Every season, Luka Doncic adds a new wrinkle to his game. He returned from last year’s shortened off-season having decided (seemingly with the snap of a finger) that he would dominate the forbidden midrange. In an area where few players can be perfect, he just... became great. He made it look too easy, quite frankly. But that’s just who Luka Doncic is.
As we start a new season, it’s exciting to try to figure out what new thing the two-time NBA First Team-er will perfect. And though this may not be an altogether new weapon for the MVP-favorite, we did witness a new wrinkle the Mavericks could utilize in last week’s preseason matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.
The team is stocked with shooters meant to take advantage of Doncic’s playmaking. But this doesn’t mean the Mavericks can’t try to unlock new looks in their offense, and perhaps that starts with Doncic working out of the post.
In a sequence of four plays in the second quarter against the Hornets, the Mavericks exploited several matchups that began with Doncic working with his back to the basket. Let’s break them down.
Attacking after the free throw
While James Bouknight was at the line, Doncic made his away to the opposite end of the floor. It wasn’t a secret, but in essence the Mavericks began their transition right there as he established position on the block with his defender. Dorian Finney-Smith pushed the ball, tossed an outlet to Tim Hardaway Jr., who dumped it down to Doncic on the left block.
While it doesn’t lead to a quick score, it alters the defense immediately. Hardaway has spaced himself so far above the break, he’s barely in camera view. But his defender, Jalen McDaniels, is parked at the elbow to try and show help for Cody Martin. Behind them is Mason Plumlee, who is anchored in the lane, completely ignoring his man Willie-Cauley Stein. Doncic has bent the floor, leaving two Hornets to corral four Mavericks players spacing opposite. As WCS crashes, Doncic has multiple passing lanes. He opts for the easiest pass and deepest look, but that’s where Hardaway’s bread is buttered.
A few possessions later, Martin is at the line for the Hornets. After his missed free throw, Jalen Brunson grabs the board, turns, sees that Doncic has already positioned himself on the left block, and pushes. This leads to a nearly identical gravitational pull defensively for the Hornets. Hardaway spaces high on the near side, and Brunson fills to the far corner. This time, Cauley-Stein attempts to set a backscreen in the lane for Kristaps Porzingis to flash to the top of the key.
Really, that action doesn’t even matter, though it’s nice to see the chaos it causes away from the ball for the Hornets. Doncic has the complete attention of McDaniels, Bouknight, and Plumlee. Even if he doesn’t opt to drain the difficult baseline Dirk fade, he has options in Hardaway or a crashing Porzingis in a mismatch. Easy money.
After a Hornets miss, Doncic initiates the offense more traditionally. He couldn’t plant himself in the post like he would during the free throw, so Doncic literally walks Hornets guard Ish Smith to the right block. Few players in the league can hold an active dribble and maintain the level of vision Doncic does here.
Rather than let him exploit the mismatch, Plumlee opts for a double team. While it forces Doncic into a tough passing lane, Porzingis’ spacing and length makes this an easy trap-breaker. The Mavericks go around the horn and end with a Brunson corner three. Now, the Hornets do an awful job of rotating here, with Smith inexplicably trying to recover the length of the floor. Still, Doncic’s gravity and vision in the post puts the defense in the pressure cooker.
This is a straightforward isolation call from Doncic to work out of the post after an inbound. The Hornets mostly stay home with their men, even as McDaniels tries to utilize his length to disrupt Doncic’s move. Martin forces him into a fade here, but this play is a product of those previous plays.
When Doncic smells blood, few teams in the league can break up his rhythm. Whether he’s setting up in the post before the play or forcing his way there in a mismatch, his ability to work efficiently as a scorer while maintaining elite vision over smaller guards and traps will wreak havoc on opponents. Adding the near spacing of Hardaway or Porzingis only makes this set more lethal. It will be on the two of them (and the rest of the spot-shooters) to be ready. This is a new, somewhat unexplored look that Kidd and Doncic should turn to this season to make life tougher on the rest of the league.