The Mavs are 3 - 2 after five games, and looking like a playoff contender in the crowded Western Conference. The return of Kristaps Porzingis is a major upgrade comparing to last year's roster, but the biggest thing has been Luka Dončić going to another level from a Rookie of the Year season What's the secret?
Pasta. Well, lack thereof. Luka's rookie year came after a long season in Europe, a lot of minutes on his legs and a different level of physicality. Nobody doubted his basketball IQ, basketball skillset or love of the game. Luka faced skepticism most European players face when arriving in the NBA. Is he committed to matching his opponents athletically? It was obvious a change in diet and dedication to the weight room was needed.
Luka will probably never be ripped like Caruso. Shaq explained it by saying some guys are not "salad eaters." meaning as much as they eat right and work out, they won't get ripped. But, it became obvious Luka needs to improve his conditioning and strength to reach his maximum. This is where playing next to Dirk helped (via ">ESPN):
"I was so happy to get drafted to Dallas to be with Dirk. It was one of the best experiences of my life. ... I would say there are two things (I learned): his leadership and his work ethic."
Luka went on to talk about "professionalism" several times. He said changing his body and being a professional was hard at first, but he fell in love with it during the process. You realize every meal you have isn't "off hours" but directly impacts your performance on the court. The key for him? Saying farewell to pasta.
Luka never based his game on athleticism (even though he is more athletic than you'd think), but for him getting in shape is just removing obstacles to do what he does best. If he's not thinking about his spleen or his lungs, he can think about the game. More minutes of Luka on the court means more games in the win column for the Mavericks.