Season in review
Most Valuable Player. That was the impossibly high expectation Luka Doncic faced as he entered this season as a 21 year old MVP favorite. He did not quite live up to that lofty ideal as he finished 6th in MVP voting but he was most certainly the most valuable Maverick.
Luka finished the season averaging 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.0 steals and .5 blocks per game. He shot 47.9% from the field, 35.0% from three and a disappointing 73.0% from the free throw line. He also averaged 4.3 turnovers per game which is less troubling than it appears given his enormous playmaking and scoring burdens.
Doncic was also more durable in 2020-21 as he only missed 6 games, mostly due to rest in the condensed schedule, after missing 10 and 14 games respectively in his first two seasons. He did show up to camp in less than stellar shape following an unexpectedly shortened offseason.
The biggest development in Luka’s game this season came as a shooter. When Luka makes off the dribble threes, he is quite possibly the greatest offensive weapon the league has ever seen (Editor’s note: hyperbole, but we’ll allow it). Raising his percentage to nearly league average during the season and then raising it again to nearly 41% on over 10 attempts a game during the playoffs is a staggering development.
The former Morey-ball disciple also took more midrange attempts and made them at an absolutely elite rate this season. Luka took 41.4% of his shots from between 3 feet and the 3 point line. He made those shots at above a 50% rate. This added variety made him even more lethal to big men who switched onto him. A lesson Ivica Zubac learned during the playoffs.
During the playoffs, Luka upped his averages to a ridiculous 35.7 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game and 10.3 assists per game. He was an extremely efficient 49% from the field, 40.8% from behind the arc and a ghastly 52.9% from the free throw line.
Luka put up so many ridiculous games that choosing his best game is extremely difficult. Given the stakes and result, Game 5 against the Clippers was the best. Doncic scored 42 points, dished out 14 assists and collected 8 rebounds. He also had a steal and 4 turnovers which is actually an impressively low number given the length and athleticism of his opponent.
He took a whopping 37 shots and made 6 of 12 threes. Somehow he only shot 3 free throws on those 37 shots. He played 42 minutes and 31 seconds during which the Mavericks outscored the Clippers by 15 points. In the 5 minutes and 29 seconds he did not play, the Mavericks were outscored by 10 points.
Luka is expected to sign a max extension this offseason. He is on the books for $10.1 million next season. He would then earn escalating salaries beginning at $34.7 million in 2022-2023 and ending at $45.9 million in 2026-2027, depending on the salary cap changes.
Luka has 4 areas that he can look to improve going forward. He MUST improve as a free throw shooter. It is a matter of time until he is among the league leaders in free throw attempts given his talent, star power and strength. With his natural touch, it is realistic to expect him to improve to being an 82% free throw shooter or better. That level of shooting would have netted him 15 extra points over the course of the series with the Clippers and potentially could have swung a game.
He can continue his improvement as a three point shooter. If he can carry his shooting from the playoffs forward, he will win an MVP, and soon. It is probably unrealistic to expect quite the same percentage over a larger sample size but continued improvement to around 37 or 38 percent would be a fantastic development.
He can also improve as a defender. He has shown that in bursts he can defend. He is the Mavericks strongest wing and his girth allows him to absorb some punishment that the other wings struggle with. The more he can utilize his defensive ability going forward, the better off the Mavericks will be.
He needs to be in better shape, and that plays into the shooting improvements and defense. It is understandable that he came in out of shape given the quicker than expected start, but he needs to come into next season in the best shape of his life. One of the reasons his defense suffers is the tremendous offensive load he carries. The better shape he is in, the better he will be able to balance carrying a large burden offensively and defending.
Luka is the hope of the Dallas Mavericks. Every positive thing the Mavericks have going in some way revolves around Luka. The team needs to retool the supporting cast as the playoffs have made it glaringly obvious how poor the supporting cast is. But as long as Luka is in town, there will always be hope.