Mavs rookie sen­sa­tion Don­cic off to his­toric start

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE - Mar­tin Rogers

With ev­ery pass­ing night, Luka Don­cic looks more and more like the an­swer to the ques­tion: Who will be this sea­son’s NBA rookie of the year?

Yet the form of the Mav­er­icks’ 19-yearold phe­nom also poses a co­nun­drum of its own. Just 11 games into his ca­reer, do his su­perb num­bers in­di­cate a fast-track to­ward great­ness, or are they a quirk thrown up by the scor­ing-heavy na­ture of the league?

The truth likely lies some­where in be­tween. Don­cic is an out­stand­ing player, no ques­tion about it, with huge up­side. Over the first three weeks of his NBA ca­reer, with no prior Amer­i­can bas­ket­ball ex­pe­ri­ence, he av­er­aged 20.2 points, 6.5 re­bounds and 4.2 as­sists per game.

If th­ese num­bers are sus­tained, Don­cic would be in an elite place in NBA his­tory. Only eight other rook­ies have av­er­aged at least 19 points, six re­bounds and four as­sists, ac­cord­ing to Bas­ket­ball-ref­er­ence.com.

There is also lit­tle doubt Don­cic has a few more fac­tors work­ing in his fa­vor than many who came be­fore him when it comes to putting up big num­bers.

“The game is eas­ier to ad­just to now than it was 10 years ago,” the young Slove­nian’s team­mate Dirk Now­itzki told USA TO­DAY. “It is less phys­i­cal and more free flow­ing, so ev­ery­thing is set up for him to suc­ceed and do well.

“He has con­fi­dence, he is tak­ing big shots for us, the ball is in his hands a lot — it has been fun to watch. We haven’t seen it ever re­ally, a rookie un­der 20 who av­er­ages 20 and six. The game is dif­fer­ent now, and that ob­vi­ously helps (Euro­pean play­ers) suc­ceed. Back when I came in it was tougher, more phys­i­cal, there was hand check­ing. It is a lot more open now; the rules have changed.”

Don­cic’s lat­est strong per­for­mances came back-to-back. The first was a 23point out­ing Tues­day, as the Mavs ended a six-game los­ing skid to beat the Wiz­ards 119-100.

“Ev­ery game, you look at him and say, ‘Are you sure this guy is only 19?’ ” Wiz­ards head coach Scott Brooks said. “I don’t look at him as a young player. He’s a le­git­i­mate NBA player who is go­ing to be a su­per­star.”

The next night, Don­cic scored 24 points and had six re­bounds and two as­sists in a 117-102 loss to the Jazz.

Time will tell how much the stats are a re­flec­tion of Don­cic’s ex­cel­lence and how much can be at­trib­uted to the per­mis­sive na­ture that the NBA has to­ward scor­ing. It might be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to com­pare one era against an­other if the glut of scor­ing con­tin­ues, both as a re­sult of tac­ti­cal shifts and in the ex­tra pro­tec­tion given to of­fen­sive play­ers.

“You re­ally just can’t touch any­one at all or you are go­ing to get called for a foul,” the Lak­ers’ LeBron James said re­cently. “That’s just how it is now.”

Be­fore the end of the first week of No­vem­ber, teams had hit the 140-point bar­rier in reg­u­la­tion six times dur­ing the course of the sea­son, com­pared with eight times in each of the pre­vi­ous two years and only three to­tal oc­ca­sions be­tween 2014 and 2016, per ESPN.

Shoot­ing fren­zies have erupted, most no­tably when Klay Thomp­son drained a his­tory-mak­ing 14 3-point­ers in 27 min­utes of ac­tion. And as notable as Don­cic’s num­bers are, 27 play­ers around the league were scor­ing at a heav­ier rate go­ing into Fri­day.

Don­cic starred for Real Madrid last sea­son as it won both Span­ish league and EuroLeague ti­tles, be­fore be­ing se­lected third in the draft by At­lanta, then be­ing ac­quired by Dal­las via trade.

“He is cer­tainly ca­pa­ble of sig­nif­i­cant im­pact even early in the sea­son, so it is no shock from our stand­point,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He is a good player who is get­ting bet­ter all the time and he’s more worldly than most 19-year-olds be­cause he has been play­ing pro ball since he was 13.

“But I don’t care too much about the stats — that’s not what I look at.”

Re­gard­less of the num­bers, it is rare for a rookie to be­gin so strongly and with such com­po­sure. Trae Young (No. 5 over­all pick) and De­an­dre Ay­ton (No. 1) have had strong flashes in the open­ing weeks, but nei­ther of those rook­ies has looked as con­sis­tently solid as Don­cic.

“He’s a heavy scorer, in a league that’s now built for scor­ing,” Now­itzki added. “You can’t just look at the stats the same way any­more, but he is pass­ing the test.”

MARK J. REBILAS/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Mav­er­icks guard Luka Don­cic is av­er­ag­ing a team-high 20.2 points.

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