SPORT BILD: Mr. Barea, Dallas superstar Luka Doncic enchants the NBA and is the top scorer with an average of 33.8 points. You played with him and with Dirk Nowitzki. How does Doncic tick compared to Nowitzki?
JJ Barea (38): Dirk led the team by leading by example. He didn’t talk that much, worked incredibly hard. He showed everyone that he wanted to win at all costs. For him, the team always came first. If he played badly but we won, he was still happy. He didn’t care about his own statistics. Luka learned a lot from Dirk and is therefore similar to him. He doesn’t talk much either and really wants to win. He loves to compete with the best – like Dirk used to.
Is Doncic always the first in the locker room like Nowitzki?
He works hard, but not like Dirk. Nobody will ever work as hard as Dirk. He was really extreme there. I always thought: If I only do 25 percent of his workload, that will be enough for the NBA. But Luka is getting better every year and will continue to improve.
Who is the better long-range shooter?
Dirk is without a doubt better. Luka scores his points in different ways, Dirk only did that later in his career.
The better playmaker…
… is Luka, but that’s also clear because of the position. He has the ball a lot more often.
Who is better in crunch time when it’s about to win just before the end?
I see Dirk in front because he has shown it on more occasions. Like in the NBA Finals 2011. But Luka can do it too.
What makes Doncic such a special player?
When he first arrived in Dallas, we had practice games and I just thought: He’s really massive (230 pounds, 2.01 meters; ed.)! A real chunk. I defended him and thought: Jesus! Then there are his long arms. He also handles the ball well with both hands. He has everything to be really good.
After the summer break, Doncic often comes to the training camp with a few kilograms too much on his ribs. Is this a problem?
It happens to him, but he’s still young. It also has to do with his physique. His legs are just massive. He’ll always look a bit wider, he can’t really be lean and wiry. But this season he was fit because he had played the European Championship before. That helped him.
Can he already become the MVP, i.e. the most valuable player in the NBA?
He’s close. It depends on the Mavericks finishing at least fifth or better in the West. Then he has a chance.
Doncic with Nowitzki’s diligence: Would that be the best of all time?
Luka knows what he has to do and learns more about himself. As he gets older, he has to work even harder to maintain his high level. I never thought anyone could stand a chance to come close to what Dirk achieved in Dallas. But if anyone has the chance, it’s Luka.
Are the new Mavericks around Doncic already a championship candidate?
The NBA is all about being the best player on the team. We had Dirk. So we knew that if we put a good team alongside him, we’d have a chance of winning the title. You just want to get into the playoffs in a good position and then you can win everything. Dallas will always be at the top for the next few years.
They became NBA champions in 2011 with Dirk Nowitzki. Is there still a WhatsApp group of the winning team?
Not a group, but I still talk a lot with Dirk, also with Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion – and whenever we see each other, our eyes widen and we hug. This championship team was something very special.
How is your relationship with Nowitzki?
We had so much fun the twelve years we played together. Every evening we went to dinner together. We also played a lot of tennis. I think Dirk only played basketball to be able to hang out with his buddies in the locker room.
You were a key player on the road to the title, including in the quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Their star Kobe Bryant said at the time: “Barea kicked us in the butt.”
Hearing that felt good. Our Pick’n’Roll (Place block and move into free space; ed.) worked fine then. Dirk made my life easier on the pitch. We didn’t need big moves. Just do a pick’n’roll at the top of the three-point line. He’s the best competitor I’ve ever played with.