Written by Aljuš Pertinač
“In the heart of the eastern slopes of the Alps is the homeland of Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty: Slovenia. …Slovenia is a magical fairyland, home to the rarest mythical creatures…”. This is how Oscar-winning writer and director Michael Moore portrayed Slovenia in his 2015 documentary Where to Invade Next.
Whether or not you agree with Moore’s views and analysis of American society and politics, one thing is certain, there are at least a miracle for which Slovenia can be credited. I am of course talking about a sporting miracle of the Slovenian national basketball team winning the title at EuroBasket in 2017. Five years have passed since that magical, almost mythical feat, and the stage is now set for Slovenia national basketball team delivers another such miracle at EuroBasket 2022. What would make this basketball fairy tale of winning consecutive gold medals in the second competition most difficult international (only the Olympics when the American team plays with its best list can be considered more difficult) almost in a real fairy tale is that the two best players of the Slovenian team and would have made it in reversed roles. Goran Dragic, who was the 2017 EuroBasket MVP, is now, in his own words, the Robin and generational superstar Luka Doncic, who was Dragic’s Robin half a decade ago, is now the clear Batman.
Such is the power of this story that FIBA, in its initial EuroBasket Power rankings, placed Slovenia first, ahead of perennial European basketball powerhouses France, Greece, Serbia respectively. and Spain. This is undoubtedly a testament to the greatness of Luka Doncic, who FIBA also made the face of the tournament, but it also indicates how important Goran Dragic’s return to the national team is. For teammates, coaching stuff, for Slovenian fans, basketball fans around the world and especially for Dallas Mavericks fans.
Mavericks fans are no stranger to their superstar who spends virtually every summer playing for a national team. This was the case for many years with Dirk Nowitzki, who, like Luka, took his national team almost single-handedly to unprecedented and almost impossible heights. Nowitzki led his national team to bronze at the FIBA World Championship in 2002 and silver at EuroBasket 2005, also winning the MVP title each time. Luka put his national team on the back foot last summer when Slovenia qualified for the Olympics for the first time and were then a block away from Frenchman Nicholas Batum and the Los Angeles Clippers of playing in the final against the American team. It’s hard to put into context what an incredible achievement this is for a country of just over two million people.
Undoubtedly, many Mavericks fans aren’t too sympathetic to the idea of their two franchise superstars spending their summer playing for their national teams and risking injury, instead of resting and working on their individual matches. It’s no secret that Luka Doncic’s return to form in the 2021-2022 NBA season can be largely attributed to the fact that he only had three weeks off after a grueling season. of the NBA and playoffs, the aforementioned Olympic run that drained Doncic both physically and emotionally.
Anyway, there are reports that Luka, who is currently spending another summer (and this time also in September), playing for his national team, could enter the Mavericks training camp in October in the best shape possible.
Luka, like Dirk, will play for the national team every summer at least until the Paris Olympics in 2024. It is true that Luka enjoys playing for his national team. Dirk’s role as leader of the German national team helped him grow into the player he was meant to be, which ultimately led to the 2011 NBA title. It’s reasonable to expect similar growth from Doncic. Luka Doncic was the second-best player in the title-winning national team in 2017 and almost single-handedly brought his country a hair’s breadth away from winning an Olympic medal. Those two moments were the reason everyone remained confident in the Mavericks and Doncic going into Games 6 and 7 against the Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals. He already knew that being tough is one thing, but only a few can put on their best performance when it matters most, like playoff games on the opposing team’s home court.
Basketball is a team sport and winning alone in today’s top-tier basketball, NBA or international, is nearly impossible. That’s why Goran Dragic’s return means so much. It could well be the turning point between Luka Doncic showing up to training camp after another fourth-place finish (in a row) or with a medal, maybe even gold around his neck. Every Batman needs a Robin and Dragic is almost the perfect one. Maybe not for an 82-game NBA regular season, which seems to be the reason the Dallas front office didn’t sign Dragic, but definitely for all 10 games at EuroBasket.
Goran Dragic in the national team means less playing time for Luka. It also means less responsibility and burden for Doncic. This means that Luka’s usage rate will go down which is highly sought after by Dallas fans. We will see a lot more of Luka playing without the ball. Put guard on guard screens for Dragic, hand out short handouts, cut and even catch and shoot games. Whatever it takes to keep Luka fresh and even deadlier on the basketball court and most importantly, to make sure he can play nearly a hundred games in a possible Mavs deep playoff season. It will also serve as yet another example that the “ball hog Luka” narrative is wrong and that NBA stars who need the ball in their hands can come play with Luka without fear or hesitation.
Enjoy the potential fairy tale of Slovenian basketball at EuroBasket and it could be followed by an even bigger Dallas Mavericks. Goran Dragic has a central role to play in one and paradoxically also in the other. Batman and Robin, as it should be. This team will be one to watch in August and September.