Luka Doncic is entering only his fourth year in the NBA, yet he’s already stacked up an impressive list of accomplishments. The young Slovenian star has been named Rookie of the Year, made two All-Star games, and been named to the All-NBA roster twice. He’s finished fourth and sixth in MVP voting the last two seasons.
Doncic has also been statistically prolific, finishing sixth in scoring two years in a row. Not content to just score, he also finished fourth in triple-doubles last season, fresh off of leading the NBA in triple-doubles the season before. And those aren’t empty stats. Doncic has guided the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, losing close series to the Los Angeles Clippers both times.
But despite all he’s achieved and his well-rounded game, there are still some things Doncic needs to improve. Some of these things are on the margins, and some are quite important. Either way, even a superstar like Doncic has flaws in his game. Here’s what he needs to be better at this season.
Doncic is often compared to LeBron James, which is usually a compliment. But he shares James’ struggles at the free throw line, and it’s something he desperately needs to shed. Doncic has shot 73 percent from the charity stripe over his three years in the NBA. He actually improved from 71 percent his rookie year to to 75 percent in his second season. It seemed like he was working to improve his free throw shooting, much like he did with other aspects of his game.
But he regressed to 73 percent last season, and a lot of those misses came in the waning minutes of crucial games. And it gets worse in the playoffs. Thirteen games is a small sample size, but Doncic has shot 60 percent on free throws in the postseason. In last year’s seven-game series against the Clippers, he only hit 52 percent of his attempts from the line.
Doncic doesn’t have to shoot 90 percent on free throws, but he can’t be a liability at the line. With the way he plays, he’s going to end up getting fouled often. If he can get his free throw shooting above 80 percent, it should help the Mavericks a lot in close games.
There’s no way to use stats to lay out the case for Doncic’s poor conditioning. But last season, all it took was a simple eye test to see that the Mavericks’ best player wasn’t in the best shape. A lot of that probably had to do with the unexpected early start to last season. Still, the franchise leader can’t look as bad as Doncic did early last year.
He doesn’t have to look like some Instagram Cross Fit influencer or have zero percent body fat. But Doncic can’t be looking winded in the first quarter or play himself into shape. He’s got to understand that he sets the tone for the entire team, and that includes showing up to work prepared for the physical demands of playing professional basketball.
Perhaps the easiest thing for Doncic to improve going into this season is keeping his cool. He finished last season second to only Dwight Howard for the most technical fouls in the league. The year before, he was seventh with 13.
Technical fouls give easy points to opposing teams and carry with them the threat of ejection. The Mavericks just aren’t deep enough to not have their best player on the court. And if a player reaches 16 technical fouls in a season, they’re suspended for one game. With the Western Conference so competitive, even one game could have massive consequences for seeding.
There’s also the fact that it seems NBA officials are sick of hearing Doncic scream at them. His free throw attempts were down to about seven per game last year, as opposed to around nine per game the season before. If Doncic can keep his emotions under control, the Mavericks will no longer have to worry about him being ejected. Add in the benefit of more foul calls going his way, and Doncic curbing his technical fouls will pay endless dividends for the Mavericks.