A common discourse throughout the Dallas Mavericks community, especially in the offseason, is that Dallas has not put enough around their star to win at the highest level. It is a debate that dates back to the Dirk Nowitzki era, and one that rages on during the days of Luka Doncic. This is fair, as Dallas has objectively not put enough around Doncic, but the issue is not the assumption that they haven’t, but that they will be worse because of it.
If you are in the camp of thinking that the Mavericks are going to be a lesser team next year, you have not properly evaluated Luka Doncic’s skill level. Few things have the power to drastically sway the Mavericks season in a negative direction, and not putting enough roster pieces around Doncic simply is not one of them. He’s dominant offensively, he makes his teammates better, and he is improving so much that no matter how high you rank him, he deserves to be ranked higher.
To put the magnitude of his talent into perspective, let’s just ignore everything he did before April of 2022. Yes, let’s throw out his three All-Star appearances, two of his first team All-NBA selections, his All-Rookie selection, his Rookie of the Year Award, a EuroLeague All-Decade Team Selection (he was 18 when he last played in the EuroLeague), a EuroLeague Gold Medal, a EuroLeague All-Tournament Team selection, an Olympic qualifier MVP award, his home country of Slovenia’s first berth in the Olympics, and a selection to the Olympic All-Star Five Team the same year.
If you forget that he existed before April of 2022, the “reign of terror” he has been on since then would be enough to justify a case for him being the best player alive. Starting in April, Doncic suffered a calf strain in the regular season finale and missed the first three playoff games against the Utah Jazz. He returned in game four after not playing for weeks and casually dropped 30 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, including a go-ahead three that would have put them up for good, had the Jazz not mounted a miracle comeback.
Despite the hiccup at the end of game 4, Doncic took care of Utah in games five and six, and ousted the Jazz in the first round. Since then, Utah has rebranded, traded away their franchise centerpieces for loads of picks, and their longtime head coach has stepped down. Sure, maybe the Jazz were bound to blow up at some point, but not only did Doncic send them home early a year after they were the number one seed in the West, but the lasting image of the Mitchell-Gobert Jazz era is going to forever be Luka Doncic putting the final dagger their underwhelming tenure, and that is not something to take for granted.
An act like that is hard to follow, and yet Doncic’s encore in May was worthy of a standing ovation. Matching up with the number one seed, and the reigning Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns in round two, he averaged 32.6 points, seven assists, and nearly 10 rebounds, posting a margin of victory of +60 in the final two games, facing elimination. The loss for Phoenix was so devastating that they had to put out an apology to their fans after their season was terminated:
How often does that happen? The answer is never. To be so low that you have to issue an apology to your fans for losing; it simply does not happen. And yet it did, because of how dominant Doncic was.
Then, in the midst of a Western Conference Finals run, Doncic was named to the All-NBA First Team. Although Dallas lost in the Western Conference Finals, it was to the eventual champions, and Doncic’s summer was just getting started.
After leading Dallas the deepest in the playoffs they had been in 11 years, and leading the playoffs in scoring, Doncic went back to Europe to play for Slovenia in the EuroBasket Championship. He has led Slovenia to first place in group play and a bid to the quarterfinals, with wins already against Germany and France, who both have multiple NBA players. Not to mention, he just posted the second highest scoring game in EuroBasket History, with 47 points.
So, in just the last five months, Doncic has broken up a franchise, forced the best team in the NBA to publicly apologize for losing, been named to First Team All-NBA, and is leading his country to a potential deep run in a tournament that includes the last two MVP’s, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. And he’s doing it all at 23 years old.
So, next time you think “Will the Mavericks be worse? They haven’t done enough to help Luka”, remember that however good you think Doncic is, he is better, and he’s only improving.