The Audacity of Luka Doncic

He wasn’t supposed to be this good.

We have a tendency of putting players in boxes. The one we put Luka Doncic in wasn’t very spacious. As a matter of fact, many believed he was already a finished product the moment he entered the NBA.

Standing at 6’8” and 228 pounds, with athleticism that was far from awe-inspiring, Luka did not fit the mold of a modern NBA superstar. The league is ridiculously fast. In an era of pace and space, explosiveness and athleticism are king. It’s a big reason why we love throwing the words upside and wingspan (Jay Bilas approves!) when talking about prospects.

Luka, in this box he was placed in, had neither of those things. We knew he’d be good. But to be game-changing? A superstar? At the very least, a franchise player? Those things were in doubt. To borrow a phrase from Montrezl Harrell, this bitch ass white boy was only supposed to be a European version of Lamar Odom. Good, but not good enough. He was no Wonder Boy.

Again, he wasn’t supposed to be this good.

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Luka’s rookie year was phenomenal. His sophomore year, even more so. But people still had a lot of gripes about his game. The number one thing: his failure to lead the Dallas Mavericks in close games. He had a ton of clutch moments during his first year in the league, but come the 2020 season, it looked like the league had him figured out.

Out of Dallas’ 27 losses prior to the Bubble, 20 were single-digit defeats. Even in the Bubble, the Mavericks struggled in clutch situations. They lost in an overtime classic to the Houston Rockets and failed to finish the Phoenix Suns out during the next game.

At the forefront of their losses was Luka. His decision-making was heavily criticized, especially his penchant for taking too much step-back jumpers. Thos were, according to Paul George, bad shots. We understood he could make it, but he could settle for more efficient options, right? Maybe driving to the rim for an easier basket? Call out for a little bit more motion or creativity from his teammates?

Or maybe, his tendency to step back was his way of hiding whatever flaws he had? He still wasn’t an elite athlete. He did not have the first step we associated with elite creators. Fans, especially those who were starting to believe in him, were growing frustrated.  They were supposed to be winning these games, but they weren’t. Maybe Luka had hit a ceiling?

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With 3.7 seconds left on in overtime of Game 4 of their First Round series, the Mavericks found themselves down 133-132 against the LA Clippers. This was a situation Dallas had been used to all season. A close game in the clutch and the game hanging in the balance with mere seconds left on the clock. The ball was in their hands to make a move.

Optimists would have been praying for a Dallas bucket. Pessimists were expecting them to miss, like they always have this season. Something both optimists, pessimists and everyone in the world were expecting: Luka was going to get the ball for Dallas.

Of course, he was going to get the ball, he is the Wonder Boy, right?  Yet, it’s one thing to have the ball and it’s another thing to properly execute with the ball. The numbers said that Luka couldn’t properly execute with the ball. Dallas had struggled in the clutch the entire season. All the burden was on him.

Duncan Smith of HoopsHabit made a very sound point: “A philosophy in clutch play is that the most important thing is to get shots up and to avoid turnovers.” The Mavericks were getting shots up in the clutch, it’s just that they weren’t making them. One of the simplest philosophies in basketball shot-making is, “Shots will eventually fall, one way or another.” The key in believing in this philosophy is confidence.

Confidence that your shots will eventually fall.

Confidence that you’re a capable player, no matter what the numbers say.

Confidence that you can make good decisions, all for the sake of winning a basketball game.

Easier said than done, however. There’s so much in the basketball world today that can destroy a person’s confidence. Statistics, losing second stars, and injuries, are always there to try and drag the great ones into a pit.

And of course, that elusive box we put players in. Luka knows this all too well.

He’s too slow. He isn’t elite. He has limited upside. He’s no Wonder Boy.

That’s the moment Luka took it personally.

Off an excellent screen from Maxi Kleber, Luka got the ball from the inbounds and immediately went to work. Crossover to the left, then counter to the right. With the defender struggling to keep up, he stepped back and let it fly.

It’s risky in theory. The statistics say, it’s a bad shot.

But at that moment, Luka shrugged that all off. Screw the statistics. This is my shot, whether you like it or not.

The audacity.

Splash.

Photo from Getty Images

We can talk about the underrated strength, the IQ, his change of pace, and his playmaking all day. Those skills have determined his floor. But it’s Luka’s defiance of the norm and creativity that are the qualities that have captured our imagination and will determine how far he can go.

In that epic moment, Luka defied everything anyone’s ever expected of him. Whatever box he was put in shouldn’t exist anymore. He doesn’t have a ceiling at this point. Placing a limit to his capabilities right now is an insult. The statistics about his performance in the clutch can never be erased by that shot, but it shouldn’t cloud the greatness of Doncic. He is a Wonder Boy. One hundred percent. He’s going to make you believe in him, whether you like it or not.

He wasn’t supposed to be this good. What audacity from the bitch ass white boy.