Let’s be honest with each other here: Luka Doncic is already the second-greatest player in Dallas Mavericks history.
According to a Bleacher Report article back in 2011, the greatest Mav after Dirk Nowitzki is Mark Aguirre and is more remembered for his championship run after getting dealt to the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. Compare that now to Luka Doncic, who already holds the Dallas Mavericks record for career triple-doubles, has two All-Star game starts under his belt, and is the first player since Tim Duncan to earn First Team All-NBA nod in their first or second year.
In last year’s playoffs in the Orlando bubble, Luka started to build his resume of signature highlights, giving the Los Angeles Clippers absolute fits in the first round. Doncic already has a laundry list of accolades to his name, and he is only 22 years old.
No way to go but up for Luka Doncic and the Mavs 🙌 pic.twitter.com/2JmnhDNO5C
— Mavs Nation (@MavsNationCP) March 23, 2021
That said, he does have a long way to go before he gets out of the Mavericks’ biggest 7-foot shadow. Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest Dallas Maverick of all time, and it’s not even remotely close. Nowitzki is an MVP, an NBA champion, and the franchise’s all-time leader in every single major scoring category, plus rebounds. Specifically to Luka Doncic, he is also the first-ever European player in league history to breach the 30,000 career scoring mark.
Now, to be fair to Doncic, he’s on pace to shatter a bunch of records for the Mavericks. through his first three seasons with the Mavericks, Doncic is averaging 25/8/8, and while his shooting can be a bit better, he is set to shatter several team records if he stays.
Which brings us to the main point of this exercise: what can Luka Doncic do to overcome the shadow of Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas?
1. 3 Major Accolades
What are these major accolades you ask? They come in two flavors: MVP Awards and Larry O’Brien trophies.
Dirk Nowitzki’s hallowed place in Dallas Maverick history is predicated on two things. First of all, in him, the Dallas Mavericks have their only MVP winner in franchise history. Secondly, he led the Mavericks to their first and only championship in franchise history.
That counts two major accolades for the Dallas legend that Luka and any other would-be heirs to the Mavs’ GOAT throne must beat in order to knock off the sweet-shooting German.
Now, Luka is in a good spot to win multiple MVPs and championships. He is the second-youngest player ever to finish top 5 in MVP voting behind only Lebron James and has only just turned 22. Only Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid come to mind as MVP contenders that approach Luka’s youth or durability, and only Jokic can be reliably projected to have his shelf life (neither relies overmuch on athleticism).
Luka Doncic is the 4th fastest player in NBA history to reach 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists (games played). pic.twitter.com/9NfeNZSbdU
— NBA (@NBA) January 5, 2021
The trouble, at least regarding rings, is that fans and speculators are now used to Luka’s wizardry on the court. Given the impatience of fans and the apparent lack of free agent interest in Dallas, Luka is somehow unfairly now on a time crunch to win.
The rings will be tough to win, admittedly. Even in the West, the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and Phoenix Suns are all young and successful already. With the right front office, you can’t count out Sacramento or San Antonio either. Forget about the East, Luka’s own conference could give him headaches to even reaching more than one NBA Finals in his career.
But with brilliance comes some sort of award, and Luka’s apparently will lead him to at least one MVP nod. Time will tell on the rest.
2. Play 10+ Years
No matter what accolades you earn, you will never be the greatest player in the history of a franchise if you don’t stay.
Just ask Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant. Kawhi Leonard was easily the best player on Toronto’s only championship squad, but since he only stayed a year, Kyle Lowry, Vince Carter, and possibly even DeMar DeRozan will be remembered by fans as greater Raptors than he ever was. Ditto for Kevin Durant, who was easily the best player on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that made the Finals, and on multiple Golden State championship squads. Russell Westbrook will be remembered as the greatest Thunder player of all time, and if you rank Kevin Durant above Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson as an all-time great Warrior, you’re smoking something good.
You have to put in the time as a leader on your team in order to be considered great.
If Luka decides to leave relatively boring Dallas for a larger market, or worse, another superstar, all of the lovely things he had in Dallas will turn to ashes in his mouth. He will go from one of the Mavericks’ greatest players to one of the franchise’s most hated. If nothing else, that’s not something you want to be with an owner like Mark Cuban.
Luckily, by all accounts, it looks like Luka is happy in Dallas. But if greener pastures, glitzier markets, or better stars come calling as they always do, Luka will have to decide whether or not that calling is worth his legacy on the Dallas Mavericks.
3. Break Records
This comes without question and builds on task number one. Dirk Nowitzki is the franchise leader in career points, rebounds, blocks, and several shooting statistics. What makes Doncic’s journey even harder is that Dirk was also the first European-born NBA player to do plenty of notable things as well: earn an All-Star starting spot, score 30,000 points, and win MVP.
Luka will have to at least come close to eclipsing Dirk in multiple areas.
The easiest, barring injury, will be the All-Star berths (14) and All-NBA nods (12). Luka is already one of the most viral and popular players in the league, so at least getting to Dirk’s totals is conceivable, barring injury. Luka is already outpacing Dirk in both categories at this juncture in their careers, and Doncic is looking comfortably like a perennial mainstay on both rosters.
Luka Doncic is the 5th player in NBA history with 10 30-point triple-doubles in a season.
He joins Oscar Robertson, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Michael Jordan 😳 pic.twitter.com/UzCWvY1L1I
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 5, 2020
As unbelievable as it seems, Luka is also on pace to knock off Dirk in career scoring, as the youngster is the third-fastest player (in games played) to score 4,000 points and the fastest since Shaquille O’Neal. His career averages also blow Dirk out of the water (25.5 to around 19) over the first three years of their careers. Assists will also be no problem, as Doncic will more than likely earn the franchise record for that statistic in due time. He’s also already beaten the franchise record for career triple-doubles (previously held by Jason Kidd), only needing just over 100 games to do so.
Give him some time, some injury luck, and some winning pieces, and Luka will undoubtedly place himself in the drivers’ seat as far as franchise records go. If he can outdo Dirk’s staggering performance over the course of 21 seasons, Luka will be in that discussion for the greatest Mav of all time.
Luckily, Doncic has already done something that Dirk hadn’t to this point in his career: made the Dallas Mavericks cool. There is effortlessness and lightness to what Luka does on the court that few players have ever replicated. If nothing else, Luka Doncic has made Dallas fun to play for once again (if it ever was), so he is already an all-time franchise great. All that’s really left is that seven-foot shadow looming in front of him.