When the 76ers play the Dallas Mavericks at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night, it will represent the future of the NBA as the reigning rookie of the year, Ben Simmons, will face the likely rookie of the year, Luka Doncic.
The young stars are both highly featured players who are looking toward long and prosperous NBA careers. For Doncic, his rise comes as a sort of changing of the guard for the Mavericks, whose most tenured star, Dirk Nowitzki, is nearing the end of his career.
Following an illustrious international career, where he won a EuroBasket 2017 gold medal with the Slovenian national team, as well as a EuroLeague title and EuroLeague MVP with Real Madrid, Doncic burst onto the NBA scene. He was selected third overall in the 2018 draft by the Atlanta Hawks and was immediately traded to Dallas for the No. 5 pick (Trae Young) and a future first-rounder.
At 19 years old, Doncic has exceeded expectations and everyone in the league has taken notice, including Sixers coach Brett Brown.
“His accomplishments in the EuroLeague and the leagues that he’s played in, at such a young age, is unprecedented,” Brown said after practice Friday at the Sixers training complex in Camden. “When I saw him in China [during the preseason] for the first time, I was blown away by the quickness of his mind and quickness of his shot. You’re not looking at some chiseled athlete, that’s not how he’s designed ... But he is a basketball player in almost every way.”
Prior to the beginning of the season, doubters of Doncic pointed to his age, weight, and non-athletic body type. It didn’t take long for doubters to change their tune as Doncic has played well beyond his years, lost weight, and proven to be deceptively athletic.
Doncic was named Western Conference rookie of the month for both November and December. He leads rookies in scoring and minutes, is second in assists, and is third in rebounding and steals.
While the Mavericks went into Friday as the 11th team in the Western Conference, they have one of the best home records in the league at 15-3, and seven of their last eight losses have been decided by 10 points or less. But they are just 3-16 on the road.
“He is the integral part of that,” Brown said. “Their role players are pretty darn good now, and he sure brings it all together.”
Doncic is averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game.
Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler both sat out of Friday’s practice due to upper respiratory infections that kept them from playing in Wednesday night’s win over the Phoenix Suns.