The sophomore season for Luka Doncic was historically preposterous.
After a Rookie of the Year campaign where Doncic posted averages of 21.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists, Doncic turned up the heat, scoring 28.8 points, grabbing 9.4 rebounds, and 8.1 assists while garnering some MVP buzz and a nod on the All NBA first team. He did this while being just 20 years old for most of the season.
He then led an undermanned Mavericks team into the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season where they fought valiantly against a much deeper Los Angeles Clippers team. He also provided the first of hopefully many epic playoff moments, hitting an over time game winner
After a short break following the delayed NBA playoffs, Doncic is back for his third season in a Dallas uniform where he still has a few things to prove.
How does Luka Doncic improve? The aforementioned leap in statistical output from year one to year two isn’t something he’s going to be able to do again. Of course, he’s still likely to be better, but pinpointing where is difficult.
On the one hand, some numbers continue to jump out, mainly his three point percentage and his free throw percentage. Doncic shot the three ball often at over nine attempts a game and poorly at just 31.6 percent. His overarching free throw numbers were much improved, up to 76% on the year, but he shot 70% in fourth quarters. If he’s forced to take fewer shots at the end of the shot clock, if he takes fewer unneeded step backs, and if he’s in better cardiovascular shape, all of this shooting should improve.
Next, there’s a question of if the Mavericks can get Doncic easier baskets. Despite scoring 28.8 points, he did so with very little direct help from his teammates. In the regular season, Doncic was not assisted on 81% of his points. In the playoffs, that jumped to an insane 91%. Given how he plays, this isn’t going to drop to something like 40%, but the Mavericks can and should find ways to get Doncic involved as an off-ball player. It could reduce the toll on his body and confuse defenses as the Dallas offense is fairly straight forward in what they want to do.
Past the data, Doncic needs to commit himself to the defensive end more. The Mavericks struggle in transition defense, in no small part because Doncic often pleads at the referees following a missed drive. Dallas then plays 4 on 5 until Luka runs back in the play, often late and keeping the Mavericks at a disadvantage. A little less barking could go a long way.
Best case scenario
An off-season spent working on shooting from three along with a revamped offense resulting in fewer shot clock heaves boosts Doncic’s percentages, making him even more dangerous. The ensuing attention further away from the basket opens the lane wider, resulting in Luka Doncic doing his best James Harden impression.
That leads to his teammates somehow being more open and they connect on shots from Luka passes at a better rate than ever before. Luka posts averages of 32 points, 8 rebounds, and over 10 assists while the Mavericks roll through the regular season as a top three seed in the West. The narrative follows Doncic and he is the MVP front runner in production as well, thus making Real Hoopers and Skip Bayless very angry.
The Mavericks storm into the playoffs and work through the West and faceoff with Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Dallas wins and heads to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2011 and just the third time in franchise history. Luka Doncic leads Dallas the whole way and wins his first NBA championship at the ripe old age of 22.
Worst Case Scenario
A slow start to the season for Doncic is brought on by coming into training camp out of shape puts the Mavericks behind expectations. The long grind of a season, games night after night in a tough conference, takes a physical toll on Doncic who puts up good counting stats, but not enough to affect winning. Lingering injuries add up as the Mavericks win just under half of their games and Dallas decides to sit Doncic for him to heal up. Dallas falls behind in the playoff hunt and just can’t get on track at any point in the season.
Writing all that, both the best and worst case, felt kind of insane. The likelihood is somewhere nearer to the best case than the worst case (aside from a serious injury, of course). He’s not in great shape right now, but in two pre-season games it also didn’t matter.
With the improvements to the Dallas roster, things are poised for both the Mavericks and Doncic to do very well. A pair of pre-season games have been an excellent reminder of just how exciting Luka Doncic is to watch.