The return of Luka Dončić seemed to slow the pace, energy and and fluidity of the Dallas Mavericks. On top of that, the synergy was missing most of the time between the two superstars in their first games together. Does that say something about the potential? Not really.
I’ll be the first to admit it. My expectations were too high for Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving in their first games together. Did I expect fireworks, dynamic play and bullet passes? Transition dunks and clutch threes? Yes, yes and yes.
But a team and the way they play together doesn’t just change from one minute to the other, because a superstar arrives. And even superstars need time to adapt and get to know each other - if nothing else, then on the court.
But what can happen, when you shake things up a little and gain a superstar, is energy and confidence. Excitement. And that’s what we saw in the first two games Kyrie played as a Maverick. That’s what got my expectations up - the pace, beautiful transition plays and the smoothness of Kyrie’s offense. It was all really exciting.
Then Luka was back and the expectations were more or less that it was going to be twice as good and twice as exciting, because there were twice the superstars. But we forgot about something.
Superstars are people and not a computer game, where twice the star means twice the win.
The human factor. These guys need time to connect on the court and get to know each other - at least as basketball players.
And they need time to adapt. Kyrie seemed to fit in seamlessly on the team right away, but he’s still finding his way playing next to Luka.
And for Luka, the challenge seems even bigger. He’s soon 24, and hasn’t changed his game or playing style significantly for three years. That doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t, it just means that it will take a little time. For Luka, it’s time to rise to the next challenge.
He needs to adapt and change his game a little to fit a more dynamic offense, deferring more than he’s been used to, even with Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, who he trusted. He needs to push in transition and let the guys run and get easy points. Maybe he needs to screen more. Perhaps he needs to be coached more than Jason Kidd has done as of now. There’s a lot to be said about the changes that can be made, but some of that is on the coaching staff, and that’s another conversation.
Back to Luka. Luka Dončić can do anything he wants on the court, and he can adapt to playing with Kyrie if he wants to. The question is then: Does he want to change his game?
Well, we know that he wants to win a championship - even more than he wants an MVP award. And we know that he wants to play with Kyrie - because he signed off on the trade. So what this comes down to for Luka is a new challenge in a long line of challenges in his career before today.
Here are some of the most notable ones:
Luka Dončić decided to move alone to Madrid at 13. This is an even bigger deal than you think, I’d like to point out, because he comes from a country of merely 2 million people. The fact that he even had that chance is amazing.
Luka Dončić:— NBA do Povo (@NBAdoPovo) December 28, 2022
Aos 13 anos chegou na base do Real Madrid
Aos 16, estreou no time de basquete profissional do Real
Aos 19, foi campeão e MVP pelo Real na 2° maior liga de basquete do mundo (EuroLeague)
Ainda aos 19, entrou na NBA
O resto é história...pic.twitter.com/gQXVZmAUIj
Then he needed to learn Spanish to even talk to anybody in this new place. That was a very lonely time, Luka later said, and the reason why he learned the language in only three months. He started playing with the first team at 16, professionally with grown men, not expected to get real minutes. But here he also rose to the challenge and proved that he deserved to play despite his young age and lack of experience.
He then went on to win the EuroLeague title with that team, an amazing accomplishment - and here he won the EuroLeague MVP award - the youngest player to ever receive it. He was 19.
After that, he moved to the US alone at 19, had to maneuver the whole draft situation and getting settled so far from his home and culture, and in a language he was not yet comfortable with.
He did it all and he did it with bravado. That’s what Luka does, he rises to the occasion.
Adapting and changing his game is just the next challenge on Luka’s path. And if you know anything about Luka, you know that he loves challenges and competition.
This next step may even be a much needed challenge for him after a period of stagnancy.
A lot of things are uncertain in life, but Luka’s competitive spirit and love for competition are not among them. But we are reaching a point in his career where he has to take that next step to be able to compete like he wants to. For Luka, the time is now, because this is the best chance he’s ever had.