In the first installment of this two part series, I wrote about Luka Doncic’s gravity and how it has helped his teammates in the past. Now, let’s take a look at how his new teammates are going to excel alongside the two-time All-Star.
Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown
Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown are both the type of player that most benefits from a teammate like Doncic; the majority of their shots come from catch and shoot scenarios. Last season, Brown created his own shot a little more than Bullock did, but they both saw the vast majority of their points come from the help of teammates.
For Bullock, 89 percent of his shots last year came with one dribble or less; of those shots, 74.3 percent came off no dribbles and went in with an effective field goal percentage of 62.6 percent. Brown took 69.6 percent of his shots off one dribble or less and posted an identical 62.6 percent effective field goal percentage on shots off zero dribbles. These players rely heavily on being set up to score, and Doncic is one of the best at doing just that.
I wanted to both quantify our expectations for Bullock and Brown this season and put them in context. To start, I looked for other players over the last five years who have had gravity and vision comparable to Doncic. I identified these players by looking at two stats: usage percentage (the percentage of plays a player is involved in while they are on the floor) and assist percentage (an estimation of the proportion of teammates field goals a player assisted on while they were on the floor). When these two numbers are high, it means a player is being used a lot and also using their teammates as well.
Doncic has posted a 30+ percent usage and a 40+ percent assist rate the last two seasons. Only four other players have reached this bar over the last five years: Trae Young, LeBron James, and James Harden have all done so twice, and Russell Westbrook got there three times.
I then took a look at their teammates with builds and styles similar to Bullock and Brown and compared the quality of the shots they took during their first season with a “ball-dominant star” to the season prior, before the star arrived:
It’s not a large sample, but there are takeaways. The difference in percentage of shots that are “sufficiently open” (a shot with at least four feet of separation) does seem to trend upward with larger increases in minutes played alongside a star. Notably, three of the highest increases came from the three Mavericks players who played with Doncic. Here is one of those sufficiently open shots, as two defenders run towards Doncic and Finney-Smith is left alone:
You can expect Bullock and Brown to get shots like this all the time, and given that they are both already great shooters in their own right (41 and 42.3 percent last year from deep, respectively), they could both be top 10 in three point percentage next season with all the additional open shots they get.
Moses Brown is going to excel alongside Doncic. Of the players who played at least 30 games and were involved as the roll man in at least 1.5 pick and rolls per game, Brown was 19th in points per possession at 1.18. This was higher than guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Dwight Powell was third on the list, at a ridiculous 1.38 points per possession. As I said in my preview for Brown, he did not play over 80 minutes with the same point guard last season (and certainly none of the same caliber as Doncic), so consistent minutes with Doncic could yield similar results, in terms of efficiency, as Powell.
The pick and roll is where Brown can improve most thanks to Doncic, but he’ll likely benefit in plenty of other areas as well. Last season, Doncic took 35.3 percent of his shots within 10 feet and made four of his seven attempts per game. Shots this close mean that there won’t be a long rebound, giving Brown opportunities for putbacks, an area in which he was especially good last season. According to pbpstats, he was third in the league in putback points per 100 possessions (6.31) in the second most minutes. Boban Marjanovic and Enes Kanter were the only two players ahead of him.
To estimate the quality of shots Brown will get from Doncic, we can look at two Mavericks who’ve previously played Brown’s expected role: Willie Cauley-Stein and Dwight Powell. They shot 66.7 and 67.9 percent, respectively, on two-point shots off passes from Doncic and each received about six percent of Doncic’s total passes. Brown will likely get a lot of the same looks, so somewhere between 65 and 70 percent on passes from Doncic is in play for him. This will make him a viable target in the paint and could help spark a minutes increase for the young center.
Finally, Brown stands to benefit through running the floor. Doncic is excellent in transition, and he lives by the old saying “reward the big man for running”:
Luka Doncic is good; this isn’t news. Luka Doncic helps make those around him better; this isn’t news either. There’s no news in these two pieces, I have to admit. Yet for as long as we’re able to cheer for a transcendent player, it’s worth looking into the why and how. Year four of the Luka Doncic-led Mavericks should be absolutely outstanding. I hope you all enjoy the ride.