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It’s time to talk about Luka Doncic’s three point shooting

The Mavericks superb sophomore is having an incredible season, but there’s one glaring flaw that hopefully can be fixed.

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Complaining about Luka Doncic feels like complaining about finding a million dollars because all of the bills are ones. It feels wrong.

Doncic’s second season in the league has exceeded all of my expectations. He’s doing things in year two that I expected in year four or five. There were lots of things I expected from Doncic this season, but top-5 MVP candidate and potential All-NBA First Team were only in my dreams.

So with all those qualifiers out of the way, I have to complain about something regarding Luka Doncic — he needs to start hitting threes.

It feels weird to say, because in your head, if you’re a casually observer of the Mavericks, Doncic is a good shooter, right? You see all of the step-backs threes in the highlight reels, the half court shots and end of quarter bombs. Doncic’s three-point shot is intrinsic to his game, allowing him to rock bigger defenders to sleep on the perimeter and spook wing defenders to allow him more space to the basket.

Unfortunately, the numbers don’t match that notion in our head. Let’s just go out and say it — Doncic is a bad three point shooter, this season.

He’s shooting a ghastly 31.8 percent. That’s somehow worse than his rookie mark of 32.7, despite shooting about two more threes per game this season. Both of those marks are under league average, and no matter how much the math of “3 > 2” works in his favor, there comes a point where if you’re shooting bad enough, the threes aren’t a good shot. That’s the territory Doncic is in right now.

In the entire league, Doncic is seventh in total three point attempts, despite missing two different stretches of games with a sprained ankle. Of the top 10 in attempts, Doncic is the only one shooting below 35 percent. League average from three this season is 35.7 percent. It’s simply a bad shot for Doncic right now.

League Leaders in Three Point Attempts

Rk Player 3PA▼ 3P%
Rk Player 3PA▼ 3P%
1 James Harden 769 35.2%
2 Buddy Hield 618 39.5%
3 Devonte' Graham 585 37.3%
4 Damian Lillard 573 39.4%
5 Trae Young 568 36.1%
6 Duncan Robinson 543 44.8%
7 Luka Dončić 491 31.8%
8 Zach LaVine 484 38.0%
9 Bradley Beal 481 35.3%
10 Dāvis Bertāns 472 42.4%
11 CJ McCollum 458 38.0%
12 Bojan Bogdanović 457 41.4%
13 Tim Hardaway Jr. 455 40.7%
14 Terrence Ross 454 35.7%
15 Kemba Walker 438 37.7%
16 Kyle Lowry 432 35.4%
17 D'Angelo Russell 431 36.7%
18 Taurean Prince 431 33.9%
19 Donovan Mitchell 428 36.4%
20 Robert Covington 424 34.9%

Doncic is known for his three point shot all the way back to his time with Real Madrid in Europe. It was those long range bombs and gaudy step-backs that got us all intoxicated with Doncic’s game, in addition to well, everything else. I went back and looked to see if maybe Doncic is just struggling with the shot at an NBA level and unfortunately, Doncic has never really put together an elite shooting season since he’s been a pro.

In four seasons of professional ball in Europe, Doncic shot 33.3 percent. In 33 EuroLeague games in his final season before being drafted, he shot 28 percent from three. Understanding that shooting numbers in Europe can be wonky as the games are more physical, it’s still somewhat alarming that Doncic hasn’t had a great three point shooting season since his 2016-2017 season in Europe.

The poor shooting is a big reason why the Mavericks offense goes into the toilet during clutch situations. Dallas is scoring just 93.9 points per 100 possessions in the clutch this season, the second worst mark in the league and a far cry from their historic pacing offense overall. Doncic is shooting a remarkable 17 percent from three in those clutch minutes, just 6-of-35.

We’ve seen the same possession countless times this season in the clutch — the Mavericks get stagnant, Doncic isolates near the top of the three point line and launches a step back. The math is three is greater than two, but a 17 percent shot is a bad shot. I don’t care where you take it from or how much it’s worth.

It’s hard to diagnose exactly what needs to change, other than Doncic just needs to start making these shots or tone it down. There’s definitely an argument to be made that Doncic needs this three point shot to open up his drives to the rim. Doncic is shooting an absurd 57.4 percent on two-pointers and defenders petrified of ending up on a Doncic highlight reel when he’s dancing past the three point line helps him create the space he needs to get into the paint and score. If he keeps shooting as poorly from three, however, defenses will catch on and he’ll need to make an adjustment.

I looked at the splits of Doncic’s catch-and-shoots and pull-ups, hoping that maybe if Doncic got more spot-up looks the numbers would trend up. Unfortunately, Doncic is shooting just 26.9 percent on catch and shoot threes, with the caveat that he’s only taken 67 spot up threes this season. Doncic will regularly pass up a catch and shoot jumper to pump fake or dribble into a step-back or pull up. He just seems more comfortable shooting off the dribble. Maybe that’s an off-season goal, especially if the Mavericks bring in another player maker during free agency. It’s hard for Doncic to get great spot up looks because the Mavericks are so reliant on Doncic having the ball in his hands almost every single minute he’s on the floor.

Again, I don’t mean to be too critical. Doncic is an MVP candidate! The Mavericks are back in the playoffs! This is all very, very good. Hell, Doncic is probably ahead of schedule, relatively. It’s easy to forget he’s just 21-years-old. Doncic has plenty of time to work out this defect — it just likely won’t be in time to propel the Mavericks deep enough into the postseason.