It’s barely underway, not measurable at this point, with no parameters or apparent limitations, but it’s unmistakably real and growing by the week.
Luka Lore materialized in Europe long before he became a Maverick, but now, halfway through Luka Doncic’s NBA rookie season, the legend has blossomed into an America-sized phenomenon.
Doncic’s latest exploits — Friday’s 29-point, 12-assist, eight-rebound, late-game heroics at Minnesota — had NBA fans and reporters buzzing well into Saturday’s NFL divisional playoff opener featuring another first-year starter, Patrick Mahomes.
As in the case of Mahomes, Doncic’s team and its fans knew he would make an impact, but not this much of one, so soon.
Count Dirk Nowitzki among the pleasantly shocked about several of 19-year-old Doncic’s intangibles.
“The shooting. The presence he has. The willingness to have the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter,” Nowitzki said. “That usually comes with experience, but he’s got that confidence about himself. That’s the way he carries himself.
“He’s got a little of that swag about him that he’s one of the best. It’s almost like he came in here not thinking, ‘I will make it,’ but he came here thinking, ‘I’m going to make it big.’ He’s showed it from Day One.”
Doncic’s next challenge is two-time-reigning NBA champion Golden State, which comes to American Airlines Center on Sunday having won seven of its last eight road games.
The Mavericks are 21/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the West, which is to say nowhere near Golden State’s galaxy, with its constellation of All-Stars.
Yet in the most recent release of NBA All-Star voting totals, Doncic has the second-most votes in the West, behind only LeBron James and ahead of reigning Warriors All-Stars Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins.
Doncic is fresh off making more history in Minneapolis. His three go-ahead baskets in the final two minutes made him, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the first rookie to do that since Vince Carter in 1999.
And he became the youngest player to record at least 25 points and 10 assists in a game since James in 2004. James was 19 years, 95 days old at the time. Doncic was 19 years, 317 days old as of Friday.
“Luka, he’s aggressive, man,” Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan said. “I feel like he’s taking it to another level. He’s coming into his own.”
According to NBA clutch statistics — that is, when teams lead or trail by five points or fewer during the last five minutes — Doncic has made 24 of 42 field goal attempts in those situations.
Of players who have attempted at least 30 clutch shots, Doncic’s 57.1 percent shooting trails only the 63.2 percent of Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.
Before his go-ahead 3-pointer with 22 seconds left in Friday’s win at Minnesota, Doncic was 1 of 8 on 3-point attempts.
“Man, he’s just ice cold, but he comes down, doesn’t think about it, he knows he’s going to make that shot,” marveled second-year Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber.
“The confidence he has down the stretch to make big plays, whether it’s for himself or a pass to the weak side, it’s so tough,” Nowitzki said. “Most point guards are not 6-8, 6-9.
“He makes passes out of the pocket, pointing to big guys because he can see over the double-team. He puts the ball right on the money for the weakside shooting.”
Point guard? Technically, Doncic mostly plays forward for the Mavericks, but the back injury that has kept Dennis Smith Jr. out the last two games and the Achilles rupture that J.J. Barea suffered during Friday’s fourth quarter forced Doncic into a ball-handling role.
Not that it was a big change for the Mavericks. Doncic is listed as a frontcourt player in All-Star voting, but for Dallas’ purposes he’s a basketball-playing amoeba, able to alter himself to any role necessary.
“We put the ball in his hands when the game’s on the line,” Nowitzki said. “The playmaking, the shot-making. We can say it over and over.