“We are as excited as we were 20 years ago. The hope is that over time this builds into a 2011-type run,” Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said from his office. A big American flag hangs behind his desk, but when it comes to looking for good players in far-off places, the Mavericks are well traveled. Today, it’s Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis; 20 years ago, it was Dirk Nowitzki, then a 21-year-old German entering his second NBA season. Dirk’s emergence in the 1999-00 season injected hope into a franchise with the NBA’s second-worst record in the 1990s. Since that year, the Mavs have the second-best record, have made many deep playoff runs, and in 2011, finally won a title.
Doncic has long been the knight in shining armor. The comparisons to Bird or Magic or Kidd don’t really affect him. “I had pressure since I was 15, so I don’t care about pressure,” he told me after a practice. It shows on the court: Doncic posted an effective field goal percentage of 56 percent in clutch situations, which ranks seventh best in the NBA for players to attempt at least 25 shots in the final three minutes. Doncic makes his team better not just with his passing, but his timely scoring. He can attack the rim and unleash nifty floaters and layups, or pull up or step back like in the clips above. Doncic shot 31.3 percent on 380 dribble-jumper 3s last season—only James Harden, Kemba Walker, and Damian Lillard attempted more—but should develop into a better shooter.
So, when he glanced at the stat sheet following Friday’s 118-111 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and saw that he missed seven of his nine 3-point attempts, he didn’t exactly beat himself over the head with disappointment. “Naw, I didn’t rush it at all,” Porzingis said, referring to his 3-point attempts. “Of those nine shots, three of them or four of them, I let it go and I’m already stepping back like, ‘Oh it’s good.’ And I can feel it’s good. And everything was short, but it was right on. Maybe a little more legs. I’ll look at the film. I’m not worried about that one bit.”
Still, Porzingis figures this was just one of those nights where the basketball gods weren’t on his side. “It’s preseason and I’m trying to figure out also how to fit in the system and be comfortable out there and get the shots that I want to get,” he said. “I missed too many open shots. It would have looked way different if I would have hit a few more shots early and then get in a better rhythm. On the other hand, there’s a lot more things I can do if I’m not making shots. I just have to organize everything in my mind and go out there and play hard, play the right way, lead on offense, on defense and slowly we’ll figure it out. I’ll also get a feel for everybody and everybody will get a feel for me and we’ll put this thing together and everything will be all right.”