Luka Doncic does a lot of heavy lifting for the Dallas Mavericks. He leads the team in points, assists, steals, and free throw attempts per game. He’s second in rebounds, trailing only Kristaps Porzingis. His usage rate is almost 36%, and shows no sign of decreasing anytime soon.
The weight of that much responsibility is clearly showing. Doncic doesn’t have the same lift lately. His 3-point shooting percentage has fallen off in the last month, shooting just below 32% from behind the arc in April. This comes on the heels of shooting a scorching 43% from deep in the month of March. But more than any statistic, there seems to be less joy in Doncic’s play lately.
It’s the end of the year, and everyone is worn out. The grind of the season wears down even players who are in top shape. But it must be even harder for Doncic, who the Mavericks rely on almost every possession he’s on the floor. The Dallas offense starts and ends with Doncic. There’s very few plays that are run with him as a second option, or as a spot up shooter in the corner. He’s the engine that makes this team run. If Doncic is on the court, he’s either taking a shot or setting someone else up for one.
Historically, that’s not great.
Doncic’s usage rate this season is the 16th highest in a single season in NBA history. This is coming off of last year, when his 36% usage rate was the eighth highest in a single season in NBA history. The other names surrounding him on the list? Allen Iverson, James Harden, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan, among others. It’s great company to share.
The only problem is no one with a usage rate that high has ever won a championship. In fact, it’s not until you reach the 34th highest usage rate for a season that you find a player that won a championship in the same year—Michael Jordan in 1992-93. And then you have to go another 17 spots down to find another champion with a high usage rate—Jordan again, in 1997-98. It’s easy to see where this is heading.
Teams don’t win a championship with a single playmaker. It’s just too much responsibility for a single person, especially once the playoffs roll around. Even a high level player like Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t help (if he’s even available to play), because he can’t create offense on his own. He’s reliant on other players to set him up to score, except on inefficient post ups.
This season, someone else on the perimeter will have to step up if the Mavericks are going to buck the trend of history and make noise in the playoffs. But as of now it doesn’t look like there’s anyone who can do that. Dorian Finney-Smith can’t make plays off the dribble consistently. There was thinking Josh Richardson could dribble-penetrate and make plays when the Mavericks traded for him in the offseason, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Jalen Brunson has the second-highest assists per game on Dallas, but only a paltry 3.7 per game. Brunson looks to score when he gets the ball.
A second playmaker to take the burden off of Doncic has to be a priority for the Mavericks this season. Otherwise, Doncic will continue making a historical list, but not one the Mavericks or any fans will want to see him on.