More muscles? Body oil? Luka Doncic’s weight and fitness appear stable as the Mavs season approaches

COLOGNE, Germany — With minutes left in the first quarter of Slovenia’s EuroBasket opener on Thursday, center Mike Toby grabbed an offensive rebound and challenged Lithuanian NBA starter Jonas Valanciunas for a second chance.

Already at midcourt, expecting to get back on defense, Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic raised his arms and bent over in celebration.

Heavy emphasis on bending.

During this offseason, the 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 later this month will be the third straight in which he starts outside form.

Through a string of national team games this summer and a grueling, physical start to a grueling, physical EuroBasket tournament, Doncic has looked in rhythm — even when he’s not flexing — and left many with the Mavericks hopeful for the extra time with Slovenia and attention to fitness from the second half of last season will translate from a jump.

It’s been difficult to gauge Doncic’s fitness firsthand this summer, though it’s clear, even from a distance, that Doncic’s ability to disagree with officials is already at its best midway through the season.

He hasn’t done interviews in months – except for brief TV appearances after the match with domestic partners Slovenia – and he walked through the EuroBasket mixed zone on Thursday without making eye contact or pausing for a requested conversation.

Slovenia initially named him as a representative to join head coach Aleksandar Sekulic in the official post-match press conference, but then fielded Goran Dragic instead.

So asking Doncic about his training – or even getting a close-up anecdotal assessment – ​​is next to impossible.

But several signs in Doncic’s public orbit were promising for the Mavericks.

He posted several Instagram videos this summer training with Slovenia coach Ange Macek and has played four games — plus three not-so-friendly friendlies — since the end of the Western Conference Finals.

Doncic’s physique is not naturally built to have tight muscles or explosive athleticism.

But after the first window of World Cup qualifying games in early July, one Mavericks official jokingly wondered if Doncic had slathered himself in body butter because his arms looked more defined and his frame looked leaner.

Maybe layers of sweat helped him shine too.

EuroBasket will surely demand more.

After Thursday’s comeback win over Lithuania, Slovenia play four games in five days. In both games — Saturday against Hungary, Sunday against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tuesday against Germany and Wednesday against France — the team will have less than 21 hours between tips.

Slovenia will also play up to four matches in eight days in the eliminations if the gold medal quest goes as planned.

A similar practice less than two weeks before the Mavericks’ Sept. 27 start of training camp raised some concern about whether Doncic would respond the same way he did last year’s Olympic recovery.

Doncic took time off to rest, gained more than 15 pounds in the six-week break between games and training camp and battled injuries and weight issues for the rest of the calendar year.

Plus, Doncic’s sprained ankle scare in last weekend’s World Cup qualifier against Germany served as a reminder of the sheer risk that playing EuroBasket — or any other setting — can pose during the NBA offseason.

But expect several aspects to be different this year.

Doncic will have a maximum of 17 days between the end of EuroBasket and the Mavericks’ training camp — but likely only eight days if Slovenia plays through the medal rounds on Sept. 18.

He and his camp have known for the better part of five years that EuroBasket timing would represent a quick turnaround, and they could better predict the pace of his preparations, unlike last summer’s Olympics, when Slovenia wasn’t even expected to participate or in 2020 when the pandemic disrupts and rushes the NBA’s offseason timeline.

Doncic also seems eager to prove his durability.

In his most athletic highlight Thursday, Doncic made a baseline spin move on former NBA player Ignas Brazdeikis for a dunk, hung off the rim with one arm for an extra moment and looked down on Brazdeikis.

All but one of Doncic’s seven steals last season for the Mavericks came after his 20-day injury layoff in December.

He also sprinted on defense for several points and registered 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 that immersion and that flex.

There was an uproar on social networks:

“MVP season ahead”

Eye emoticons.

“League is over”

Mavericks sure hope.

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