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Luka Doncic got back into the paint against the Rockets

Doncic’s shot diet has been jumper heavy this season, but he bulldozed his way to the rim against Houston

NBA: Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Doncic is having another fantastic season — he’s averaging over 30 points per game again, he’s keeping his turnovers in check, he’s still getting to the line a lot, and once again steering the ship of one of the best offenses in the NBA. There’s no denying however that this season is slightly different than year’s past, and that comes from Doncic’s declining rim attempts.

For most of Doncic’s NBA career, his best trait has been not only his ability to worm his way into the paint, but how ridiculously good he was at finishing once he got there. That ability to live in the lane not only opened up his scoring, but also passing angles as well, as Doncic has been one of the best three point shot creators in the league. His ability to drive and kick would be neutered if he wasn’t such a threat in the paint.

So funny enough, Doncic is at the lowest rim rate of his career so far this season. It’s been slowly dropping since his absurd 2020 season where he practically lived in the paint, but now it’s dropped to the lowest of his career. In turn, Doncic’s three point rate is the highest it’s ever been and it makes sense so far — Doncic is shooting a career-high 38.8 percent from three, so Doncic letting it fly has been a plus.

This isn’t to say Doncic’s dropping rim rate is all bad, but it’s just a trend that’s noticeable. The Mavericks are still an elite offense, and they’ve been an elite offense every season since Doncic’s rookie year. As teams have adjusted to guarding Doncic, so has Doncic adjusted to them. He’s adapted a midrange game into his repertoire to help combat teams that try hard to wall off the paint against him, and Doncic becoming a good jump shooter is probably the final piece to him becoming a truly unstoppable offensive force.

Luka Doncic Share of Shot Attempts by Distance

Season 0-3 Feet 3-10 Feet 10-16 Feet 16-3P 3P
Season 0-3 Feet 3-10 Feet 10-16 Feet 16-3P 3P
2018-19 20.9% 21.2% 10.3% 4.2% 43.3%
2019-20 26.0% 23.7% 5.8% 1.4% 43.1%
2020-21 18.0% 20.1% 15.3% 6.0% 40.6%
2021-22 12.8% 23.9% 16.5% 6.2% 40.6%
2022-23 17.6% 25.2% 14.5% 5.4% 37.3%
2023-24 10.7% 19.8% 19.8% 5.6% 44.1%
Career 18.4% 22.7% 13.1% 4.8% 41.0%
Basketball Reference

Still, the best shot in basketball is a layup, and it was good to see Doncic reverse the trend against the Rockets on Tuesday night. Doncic had one of his best paint games of the season, making nine shots total in the paint, with six of those coming in the restricted area.

The Rockets have been one of the better defenses in the NBA, but their personnel made it a bit easier for Doncic to attack the basket. Doncic is one of the best in picking a mismatch and hammering it, and that’s exactly what he did Tuesday night.

Doncic had two spots he clearly focused on: guard Fred VanVleet and center Alperen Sengun. VanVleet is a quality defender for his size and Sengun has been much improved under new coach Ime Udoka, but both had size and speed issues to keep up with Doncic.

The Mavericks repeatedly ran Doncic screens involving Sengun’s defender all night, so much so that the Rockets tried to counter it by having Sengun guard a non-threatening perimeter player like Derrick Jones Jr. or Grant Williams. Doncic, of course, just used Jones and Williams to set the screen and kept Sengun involved defensively throughout the night.

With VanVleet the plan was simple: force the switch and have Doncic put on his big boy pants in the paint. In the fourth quarter the Mavericks built and maintained a lead simply by getting Kyrie Irving to screen for Doncic and force VanVleet to switch. It was almost exactly how Irving played with LeBron James in 2016 when the Cavaliers won the title, with Irving screening Steph Curry onto James.

Once Doncic had the switch, he attacked aggressively.

It’s just one game, so it’s impossible to know whether this is the turning point of Doncic reversing his rim rate numbers, or just a blip on the radar. The Mavericks have shown so far this season they don’t need Doncic to bully his way to the rim every night to have an elite offense, so perhaps it’s for the best for Doncic to conserve these moments for when the Mavericks really need them, to help reduce the wear and tear on his body. Almost all of Doncic’s injuries over the years have come from him barreling toward the basket. Perhaps this is a conscious effort so Doncic can remain fresh throughout the season, which would be a big boon to the Mavericks later in the season. It’s something to watch for as the season progresses.