Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic
Wiki Commons

10 Best Rookie Seasons in the (Pre Luka) History of Dallas Sports

Through the first 11 games of his NBA career, Mavericks forward Luka Doncic has been a revelation. He's averaging more than 20 points and six assists per game while making weekly appearances on SportsCenter for his spectacular ball-handling and passing.

Doncic appears to be worth everything the Mavericks gave up to get him — chiefly a protected first-round pick in the 2019 draft — and on his way to a rookie of the year-caliber season.

As we continue to bask in the young Slovenian's stellar play, let's take a look back at some of his fellow precocious Dallas athletes.

Here are the 10 best rookie seasons in Dallas sports history:

10. Jamie Benn (2009-10) — Future Stars captain Jamie Benn gave Dallas fans a preview of what was to come during the 2009-10 season. Benn played in each of the Stars' 82 games as a rookie, racking up 22 goals and 19 assists on his way to finishing seventh in NHL rookie of the year voting. 

9. Mike Hargrove (1974) — Rangers rookie first baseman Mike Hargrove put together one of the funkier exceptional seasons you'll ever see. He hit for very little power at a traditional power position, bopping just four home runs in 131 games, and wasn't anything special defensively. Hargrove created value by doing one thing really well. Thanks to a keen eye at the plate and a line-drive swing, he got on base almost 40 percent of the time in an era when offense was hard to come by in Major League Baseball. The press actually picked up on Hargrove's under-the-radar skills, as well, giving him the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Over the next four seasons with the Rangers, Hargrove continued his on-base brilliance, never sporting an on-base percentage lower than .388.

8. Elvis Andrus (2009) — Andrus was still 20 years old when he broke camp as the Rangers' starting shortstop ahead of the 2009 season. He doubled off Cliff Lee, the American League's Cy Young Award winner, in his first major league at bat. Over the rest of the season, Andrus held his own offensively and sparkled in the field, despite being a half-decade younger than the average rookie. By season's end, he'd racked up more than three wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs, eighth best among all shortstops.

The Rangers finished in second place and missed the playoffs, but Andrus would prove to be an essential part of the most successful stretch in Rangers history. Over the next seven seasons, the Rangers won four division titles and two American League pennants. 

7. Emmitt Smith (1990) — Heading into the 1990 NFL draft, the Cowboys already had their quarterback (Troy Aikman) and their star wide receiver (Michael Irvin). What the team needed was a workhouse running back to open up opposing defenses down the field.

With the 17th pick in the first round, the Cowboys drafted perhaps the prototypical backfield workhorse in the University of Florida's Emmitt Smith.

Smith started 15 of 16 games during the 1990 season, scoring 11 touchdowns and gaining 1,165 yards from scrimmage. He made the first of eight career Pro Bowls and won The Associated Press' Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. The best was yet to come, of course. Smith led the NFL in rushing four of the next five seasons, helping lead the Cowboys to championships in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

6. Calvin Hill (1969) — Calvin Hill left Yale and walked straight into the Cowboys backfield in 1969, piling up 1,174 scrimmage yards in just 13 games played. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and made the Pro Bowl before the Cowboys crashed out of the playoffs, losing 38-14 at home to the Browns in the divisional round.

Hill went on to make the Pro Bowl three more times during his six-season stint in Dallas and help the team win its first Super Bowl in 1971.

5. Jason Kidd (1994-95) — Taken with the second pick in the 1994 NBA draft, University of California point guard Jason Kidd electrified a moribund Mavs franchise and its fans with his court vision and pinpoint passing. Thrown in the pool immediately at the NBA's toughest position for rookies, Kidd swam, scoring more than 11 points and dishing out nearly eight assists per game on his way to splitting rookie of the year honors with the Detroit Pistons' Grant Hill.

The Mavericks didn't achieve anything as a team during Kidd's first stretch in North Texas, which seems almost like a dream at this point. After spending more than a decade in Phoenix and New Jersey, Kidd returned to Dallas in 2008, eventually teaming with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler to lead the Mavs to their first and only championship in 2011. 

4. Tony Dorsett (1977) — Tony Dorsett, the second pick in the 1977 NFL draft, came into the league as a finished article. Despite starting just four of the Cowboys' 14 regular-season games during his rookie year, Dorsett totaled 1,280 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the NFL's premiere offensive weapons and picking up the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. His team did all right too, winning the Cowboys' second Super Bowl with a January 1978 defeat of the Denver Broncos.

3. Neftali Feliz (2010) — Rangers closer Neftali Feliz saved 40 games during his rookie year in 2010. He had a 2.73 ERA and struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings pitched. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Ask any Rangers fan about Feliz and that year, though, and they'll remember one thing: his strikeout of the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez to send the Rangers to their first World Series. 

2. Ezekiel Elliott (2016) — In the eyes of most NFL front offices, running backs have declined in relative value over the last decade or so. The attrition rates at the position are too high and the skill differences between great and good runners is too low, the thinking goes, to tie up resources in the position.

The Cowboys bucked that trend in 2016, selecting Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott with the first pick in the draft. For a year at least, it looked like a great move. Elliott led the league in rushing yards in 2016 with 1,631 despite sitting out the team's regular-season finale against the Eagles. He made the Pro Bowl and was selected first-team All-Pro, helping shepherd the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the first seed in the NFC playoffs. The Cowboys lost at home to the Packers in their divisional round game but the future seemed bright at the time, thanks to Elliott and the next player on this list. 

Ezekiel Elliott heads off the field.EXPAND
Ezekiel Elliott heads off the field.
Keith Allison

1. Dak Prescott (2016) — When the Seahawks' Cliff Avril injured Tony Romo's back during the 2016 preseason, it seemed like the Cowboys' season was headed down the tubes. Dak Prescott, a fourth-round rookie out of Mississippi State, was next in line and no one expected much.

But Prescott stepped in and wasn't just good, he was great. He accounted for 29 touchdowns, completed 68 percent of his passes and tossed just four interceptions, leading one of the NFL's most potent offenses. Throughout the season, he played at an MVP level, eventually keeping Elliott from winning the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Prescott and the rest of the Cowboys had a magical season, one that they've tried to duplicate in vain over the last two years. With Prescott's status with the team up in the air following the 2019 season, the happy memories of 2016 might have to be enough for the QB and Cowboys fans. 

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