Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic is drawing rave reviews for his play so far, and no one seems more impressed than teammate Dirk Nowitzki, now in his 21st season in Dallas.
The future Hall of Famer has a front-row seat for Doncic’s coming-out campaign and says the “sky’s the limit” for the Slovenian who plays with “no fear”.
“I didn't have that confidence, that swag, when I got in the league,” Nowitzki told Marc Stein of the New York Times in a recent Q&A. “I wasn't sure if I was going to make it in this league. This guy comes here basically knowing he's going to make it in the league. And that's how he carries himself on the court. No fear. It's just completely different.”
Nowitzki went on to say any comparisons between the two fade thanks to Doncic’s upbringing and changes in the league’s style of play since he came from Germany in 1998.
“He's a very confident player already,” Nowitzki said. “He was a full-on pro since he was, I don't know, 14 years old. He lived in a different country before he even came here. His English is good. He feels like, in his head, he's running the show already. He carries himself like a true vet. So we have a great time. He's a good kid. But so far he doesn't really ask me much. He just plays his game.
I didn't have that confidence, that swag, when I got in the league. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it in this league. This guy comes here basically knowing he's going to make it in the league. And that's how he carries himself on the court. No fear. It's just completely different.
Also the way the game is now is kind of perfect for him. When I got into the league 20 years ago, it was way more physical. The bigs were just shoving in there and holding. And now everything is a foul call. So I think the rules play right into his wheelhouse. It's not even close to compare us.”
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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: 1st
Doncic had one of his better games Tuesday night, scoring 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting to help the Mavs beat the Wizards 119-100 and end a six-game losing streak. After the game, Wizards coach Scott Brooks had high praise for the young rising star. “Every game, you look at him and say, ‘Are you sure this guy is only 19?’” 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 scary thing is that it seems like Doncic could be doing even more, if the Mavs would play him on the ball more and utilize his playmaking ability. Sure, he’s still struggling with turnovers (4.2 per game), but there are times when Doncic gets lost on offense while Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes create for themselves.
2. Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
Last week: Just missed cut
After a somewhat slow start to the season, Carter is starting to produce how we thought he would when the Bulls grabbed him with the No. 7 pick in the Draft. Over his last five games, the long big man from Duke is averaging 15.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.4 steals.
He had his breakout performance in a close loss to the Nuggets, putting up a balanced statline of 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals. Carter has scored in double-digits in his last seven games, with four double-doubles in that span. But most impressive is the 19-year-old center’s work on the defensive end, as he’s now leading rookies in blocks on the season (2.0) and seventh in steals (0.8).
Carter might not be able to keep up this pace, but for now, he’s earned this top spot with a week of consistent play that trumps the up-and-down performances of Ayton and Young.
3. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last week: 3rd
Trae Young is a tough rookie to figure out. After Young’s 24-point, 15-assist, six-rebound outburst Saturday in a 123-118 win over the Heat, I was ready to bump him up to the No. 2 spot. It was the kind of performance that makes you forget about the duds that have been more common. For example, two nights earlier Young had eight turnovers while scoring 14 points in the Hawks’ embarrassing 146-115 loss to the Kings. And Young followed his big game by going 1-for-14 from 3-point land in a pair of losses. The most disheartening stat, though, for me is this: Young has just four steals total through 11 games and hasn’t had a single steal in the last six games. For a point guard playing 30.9 minutes per game, that’s a surprising number, and doesn’t reflect well on Young’s effort on the defensive end.
4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last week: 2nd
At first glance, Ayton’s 15-point, 13-rebound showing Tuesday against the Nets doesn’t look too bad. But the 7-footer was just 6-for-17 from the field and struggled all night as Brooklyn dared him to take outside shots, often times sagging completely, almost daring him to shoot. A frustrated Ayton vowed that fans who booed the effort would see a more aggressive side moving forward. “The only thing you can possibly do is just try to win. That’s just our mentality. Win. Win. Win. I was speaking to [Devin Booker], I’m like we need to take over. Let’s start taking over. Let’s really do it. We’re not in training camp anymore Let’s really show the world what we can do.”
5. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Last week: Just missed cut
The Grizzlies have been a pleasant surprise, jumping out to a 6-4 record, and Jackson has been a big reason. The 6-foot-11 center has been an anchor in the middle and at just 19 years old, has fans in Memphis excited about the future. In his last two games Jackson has seen his minutes increase, and he’s responded with big numbers. In Monday’s 117-101 loss at Golden State, the Michigan State product had 15 points, six rebounds and five blocks. Two nights later, Jackson was instrumental in Memphis’ 89-87 win over Denver, scoring 20 points with seven blocks, three steal and three blocks while holding Nikola Jokic to four points on just one field-goal attempt.
Jackson will keep himself in the Rookie of the Year discussion with his defense, and it’s looking like coach J.B. Bickerstaff is riding with his young center, playing him 30-plus minutes in the last two games.
Just missed the cut:
Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks
Over his last six games, Trier is averaging 15.8 points on 58.9 percent shooting. The undrafted rookie out of Arizona has become a sensation, but he’s not doing much else besides score at this point, and most of his points are coming in iso situations. Still, Trier is proving he belongs in the NBA and will continue to be trusted down the stretch if he continues to pull off sick moves like this one in Wednesday’s 112-107 win in Atlanta.
Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
Bagley is quietly putting up decent numbers in Sacramento as he’s currently fourth among rookies in scoring (12.8 ppg), rebounding (6.5 rpg) and blocks (1.1 bpg).
Landry Shamet, Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers seem to have found a gem in the No. 26 pick in the Draft. Shamet has become a valuable rotation piece behind JJ Redick, averaging 7.8 points on the season and 12.0 points over his last four games on 55.2 percent shooting (45.5 on 3s)
Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic
Bamba had a nice night in the Magic’s 117-110 win over the Spurs on Sunday, tallying 12 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of his career. Bamba’s hanging around here thanks to his energy off the bench, but he could find himself on the outside soon with other rookies
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sexton got the first start of his career Wednesday, playing 42 minutes in the Cavs’ 95-86 loss to the Thunder. Sexton put up 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting, but only had one assist while filling in for the injured George Hill.
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(All stats through Wednesday, Nov. 7)
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