Dirk’s dishing backhanded compliments these days.
There are some rookies killing around the league right now, but from Week 1, Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic has been at the top of the Kia Rookie Ladder. Doncic, the 6-foot-7 Slovenian guard from Real Madrid was the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and he’s displayed a veteran maturity that you rarely find in rookies, averaging 19.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Depending on his latest scoring output, he fluctuates between 20 ppg and just below.
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Those numbers have Doncic flirting with immortal company. The last rookie to average at least 20/6/4 in a season was The GOAT Michael Jordan who averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.98 assists as a rookie with Chicago in 1984-85.
Inevitably, the more common comparison drawn is Doncic and his future Hall of Fame teammate Dirk Nowitzki, but that’s more because of the foreign connection and the skin color.
The comparsion doesn’t sit well with Dirk and not because he feels as if the rookie is getting too much props. Dirk has expressed great adulation for Doncic’s quick NBA come up. He says the rookie is more advanced than him at this stage.
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That’s just scary.
“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, who averaged just 8.2 points per game as a 7-foot, 20-year-old shooting sawant from Germany, is high on Doncic mental makeup.
“He’s a very confident player already,” Nowitzki, who is still recovering from ankle surgery and hasn’t even taken the court this season, 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.”
Dirk Nowitzki and Luca Dončić at #Mavs media day. #NBAMediaDay #nba
However, Dirk tempered the enthusiasm a bit by pointing out that rule changes in the league made his come up more challenging than Doncic’s quick rise.
“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.”
Dirk had to let it be known that he played in a tougher league. So reading between the lines, we can conclude that Dirk is being respectful to his young teammate but doesn’t think Doncic is anywhere near as good a player as him, which is understandable because Doncic is a rookie and Dirk is an NBA legend, a champion with 31, 187 points on his resume.