As Luka Dončić prepared for Monday’s matchup against the Phoenix Suns, he sat just 11 points shy of 10,000 points, a mark that would immediately qualify him for the all-time statistics leaderboards and symbolize the dominance the sixth-year Slovenian guard has showcased in his short, yet prolific career.
When he drained a deep three-pointer to force a Phoenix timeout, he became one of the youngest players in league history to reach the milestone. George Mikan was the first when he reached the mark in the 1955-1956 season and over 250 players have reached that mark since.
Yet, few in NBA history have done it as quickly and efficiently as Dončić has.
Dončić reached the 10,000 points mark in 358 games, the fewest games needed to reach the milestone among active players. LeBron James - the NBA’s all-time leading scorer - needed 368 games to reach 10,000 points.
In total, Dončić tied for the seventh-fewest games to 10,000 behind:
⁃ Wilt Chamberlain (236) (!)
⁃ Michael Jordan (303)
⁃ Elgin Baylor (315)
⁃ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (319)
⁃ Oscar Robertson (334)
⁃ George Gervin (355)
As mentioned earlier, hitting this mark qualifies a player for placement on all-time leaderboards, including points per game. Dončić’s 27.98 points per game is third-most behind only Jordan and Chamberlain.
When he told the media during his rookie year that it was easier to score 30 points in the NBA than it was to score 30 points in Europe, he was criticized harshly. Nearly five years later, he’s one of the greatest scorers in the league and is on pace to be one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen.
We’ll never definitively know if it’s easier to score in Europe or the NBA, but we should take Dončić’s assertion with a huge grain of salt as someone who’s played - and excelled - in both systems. At just 24 years old, he’s shown that he has what it takes to dominate the world’s most talented basketball league in its most talented era.
These 10,000 points don’t even include his playoff career where he’s already climbing those leaderboards too. His eight 40-point games in the playoffs are already tied for 13th-most ever. His 32.5 playoffs points per game is second, behind Jordan.
Did I mention he’s only 24?
Oh, and he’s one of this generation’s greatest passers. The NBA hasn’t seen a talent like this since LeBron and it’s time fans started taking notice. In a league where championships are the ultimate prize, Dončić’s accomplishments can often be swept under the rug.
But we’re watching an all-time great player dominate the game in a way few ever have. It’s time to appreciate what Dončić is doing and how a player who’s not exceptionally fast or athletic dominates a league where speed and athleticism are glorified.
Barring a tragedy, this will not be the only 10,000 points Dončić scores in his career. When he hits 20,000 in a few years, that will be a big deal too. And he’s only getting better.
It took Dončić 358 games to reach 10,000 points, an average of just under 28 points a game. His average over the last two seasons exceeded 32.0 points per game. If he keeps up this pace, Dončić will hit 20,000 in less than four seasons.
There’s no guarantee he’ll remain at that pace but there’s also no reason to doubt it. Every season, Dončić comes into the league having improved something. Early in his career, it was his midrange jumper. Now it’s three-point shooting and free throws. His 37.6% three-point percentage is a career-high, as is his 77.8% free throw efficiency.
He’s only getting better.
But before we look ahead to his next 10,000, let’s look back at his first 10,000, looking at historic performances and previous milestones that led to the Christmas celebration this year.
First NBA basket
Dončić came into the NBA as a 19-year-old European prospect ready to show the league - and the two teams who passed on him in 2018’s NBA draft - that they were wrong about him.
In his first game, Dončić faced off against the Phoenix Suns, a team he’d come to despise later in his career. But on that October night, he recorded his first NBA points on a fast break situation when he received a pass from Wesley Matthews and laid the ball in. Ironically, his first NBA basket was probably one of his easiest.
Notable Rookie Performances
Three days later, Dončić scored a team-high 26 points in just his second career game to lead the Mavericks to a 140-136 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He converted eight of his 16 field goal attempts and scored five points in the fourth quarter, including a leaning floater to give the Mavericks a five-point lead with a little over two minutes remaining.
This would be Dončić’s first official “clutch game” - which the NBA defines as a game within five points with under five minutes to go. He’d go on to have multiple clutch moments his rookie year. The go-ahead dunk in Denver, the improbable overtime-forcing three in Portland, and the personal 11-0 run against the Houston Rockets were just a few moments from Dončić’s debut campaign that showed he would be a force for years to come.
Year Two: The Birth Of A Superstar
After taking home Rookie of the Year, many expected Dončić to take a step forward in his second season, but I’m not sure how many could’ve predicted the leap he took.
Dončić averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists a game to take the league by storm. He scored 30 or more points 27 times that year. Twenty. Seven. And that was in a shortened season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
If his regular-season performance wasn’t enough, he stepped up in the playoffs. After leading the Mavericks to their first playoff appearance in four seasons, Dončić set the playoff record for most points in a playoff debut (42) in Game 1.
Three games later, he delivered one of the sport’s best playoff performances ever when he scored 43 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, dished out 13 assists and hit the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the series at two games apiece.
Those points don’t count towards his 10,000, but they do show the depth and impact of his scoring. No matter the stakes, if you need somebody to score 30 points in a game, there are few options better than Dončić in today’s NBA.
The Evolution Of Dončić’s Scoring
While Dončić’s improved three-point and free throw shooting might grab the headlines, it’s what he’s doing around the basket that makes him special. Through his first 27 games this season, Dončić shot an unworldly 81.8% on shots from 0-3 feet and 61.2% on shots 3-10 feet out.
His step back threes are what make highlight reels, but that insane efficiency is what makes him so hard to stop. Nearly 82% on shots from 0-3 feet is almost unheard of. Shaquille O’Neal, who many consider to be one of the most dominant forces the league’s ever seen, was never that efficient from 0-3 feet. The highest mark of his career was 79.2% in the 2000-2001 season.*
· Shot location data was not available until the 1996-1997 season, so O’Neal’s first four seasons are not included.
Dončić’s ability to stop on a dime and slow the play down has left defenses stymied for almost six years now. When Dončić turns that corner and gets downhill, it’s nearly impossible to stop him. Put a small guy on him? He’ll back him down. Put a big guy on him? He’ll use a series of pump fakes to either get an open shot, hit a fadeaway, or draw a foul. Throw a double team at him and he’ll throw one of the greatest passes you’ve ever seen.
60 Points, 21 Rebounds, 10 Assists.
Finally, who could forget, Dončić’s – to date – most prolific scoring performance of his career. 60 points in a thrilling come-from-behind, overtime victory against the New York Knicks. The stat-line will live in NBA history forever because it is the only 60-20-10 game in the league’s history.
However, what often gets lost in the story is the circumstances that led to Dončić’s 60 points. At the end of the third quarter on that December 2022 night, Dončić had 35 points, but the Mavericks were trailing by 10. It looked like one of those games Mavs fans know all too well. Luka stuffs the stat sheet, but the team loses.
And for the first 47 minutes and 31 seconds, that appeared to be the case. Dallas trailed 112-103 with 29 seconds remaining.
Then, Luka took over.
After a Christian Wood three-pointer, Dončić swarmed Quentin Grimes and forced a jump ball. He passed the ball to Tim Hardaway Jr., who bricked a fading three-pointer, but Dončić was there for the offensive rebound. He got the ball, converted the layup, got fouled, and made the free throw.
That was his 50th point.
He’d assist on a Spencer Dinwiddie three to cut the deficit to two seconds later and then, down three with just over four seconds remaining, he stepped to the line. First free throw was perfect. He knew he’d have to miss the second to try and give Dallas a chance to get the offensive rebound to tie the game.
He did it himself, grabbing the board and flinging it towards the basket while floating in midair like a gazelle. As the ball fell through the hoop, the crowd at American Airlines Center was delirious. Dallas had come back from a nine-point deficit in 27 seconds, a larger margin in less time than Tracy McGrady’s famous comeback nearly two decades earlier.
Dončić scored seven more points in overtime to seal the 126-121 victory. It is one of the greatest performances in NBA history and accounts for 60 of his 10,000 points.
For every moment like that, there’s a 41-point game against the Warriors on Mar. 3, 2022. There’s a 37-point game against Portland on Mar. 21, 2021.
And if you add those three games together, you only get to 138 points. He scored over 9,800 more times that I couldn’t get to in this article. This milestone, at this age, is an impressive accomplishment for a man whose accomplishments could probably get him into the Hall of Fame if he never played another second of basketball.
10,000 down, x to go. Only time will tell how high Luka Dončić will go.