger stage as his stardom grew (complaining to officials, defensive lapses), his trajectory is still out of this world. Doncic is on a path to doing things few players have ever done with every step-back three and pinpoint pass. The fact that he’s from a country that only has a population of two million makes it all the more statistically improbable.
Improbable. There’s that word again. If you listed out Doncic’s entire career arc, starting from his birth all the way to what he’s doing on the floor right now to someone who never knew Doncic exists, they’d probably laugh off the scenario. It sounds too much like a schlocky sports movie. Players from countries like Slovenia don’t become one of the faces of the NBA. Teenagers don’t win professional championships and MVP awards in Europe. Players don’t dominate the NBA before they’re legally allowed to drink. Doncic just keeps shattering almost every expectation that could exist for him.
Now that he will be turning 25 soon, those expectations will start to grow larger. Most of the best players in the NBA (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry) started winning titles around the time they turned 25. So the heat on Doncic will continue to grow.
I’m sure he’s just fine with that. After all, nothing is improbable when it comes to Luka Doncic.