COLUMN: Luka Dončić adds to NBA’s impressive European resume


Dallas Mavericks player Luka Doncic puts up a shot against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 19 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Tribune News Service

At the 2018 NBA Draft in June, the Dallas Mavericks had a golden opportunity.

The Atlanta Hawks selected 19-year-old Slovenian star Luka Dončić with the third overall pick, leaving Dallas with an important decision to make. Possessing the fifth overall pick, Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson made undoubtedly the best move of the draft. 

Trading with the Hawks for Dončić in exchange for University of Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and a 2019 first-round pick, Nelson knew he had welcomed the future of the franchise to Dallas.

The rest of the NBA knew, too. Dončić , a highly coveted European prospect from Slovenia, had been making international headlines up until draft day. 

Playing for Real Madrid in the EuroLeague, Dončić made his debut when he was only 16. Not only did that make him the youngest to ever play for the team, his three-year career was capped with a 2018 EuroLeague title to go along with EuroLeague MVP honors.

Fast forward to the 2018-19 NBA season, and Dončić has not only taken the torch as the Mavericks’ franchise player, he took it from one of the best to ever play the game. Dirk Nowitzki, who won an NBA title with the Mavericks in 2011, has witnessed Dončić insert himself into the conversation as one of the best European players to ever put on an NBA uniform — just like him.

Nowitzki’s path to the NBA was very similar to Dončić’s. Both were drafted as top-10 picks after playing in Europe and were sent to the Mavericks after being drafted by another team and traded. But while Nowitzki developed into one of the best power forwards of all time over the course of his career, Dončić's has been off to an even faster start.

During the Mavericks’ win against the Cleveland Cavaliers last Saturday, Dončić became only the seventh player in NBA history to score 1,000 points as a teenager, joining the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

As if that was not impressive enough, Dončić’s 30-point game against the Cavaliers was his seventh of the season. The only other players in NBA history with more 30-point games as teenagers are James and Carmelo Anthony. 

To be in that sort of company while still only 19, one can only imagine what kind of career is in store for the former EuroLeague champion. And now with Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis headed to Dallas, the story of European prominence in the NBA is not going anywhere.

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