Luka Doncic enters his fifth NBA season as one of the most decorated players in basketball history. If Doncic happened to get Thanos-snapped out of existence today, he’d be a first ballot Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee. I’m dead serious.
These are just some the accolades to his name already:
- 3x All-Star (2020-22)
- 3x All NBA First Team (2020-22)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (2019)
- Euroleague Champion (2018)
- Euroleague MVP (2018)
- All-Euroleague First Team (2018)
- Euroleague All-Decade Team (2010-20)
- Euroscar Player of the Year (2019)
- Liga ACB Champion (2015, 2016, 2018)
- Liga ACB MVP (2018)
- All-Liga ACB First Team (2018)
There are more accolades and achievements, but you get the point. So after just four NBA seasons, there’s not much of a debate to Luka Doncic being one of the top players on the planet. What’s next is figuring out just how much more he can improve as a player and how far he can lead the Dallas Mavericks. And with less help on the ball handling front than ever before, Doncic could be in line for a historic usage season.
Is Luka Doncic ready to take another leap? ESPN’s Top 100 had Doncic as the number three player in the league when they published in late September, but at the moment there’s enough of a gap between Doncic and MVP winners Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic to hope for a development of some kind in Doncic’s game.
Where that comes from might not be in terms of any box score improvement (outside of some small gains in efficiency, but that’s splitting hairs), but in terms of consistency of play and volume of play. For Doncic to join the MVP discussion as an actual participant, he’s going to need to play at least 85% of the season. It’s basically the 70 game mark, and no MVP has played fewer than 69 games in a long time. He’s reached that level twice in his career, once in his rookie year when he played 72 of 82 games and again in year three where he played 66 of 72 contests.
Last year due to a frustrating combination of weight issues, ankle issues, and COVID, Doncic played in 65 games in a year where he really came on in the final half of the season. If Doncic wants to take that next step, he’s going to have to be truly great the entire year.
Make no mistake, Doncic is going to have every opportunity to do so as well. Remember this article’s silly headline? Well, it’s because Doncic COULD have a historic year in usage. We’ve discussed it all summer so this is no surprise to anyone, but other than Spencer Dinwiddie, Dallas has no one else to run their offense.
Best case scenario
For the first time since the start of the 2019-20 season, Luka Doncic arrives to training camp in decent shape and ready to hit the ground running. The new additions to the team’s big man squadron allow Doncic to rebound less on the defensive end, saving his body for more drives and hopefully more free throws. There are fewer triple doubles, but Doncic crosses the assist per game threshold, nearing 10 helpers per game (up from 8.6 in 2021-22).
Doncic’s defense is better too, but that might just be because of the team structure. But Mavericks fans will take what they can get. With consistent play throughout the year, Dallas moves from being a 52 win team to a 54 win team and a three seed in the West despite a roster that’s lacking variety in playmakers and in a Western Conference that’s somehow more difficult than the year prior. With Denver somehow playing worse despite a better roster, Doncic leaps Jokic in MVP discussions. The Bucks stumble late down the stretch and Antetokounmpo can’t make a closing argument. That leaves just Doncic and Joel Embiid in a two man race for the award and Doncic’s more fan-friendly game wins over voters, particularly after Embiid campaigns for the award.
Oh, and with the team racking up consistent wins, Doncic’s berating of the refs eases up somewhat. Alright maybe that one’s a pipe dream.
Worst Cast Scenario
The short break between Eurobasket and the NBA training camp results in Doncic getting just out of shape enough to be a topic of discussion to start the year. His nagging wrist injury from Eurobasket play nickle and dimes his efficiency and a frustrated Doncic starts the year shooting poorly from the whole floor.
Without a veteran leader on the team or a back up point guard, Doncic gets increasingly frustrated with himself while playing nearly 40 minutes a game. An unfortunate ankle injury to Doncic around game 20 puts the then .500 Mavericks on a path to the bottom of the play-in teams. Doncic comes back from his injury too early, but the Mavericks struggle to gain any ground in a Western Conference that is really heavy in talent. The Mavericks win the play-in game, but get swept in the first around against a loaded Los Angeles Clippers team.
Personally, I’d love for Luka Doncic to hit one of two related milestones.
First, Doncic getting to the line nine times a game would be amazing. Last season, Giannis and Embiid each shot over 11 per contest with no one else getting over eight. With how Doncic plays and drives, there’s no real reason he shouldn’t get more attempts (well, that refs don’t seem to care for him because he never stops complaining).
Second, Doncic hitting free throws at 78% or higher. Doncic’s shot 74% from the line for his career, so a 4% jump seems pretty hard. Had he hit 18 more free throws in 2021-22, he would’ve raised his percentage from 74.4%to 78.1%. Free throws are not easy, but they do relate back to his physical fitness and focus. It’s something that might make a big impact to his game over the course of the season.
As Luka Doncic goes, so go the Mavericks. While that’s been the case for some time, with Jalen Brunson gone, even more responsibility falls to Luka Doncic. It’s really not more complicated than this. If he plays well, it’ll be up to his teammates to keep up as best they can. If he plays poorly, then nothing the other Mavericks can do will make much of a difference.
It’s a good thing for all of us then, that Luka Doncic is a competitive lunatic. A big season should be on the horizon for Doncic. And we should do our best to enjoy a masterful basketball player as he continues his ascent.