Around the Globe: Luka Doncic steps into spotlight

Luka Doncic leads the way in our latest look at standout international performers throughout the season.

Luka Doncic has stepped up in a big way over the past two weeks.

The trade deadline is officially behind us and the league looks vastly different after a flurry of activity. Several roles have changed among notable international performers, and with All-Star weekend coming up on Feb. 18, this will be our last look at things before the break.

Here’s the latest edition of the Around the Globe report:

*All stats through Thursday, Feb. 10

This Edition’s Standout 

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Slovenia)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 34.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 10.9 apg

Luka Doncic set a new career-high with 51 points, including 28 in the first quarter, during a 112-105 win vs. the Clippers.

This spot has been dominated by Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, and rightfully so, as both are firmly entrenched as leaders for the Kia MVP award. But Doncic has quietly begun to take control in Dallas, who totally reshaped their roster with a stunning deal that shipped out Kristaps Porzingis. Doncic capped a wonderful two-week run with a not-so-quiet performance in the Mavs’ win over the Clippers. A first-quarter barrage saw Doncic drill seven 3-pointers on the way to dropping 28 points in the frame and eventually finishing with a career-high 51 points.

Doncic attributed the outburst to LA’s switching defense, which left him with several mismatches that he was more than happy to exploit. When pressed into scoring duty, the Slovenian is willing to set aside playmaking responsibilities to carry the load when necessary. It was the first time in seven games that he didn’t reach double-digit assists, a mark — coupled with his activity on the boards — has led to a historic number of triple-doubles.

Other Notables

Giannis Antentokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Greece)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 31.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 10.6 apg

Antentokounmpo continues to do whatever the Bucks need as their roster availability has fluctuated throughout the season. The “Greek Freak” has continued to start as the de facto center with Brook Lopez still on the mend, but he continues to distribute the ball and score with incredible efficiency despite increased defensive responsibility. He’s even been able to stretch the floor, bringing larger defenders out and shooting 3s at a 37.9% clip during this timeframe. His versatility surely played a role in LeBron James selecting him first overall in the All-Star draft.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Cameroon)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 32.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4.4 apg

Watch highlights from the Kia East Player of Month Joel Embiid.

Embiid continues a remarkable individual season, but the Sixers are 1-3 in their last four games as their schedule continues to ramp up in difficulty. Help is on the way as former MVP James Harden should be able to combine with Embiid to form one of the league’s most potent duos. The trade brought an end to the Ben Simmons saga and hopefully will give Doc Rivers the ability to reduce Embiid’s massive usage rate to keep him fresh for a playoff run. The 76ers have their work cut out for them now that many East rivals have fortified their situations, but many of the teams simply do not deploy a player of Embiid’s caliber.

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls (Montenegro) 

Stats over last 2 weeks: 22.5 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 3.8 apg

Nikola Vucevic put up 36 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the 122-115 win vs the Pacers.

When the Bulls traded for Vucevic last season, it laid the foundation for what the team could become this season. He continues to perform as a cornerstone, a steady presence that offers a nightly double-double threat to opposing frontcourts. Chicago features loads of talent on the wing when healthy but the man in the middle is Vucevic. If the Bulls intend to advance deep into the playoffs, Vucevic’s matchups with the East’s bevy of All-Star bigs may be the deciding factor.

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (Cameroon)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 25.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 5.3 apg

Pascal Siakam's recent performance has been driving the Raptors' win streak.

The Raptors are in the midst of an eight-game winning streak and Siakam has been an integral reason for the run. Siakam and All-Star Fred VanVleet are top-two on the minutes-per-game leaderboard; Simply put, Nick Nurse needs those two on the floor in order to win games. Toronto often plays without a true center on the floor, often leading to Siakam banging in the low post for long stretches. A trade for Thaddeus Young will hopefully ease that burden, allowing for more rest and hopefully fresher legs as the Raptors continue to climb up the East rankings.

Shooting Star 

Luguentz Dort, New Orleans Pelicans (Canada)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 23.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.8 apg

Dort provides most of his value to the Thunder on the defensive end. His sturdy frame and quick feet allow him to guard most non-centers, a valuable trait for a young and developing squad. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out, Dort’s offensive role has increased and he has upped his scoring numbers without sacrificing efficiency. A consistent outside shot might be the only thing Dort needs to take his game to the next level.

Under The Radar

Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs (Austria) 

Stats over last 2 weeks: 13.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.3 apg

It was reported that many teams inquired about Poeltl’s availability prior to the deadline and with good reason. The Austrian is a steady performer with low usage rates and great per-minute numbers. Poeltl is among the league leaders in blocks and is a solid rebounder. His efficient scoring has provided a counter for opposing defenses who try to limit San Antonio’s All-Star guard Dejounte Murray. Poeltl has taken a significant step forward in his second season with the Spurs, surely in part due to Gregg Popovich’s expertise when it comes to developing bigs.

Rookie Spotlight  

Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic (Germany) 

Stats over last 2 weeks: 15.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.9 apg

Wagner has proven he can score in a variety of ways, displaying good handles and a solid shooting stroke for a player his size. He’s been selected to participate in the Clorox Rising Stars thanks to his consistent play throughout the season. Wagner has shown that he can be the focal point of a young Orlando scoring attack as he continues to learn the nuance of defending at the NBA level. If he continues to unlock more of his skillset, he can make a case to climb up atop the Kia Rookie of the Year rankings.

G League notables 

Fanbo Zeng (China)

The 19-year-old G League Ignite prospect will compete in the Clorox Clutch Challenge during All-Star Saturday night as well as in the NBA G League Next Gem Game against the Cleveland Charge.

Marko Simonovic (Montenegro)

The 22-year-old Chicago Bulls assignment player put up a 20-20 game for the Windy City Bulls on Feb. 4 against the Westchester Knicks, finishing with 24 points and 22 rebounds.

Kai Jones (Bahamas)

The Charlotte Hornets lottery pick is currently on assignment with the Greensboro Swarm and has continued to hone his game which already features elite athleticism.

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