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Luka Doncic’s superstar emergence — and the burden of building around him

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The Mavericks denied Facundo Campazzo a roster clearance to sign former All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. As the NBA winter trading market approaches, Dallas is exploring opportunities to improve ball possession and its ability to create behind Mavericks stars Luka Doncic and combo defenseman Spencer Dinwiddie, sources told Sportzshala Sports. The Mavericks are looking to fill the gap Jalen Brunson left with Dallas when he traded the Mavs for New York after a sprint to the Western Conference Finals. Now, thanks to the Mavericks’ four games, Doncic and company are down 9-10 and are currently out of the postseason picture this season altogether.

In truth, Campazzo was never a likely solution to Dallas Brunson’s size problem. The veteran point guard waited at home in Argentina as summer came and went, and his next NBA opportunity never materialized. It wasn’t until mid-October that Dallas offered a one-year non-guaranteed minimum contract to join his former Real Madrid teammate Doncic as an emergency reserve. Campazzo has only played 52 minutes in eight games this season. Now the alarms are ringing to the point where Dallas is looking at Walker instead.

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Campazzo has always represented Doncic’s past more than his current season or his future. A familiar face so far from home, much like that of Goran Dragic, a potential acquisition that Mavericks staff have discussed at length in recent transaction cycles, sources said, and a player Dallas fans have been keen to see in uniform.

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Campazzo was there, just nine games into Doncic’s Real Madrid career, when the 16-year-old caught the veteran’s attention while playing against Campazzo’s own team from Murcia in December 2015. With only five points, four rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes of play. , wiry Doncic and his boyish smile held the balance of an experienced professional. He hit the ball at his own pace. Doncic came off the bench for one of Europe’s superpowers, always drawing raucous crowds throughout the ACB League, and landing subtle body shots that only he could land against Real Madrid’s opponent. A non-look here, a quiet drive and a kick there.

Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic passes Milwaukee Bucks' Brook Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Sunday, November 27, 2022 in Milwaukee.  (AP Photo/Morrie Gash)
Luka Doncic walks past Bucks Brook Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Sunday, November 27, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morrie Gash)
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“He was great defensively, he had a lot of energy, a lot of talent in shooting, passing, helping his teammates. He played his first game as usual,” Campazzo told Sportzshala Sports. “When you see a guy like that at 16, 17, right at that moment, you know he’s special.”

Campazzo was only in Murcia on loan from Real Madrid. Two years later, the Argentine returned to Spain’s biggest club for the 2017/18 season, where the Doncic legend was only growing. He has just been named Euroleague Rising Star by unanimous vote and won the ACB Best Young Player award. After every practice, Doncic always lingered on the court while some teammates unlaced their shoes, and Campazzo followed suit. Renowned assistant coach Paco Redondo forced the two defenders to practice endlessly.

Redondo, who piloted the Real Madrid under-16 teams that Doncic played for, helps many Spanish players work on skills in the off-season and he has no shortage of drills. He had Doncic and Campazzo shoot as many game shots as he could into those windows after practice: off the pick and roll, no dribbling, dribble and pass for a corner, then move the ball to roll back. and around, and find them wide open for a clear three. The eager Doncic soaked through every last detail, the emerging giant growing larger with each iteration.

“That kind of training for a young player is very important,” said Campazzo. “He teaches you to move with the game. Without the ball, with the ball. This is very important for a small child like Luca.”

Campazzo witnessed the start of Doncic’s lethal retreat. Redondo set up two cones, two imaginary screens, one yellow and one blue, at the top of the arc. He ordered both players to dribble hard around the first cone, throw the ball behind their back, and then back up to start. They then circled to the second cone, repeating the sequence, only this time breaking away from the cone and releasing a three.

Redondo even entrusted them with Shammgod’s dribbling, a patented move by New York legend God Shammgod, who now coincidentally works as an assistant coach in Dallas. Only the bravest have flaunted this particular move in NBA games, let alone the tactics the most constructive coaches think of incorporating into practice sessions. But it was Doncic, and the child prodigy had exhausted every opportunity to hone his craft.

“I think what he did during those years at Real Madrid, any player that takes a long time to get those shots, is the movement, this IQ, I think he was already a great, great player there” Campazzo said. .

A cruciate ligament injury to team leader and reigning Euroleague MVP Sergio Lull completely opened the door for Doncic’s star turn in 2017-18. At 19 years old, Doncic wowed audiences and led Real Madrid to the Euroleague title. “He made big shots with a lot of pressure,” Campazzo said. “He made the most important shots. I don’t think we would have won anything without him.”

The Mavericks got a taste of Doncic’s postseason genius when he unexpectedly turned on what is arguably the most dangerous postgame in the league last spring, a skill set he has yet to develop in his days alongside Campazzo. Doncic is constantly growing and improving. And with heightened expectations after last year’s playoffs, there’s no time to waste surrounding Doncic with the best lineup Dallas can muster.

Walker, 32, doesn’t claim to be the automatic drug to stop Mavericks from bleeding, but he can at least act as a Band-Aid. Knee problems have plagued him for the last two seasons. Walker is far from the eternal All-Star that Dallas was chasing in 2019, when the Mavericks first overstepped boundaries by trying to complement Doncic with a creative backcourt partner. Dallas was linked with Jrue Holiday before he ended up landing in Milwaukee and then the Mavericks pursued Kyle Lowry in 2021.

Yet few in the league expected Dinwiddie to thrive so effectively on the Dallas reserve team since he moved from Washington on the trade deadline last February. Few expected Doncic to lift a roster that, aside from Dinwiddie and Brunson at the time, had few shot-making opportunities, he nonetheless pushed the Mavericks to three NBA Finals wins. Perhaps Walker can provide the effective hit Dallas needs in the sample sizes of pine.

Once you reach that threshold and expectations go up, that bar never goes down. The Mavericks have been in the room talking shoulder to shoulder with other championship contenders, and now Dallas is trying to ease the burden on Doncic, even if it means leaving friends behind.


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