Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis exemplified the ethos of “game recognize game,” before the two became Dallas Mavericks teammates.
Doncic is an immediate sensation in the NBA, well on his way to Rookie of the Year, with averages of 20.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. The first-year Maverick is living up to the lofty expectations set for him in part due to the vote of confidence Porzingis offered the then-prospect Doncic last year.
En route to winning EuroLeague MVP honor in 2017-18, Doncic posted 22.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. That was enough to prompt Porzingis to tell Mina Kimes of ESPN The Magazine: “There's no other college kid that's able to put up those numbers in a EuroLeague game.”
Likewise, there’s never been a EuroLeague product to translate as seamlessly, nor with the same impact as Doncic has in Dallas. The addition of Porzingis in a trade that sent Dennis Smith Jr. and assets to the New York Knicks now makes the Mavericks something of the de facto Euro professional epicenter in the NBA.
Porzingis made the transition to the NBA in 2015-16, turning heads in his debut campaign with the New York Knicks. He started all 72 games in which he appeared that rookie season and put up higher statistical numbers as a Knick than he did a season earlier with Balencesto Seville in EuroCup: 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game against 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in three starts of 16 games.
New teammates Doncic and Porzingis did not share a EuroLeague court; the younger Doncic debuted with Real Madrid in 2015-16, one year after Porzingis departed the second-tier EuroCup. The two did, however, meet in EuroBasket 2017 as representatives of their home nations.
Porzingis scored 34 points and grabbed six rebounds for Latvia, but Doncic notched 27 points and nine rebounds to lead Slovenia to the 103-97 win.
Once Porzingis returns to action from knee injury—he will undergo evaluation and have an updated time-table later this month—his unique interior skill set should contrast nicely with the elite perimeter play of Doncic. Their pairing has the potential to be a boon for the exposure of and interest in EuroLeague from those in and around the NBA.
Guard Vasilije Micic looks to factor into the race for the MVP award Doncic won a season ago, and behind his outstanding play Anadolu Efes is in pursuit of the championship Doncic helped Real Madrid bring home.
Buducnost may not figure into the EuroLeague Playoffs chase, but 19-year-old Georgian Goga Bitadze could follow Porzingis’ lead as the next big man import to turn heads in the NBA. The 7-foot Bitadze is currently a projected mid-first-round prospect for the 2019 draft.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.