Mavs sensation Doncic shares rare air with James as All-Star

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              Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic celebrates during a timeout in the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 120-112. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic is set to be the youngest All-Star starter since LeBron James, yet another link between the Dallas sensation and the player he grew up admiring, even when he was already playing pro ball as a 16-year-old in Spain.

Now the 20-year-old Doncic waits to see who James, as the leading vote-getter, will take with the No. 1 pick before the other captain — Doncic’s fellow European and 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee — gets to choose.

“No, I don’t think I will be,” the 2019 Rookie of the Year said with a laugh when asked if he thought he would be the top choice by the Los Angeles Lakers star.

All that matters for the Mavericks is that Doncic was at the top of their draft board in 2018, and the trade up two spots to get the third overall pick ended up involving two players getting All-Star starts in their second seasons. Atlanta’s Trae Young was one of the five Eastern Conference players to get voted in.

Doncic leads the NBA with 12 triple-doubles — two more than James. His next triple-double will tie Jason Kidd’s franchise career record of 21. Doncic is set for his 113th game Saturday at Utah. Kidd’s 21st came in his 432nd game with Dallas.

“It’s out of this world,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “His focus is on winning. It’s not on stats. That said, the statistical aspect of this is something that’s very much out there, very much flying around social media at breakneck speed.”

Doncic almost got to be a captain over James, falling just 163,724 votes shy of the 16-time All-Star’s winning total of 6,275,459.

Like Doncic, James made his first All-Star game as a starter in his second season. That was 2005, not long before Doncic’s sixth birthday. James was 20 years, 52 days old for that game in Denver.

Doncic will be 12 days shy of his 21st birthday when he plays alongside the 35-year-old James on Feb. 16 in Chicago.

“It would be amazing,” Doncic said after celebrating the All-Star news with 27 points, nine assists and six rebounds in Thursday’s 133-125 victory at Portland. “Everybody knows what LeBron means to me. It would be special for me.”

For everything he did in being a nearly unanimous choice over Young for the rookie award, Doncic has improved most aspects of his game in his second year.

From step-back 3-pointers well behind the arc to cross-court jump passes for assists, the Slovenian point guard has proven what the Mavericks believed: His experience as a pro with Real Madrid would translate to the NBA.

“He’s had a hell of a career in this year and a half,” LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I was joking today when they’re really good like that, they seem like they’ve been around for five years already.

“Him and probably six other guys are having MVP years and that’s impressive when you think about how young he is and what he’s doing for this franchise.”

Doncic’s arrival on the All-Star stage comes in Dallas’ first season without Dirk Nowitzki, who set an NBA record by playing all 21 of his seasons with the Mavericks.

The big German and most accomplished European player in NBA history was the most recent All-Star starter for Dallas, making the second of his two starts in 2010. But the 7-footer was a replacement both times. Kidd is the only player voted to start while with the Mavericks, also in his second year in 1996.

“The numbers he’s putting up at his age, it’s hard to put into context,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts, who spent four years as assistant in Dallas during the Nowitzki era.

“He handles himself so well with the ball. He engages his teammates. Obviously, he takes what the games gives him whether it’s scoring or passing, and his rebounding from that position is phenomenal.”

For the first time, Doncic will soon be engaging teammates who are peers. Besides Doncic and James, the other starters from the Western Conference are Houston’s James Harden, Anthony Davis of the Lakers and the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard.

“It’s surprising because it’s his second year, but I don’t think it’s very surprising when you just watch his play,” Rivers said. “If you just go by his play, there’s no doubt that he deserves to start.”

As far as the Mavericks are concerned, it’s just the start.