Luka Doncic the Surprise MVP Candidate

As I’ve mentioned in a few previous sports-related posts, I am a huge Dallas Mavericks fan. Although I’ve always loved football, and am (sometimes regrettably) a Dallas Cowboys fan, in the grand scheme of things the Mavericks tend to take the top spot in my fandom. My dad used to take me and my sister to games at the old Reunion Arena in the 1980s, and I even followed them throughout the 90s when they were terrible. I have fond memories of watching Dirk Nowitzki battle through the playoffs in the 2000s, and loved watching him finally capture a title in the most amazing championship run I’ve ever seen. Interestingly enough, my very first post on this website was a celebration of that title in 2011.

Unfortunately, since that championship in 2011 until last year, the Mavs had been a fairly mediocre team. I still watched most of their games, but some of those teams were pretty rough outside of Dirk (hello OJ Mayo/Darren Collison squad). But 2019 has brought us something special – Luka Doncic. If you check out my post from 2018, I was a huge proponent of the Mavs drafting Luka. I thought he was the clear top player in the draft, but with the Mavs picking fifth, I didn’t think they’d be able to get him. It seems the Mavericks shared my opinion of him though, because they traded up to draft Doncic.

Although I was high on Luka, I didn’t at all expect what he’s doing this year. Winning Rookie of the Year, clearly he had a good first season…but in his second season, he has become a legitimate MVP candidate. Doncic is putting up historically incredible numbers only matched by young Lebron James. I mean look at his stat line 15 games into the season: 29.9 pts, 10.4 reb, 9.7 ast, 1.3 stl. The man is almost averaging a triple double, while being one of the top five scorers in the league! And he’s leading an incredibly fun-to-watch Mavs team into a winning record at 10-5.

Don’t take my word for it about what an incredible leap Doncic has made this year. Here is an article from 538 about how good he’s actually been, followed by some highlights from a recent win against the Spurs.

This feels like the start of an exciting period for this team. I still miss watching Dirk Nowitzki, who has long been my favorite athlete. But Mavericks fans are incredibly lucky to be able to watch another apparently special player develop after saying goodbye to Dirk so recently. This hand-off was really encapsulated by an image I saw on Twitter recently:

All of this Luka Mania has naturally inspired me to do a portrait of Doncic. I’ve drawn him before (right after he was drafted), but he shared that stage with another player who didn’t pan out as I thought he would. The above incredible shot (taken by Jerome Miron of USA Today Sports) of Luka running by the on-court silhouette of Dirk initially had me wanting to sketch that scene. I still might try it, but I thought I really wouldn’t be able to do it justice using pencil. The photograph is already amazing, there isn’t a need for me to emulate it. But this did plant the seed of wanting to do something with Dirk; another passing-the-torch type of thing.

Here’s the one I decided to go with – it’s a scene from last season, when Luka and Dirk played together.

In discussing this drawing, I’ll compare it pretty heavily to the first one I did of Luka. From a technical standpoint, since that older sketch was done in 2018, I’ve improved generally as an artist. I think my technique overall is a bit different (in my mind better), with less reliance on a heavily-drawn outline and more emphasis on color blending. I think the broad points of this one are solid; the perspective is good, jerseys look right, and they look like people giving a high five.

There are some problems though. First, I lost a ton of color when I started blending. I’m still not sure how, because I thought I followed my usual process, but it definitely looks washed out to me. Sometimes the photo I take doesn’t look quite the same as the real life paper version – but in this case, both versions are somewhat colorless and bleached-looking. Although Dirk looks fine, I’m not sure how much this actually looks like Luka Doncic. It sort of resembles him, but I think less so than his rookie sketch.

Here’s a progression .gif to show how this came together:

There is really a lot about this year’s Mavericks team I haven’t discussed here. Obviously, Luka Doncic is the straw that stirs the drink, but it’s a very interesting team. They acquired Kristaps Porzingis in a trade last year, and he’s working his way back into being comfortable on the court after his long rehab from a knee injury. But Kristaps’ skill set combined with Luka’s ability to create off the dribble could become something very difficult for the rest of the league to handle.

The Mavs have a ton of depth all the way down the bench, but might lack the starting level talent to compete for a championship…for now. One of the great things about this team is that they’ve got young players signed to long term deals, so this team can grow into something rather than resetting the roster every year. They may need to trade some of their depth to acquire a third elite-level player, but at least they don’t have to rely on long shot free agent dreams now. I may do another post later in the season about this team, because there is a lot I still want to say.

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