Our new lord and savior had a very good 2018-2019 season! Let’s revisit and review.
There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been written or discussed about Luka Doncic but we’ll try anyway — his rookie season somehow exceeded the already large expectations.
He finished with season averages of 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6 assists per game, elite numbers for anyone, let alone a rookie. Doncic’s shooting slumped hard after the All-Star break but he still finished with a respectable slash line of 42.7/32.7/72.3. It was really the free throws that stood out awkwardly as Doncic had above average efficiency for most of the season until the Mavericks traded four of their five starters and Luka didn’t have much help.
Where do we even begin with Doncic? He started a bit slow, for his standards, as he played his way to earning more trust with Rick Carlisle and trying to make the duo of himself and Dennis Smith Jr. work. He had a usage percentage of 28 before the All-Star break as he wowed us with clutch plays and his James Harden -esque athleticism that allowed him to manipulate defenses with his start and stop speed.
After the All-Star break and big trades, Luka was given the reigns. He had a 32.8 usage percentage and his numbers continued to pop, although his shooting numbers lagged as defenses were wiser to Doncic and had no fear of the Mavericks weak supporting cast. The Mavericks actually played better on the season with Doncic off the floor, according to NBA.com’s stats page, but a lot of that was tanked during the second half of the season.
Even then, it was still encouraging for Doncic to show all the signs we wanted as an all-around offensive forward while also probably doing more than we could have expected. It wasn’t hard to predict Doncic was gonna look like an old pro at times this season, but I’m not sure many thought he was already a 20 point per game scorer in this league, especially on a Mavericks team laden with veterans and a coach who takes some time to trust.
Here are some of my favorite Doncic plays that highlighted his potential. First, some good defense on LeBron James that showcases how Doncic can use his size and strength to be an OK defender for his career. Doncic will likely never be a stopper, but he can use his size to keep himself from being bullied or picked on inside the three point line.
Here’s Doncic posting up Kyrie Irving, which highlights how nice it is for the Mavericks to have a 6’8 point guard. Doncic is a ready-made mismatch, even if the Mavericks play him with another guard or two. The play possibilities are endless and in the playoffs, where matchup hunting is often the standard as offenses bog down against good defenses, having your point guard able to post up normal sized guards is a boon.
There were so many clutch highlights to pick from Doncic this season it was hard to choose one, but this gaudy pull up was low-key one of my favorites, on the road against a team that still had something to play for. Doncic’s heroics against Houston in Dallas will be remembered as more meteoric, but this shot wasn’t half bad.
Doncic was great in the clutch this season. According to NBA.com’s definition of clutch (game’s with the score within five points with five or less minutes left in the fourth), Doncic shot 44.6 percent, which is the fourth best mark in the league for players who attempted at least 90 shots in the clutch. He also had 23 assists and 10 turnovers, which is pretty good for a rookie.
Doncic’s ability to pick out shooters in the corner might be his best skill. He already has the LeBron one-handed pass to the weak side corner out of the pick and roll down pat and he did well passing out of double-teams, although he definitely got too cute down the stretch as teams were very brazen with their doubles since they were not scared of Luka’s post trade deadline teammates.
Doncic just finished up the first year of his four-year rookie deal and will be owed $7.6 million next season.
The Mavericks have Doncic under contract through the 2022-2023 season, after which he’ll be a restricted free agent. Mavs fans can mostly breathe easy, knowing that Doncic will likely be in Dallas for a long time.
There are a couple of points I’d like to make about Doncic and his future with the Mavericks.
- Doncic is going to get so much better, it’s hard to comprehend. The counting stats he put up were the stats I think anyone would have taken in his third or fourth season — now he’s already doing it at 19, 20-years-old. From here, Doncic just needs to work on his body and his skills. If he can master the mid-range a bit better as teams run him off the line (38.3 percent from the mid-range this season, 42.1 percent in the paint outside the restricted area), get easier threes from better teammates (he shot 17-of-33 from the corners! He should shoot more of those) and get the free throw kinks ironed out, Doncic can become a 25 points per game scorer very quickly. Hell, if he shoots his free throws better he might already be one. The next crucial part is getting his body right, as Doncic needs a full off-season spent with the Dallas coaching and training staff. He didn’t do that last summer, as the Mavericks wanted him to rest before training camp, but with Slovenia already knocked out of international play this summer, Doncic should be able to spend more time getting leaner and faster, without sacrificing the strength. He needs to be a better defender off the ball and hopefully that awareness comes with time.
- While it’s easy to assume Doncic will be a Maverick for the next eight years at least, it’s good to remember the NBA landscape is drastically different from even a few years ago. Old guard thinking assumes good young stars stay with their teams through at least their second contract, but the current NBA player movement is throwing a wrench into that. Just look at what Anthony Davis is doing in New Orleans, or what happened to Kristaps Porzingis in New York. The point is, the players have some power right now and they aren’t afraid to wield it to go to another team. The Mavericks can’t just assume Doncic is the next Dirk — they are on the clock to keep him starting right now. That means threading the needle on surrounding Luka with talent right away to win more games while also keeping some flexibility to prevent Dallas from becoming New Orleans West and locked into a mediocre team with no outs. Having Porzingis helps a bunch, but the Mavericks can’t rest.
The sky’s the limit for Luka and it’s pretty crazy that the Mavericks only spent two years toiling in the lottery to land their next franchise guy. Dirk is gone and while Luka can’t and won’t replace his presence, the team is now fully his. Let’s see what comes next.