In Game 2 of the Dallas Mavericks second round series versus the Phoenix Suns, the Suns relentlessly attacked Luka Doncic. The nba.com box score only credits Luka with allowing 6-of-10 defensive field goal attempts, but that is misleading. The Suns involved him in a ton of pick and rolls and got absolutely any shot they wanted. The worst part is despite all of these opportunities, Luka only had one steal and one turnover forced while defending.
Luka’s defense became a subject of national discussion following that game with many national pundits correctly pointing out that he simply had to be better. He has been. During the first two games, Luka had one total steal. He was credited with four total forced turnovers. In the four games since, he has 12 total steals. He has been credited with 17 total forced turnovers.
Luka has still given up his share of points. In fact, he has actually given up more points since Game 2. But he is making his own plays now and that is a huge difference. The Dallas Cowboys employ their own defensive playmaker who gives up his fair share of plays.
Trevon Diggs was a first team all pro defensive back despite leading the league in yards allowed in coverage per profootballfocus.com. He did this because he made plays. Diggs had the most interceptions of any NFL player in a single season since Everson Walls also had 11 in 1981.
The most valuable thing a defender in any sport can do is to take the ball away from their opponent. It is rather rudimentary analysis, but the opposing offense can’t score when they don’t have the ball. This is why creating turnovers is such a valuable skill on defense. It removes the chance of the opponent scoring and improves the chance that your own team scores.
Over the last four games, the Mavericks are leading the league in points off turnovers at 22.8. For reference, the Minnesota Timberwolves led the league in points off turnovers for the regular season at 19.8. The Mavericks were 26th in the league in this statistic during the regular season. The tradeoff has always been the Mavericks do not turn the ball over much and thus do not give up many points off of turnovers either. The Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies have both given up fewer opponents’ points off of turnovers over the last four games. The Mavericks and Heat are within a half point per game for the biggest net points off of turnovers.
Luka has not become a shutdown defender by any means but he has begun making his share of plays. The Mavericks will never expect Luka to become an elite defender because of his physical limitations and his offensive load. But he has to compete and these steals are an example of him doing exactly that. The Suns have continued to attack Luka, but there has been a price to pay for that aggression over the last four games. The Cowboys have made the decisions to live with Diggs giving up some plays because of the staggering number of plays he makes. The Mavericks are doing the same with Luka. If he can maintain this level of defensive playmaking coupled with his offensive brilliance, he may very well be the best player in the world.
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