COLOGNE, Germany — With a couple minutes left in the first quarter of Slovenia’s EuroBasket-opening win Thursday, center Mike Tobey grabbed an offensive rebound and bullied against Lithuania’s NBA starter, Jonas Valanciunas, for a second-chance layup.
Already halfway down the court, expecting to hustle back on defense, Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic lifted his arms and flexed in celebration.
Big emphasis on flex.
Throughout this offseason, discussion about Doncic as he approaches his fifth NBA season has often included questions about his weight and conditioning and whether the Mavericks’ preseason training camp late this month will be the third consecutive he starts out of shape.
Through a series of national team games this summer and a grueling, physical start to a grueling, physical EuroBasket tournament, Doncic has looked in rhythm — even when not flexing — and left many with the Mavericks hopeful his extra time with Slovenia and attention to fitness from the second half of last season will translate from the jump.
To gauge Doncic’s conditioning first-hand this summer has been difficult, though it’s clear, even from afar, that Doncic’s fitness for disagreeing with officials is in prime, mid-season form already.
He hasn’t participated in interviews in months — excluding brief postgame TV appearances with Slovenia’s in-house partners — and he walked through the EuroBasket mixed zone Thursday without making eye contact or stopping for requested conversation.
Slovenia at first listed him as the representative to join head coach Aleksander Sekulic at the formal postgame press conference, but then brought out Goran Dragic instead.
So, asking Doncic about his workouts — or even making an up-close anecdotal evaluation — has been near impossible.
But a few signs in Doncic’s public orbit have been promising for the Mavericks.
He’s posted several video clips on Instagram this summer of workouts with Slovenia’s trainer, Anze Macek, and he’s played four games — plus three not-so-friendly friendly exhibitions — since the end of the Western Conference finals.
Doncic’s body type is not naturally built to have ripped muscles or explosive athleticism.
But after the first window of World Cup qualifying matches in early July, one Mavericks official jokingly wondered whether Doncic had slicked on body oil because his arms looked more defined, and his physique appeared more slender.
Perhaps layers of sweat helped him glisten, too.
EuroBasket will certainly require more.
After Thursday’s comeback win over Lithuania, Slovenia will play four games in five days. In both sets of back to backs — Saturday vs. Hungary, Sunday vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tuesday vs. Germany and Wednesday vs. France — the team will have less than 21 hours between tips.
Slovenia will also play up to four games over eight days in the knockout rounds if the gold-medal quest unfolds as it plans.
Such a grind less than two weeks before Mavericks training camp starts Sept. 27 has prompted some concern about whether Doncic will respond similarly to how he handled last year’s Olympic recovery.
Doncic took time off to rest, gained more than 15 pounds in the six-week break between the Games and training camp and struggled with injuries and weight concerns through the end of the calendar year.
Plus, Doncic’s ankle-twist scare in the World Cup qualifier against Germany last weekend served as a reminder of the all-out risk playing in EuroBasket — or any setting — can present during the NBA offseason.
But expect a few aspects to be different this year.
Doncic will have a maximum of 17 days between the end of EuroBasket and Mavericks training camp — but likely just eight days if Slovenia plays through the Sept. 18 medal rounds.
He and his camp have known for the better part of five years that EuroBasket’s timing would present a quick turnaround and they could better anticipate pacing his preparation, unlike last summer’s Olympics when Slovenia wasn’t expected to even participate or in 2020 when the pandemic disrupted and rushed the NBA’s offseason timeline.
Doncic also appears eager to prove his stamina.
In his most athletic highlight Thursday, Doncic put a baseline spin move on former NBAer Ignas Brazdeikis, barreled in for a dunk, hung from the rim with one arm for an extra moment and stared down Brazdeikis underneath him.
All but one of Doncic’s seven dunks last Mavericks season came after his 20-day injury-conditioning hiatus in December.
He also sprinted back on defense at several points and logged three steals in the first half alone.
After the win and watching Dirk Nowitzki’s national team jersey retirement ceremony, Doncic posted a slideshow on Instagram that included a snapshot of of *that* dunk and *that* flex.
Hype on social media poured in:
“MVP season incoming”
The Mavericks sure hope.