There was a point in time where, within this website at least, writing about Luka Doncic was all the entire staff wanted to do. After all, once a team drafts a generational superstar, things get exciting in a hurry. But with excitement comes expectations and after reaching the Western Conference Finals last year, this year has been a profound disappointment, both for the Dallas Mavericks and very likely for Luka Doncic as well.
I write all this preamble as a note, simply because when we create an off-season plan for Mavs Moneyball, the Luka Doncic season review sat open. This season the thread on how to talk about Luka Doncic in a reasonable sense has been lost. But I’ll try.
Season in Review
The 2022-23 season saw the 23 (eventually 24) year old Luka Doncic put up massive numbers once again. In 66 contests, he averaged 32.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8 assists, and 1.4 steals. He averaged a career-high 10.5 free throws per contest, shot 74% from the line to go along with another career-high in 49.6% shooting from the floor.
The statistical highlight for the season for Doncic came during the team’s seven-game win streak in December. Doncic was incandescent, averaging 37.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 9.9 assists, and 2.3 steals while 55.6 shooting from the floor (40.1% from three). That streak of performances featured three games north of 50 points (including the 60 point win over the Knicks).
Looking back now, it’s hard to pinpoint where things started to go sideways in January for Doncic and the team, but the cascade of losing started in January of 2023 and the Mavericks couldn’t pull out of the tailspin. Though Doncic’s numbers never suffered, his commitment to defense, his chattering to the referees, and general demeanor on the floor degraded over time. Luka did seem briefly rejuvenated by the trade for Kyrie Irving in February, but injuries paired with a team that simply didn’t have enough depth, held Luka back from making the impact he’d made for most of the past several seasons.
Doncic will likely make an All-NBA team for the fourth time in five seasons, continuing a remarkable run of individual achievements. But the season’s losing clearly took a toll on him and after a late-season loss to the Hornets he offered this quote: “It’s really frustrating. I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there, you know?”
This one’s easy. On December 27th, Doncic scored 60 points, grabbed 21 boards, and dished out 10 assists in what was the NBA’s performance of the year against the New York Knicks. Dallas needed every basket from Luka, including a late-game miracle shot off a missed free throw.
This was a literal historic performance and we’re very unlikely to see a game quite like this from Doncic, or anyone, ever again.
This was the first year of Doncic’s max rookie extension, with him making $37 million in the 2022-23 season. His extension was for a five year deal, so as of this moment he has four years remaining and $178 million owed to him. However, it’s worth noting that the final year of his deal is a player option and historically players tend to opt out in order to either re-sign an even larger deal or move on to another team. That leverage point is why many observers, including me, think the Mavericks have less time than it seems on paper to right the ship and build a true championship contender around Doncic.
There’s no other way to say this, so I might as well get on with it: the Dallas Mavericks need more from Luka Doncic. After a remarkable statistical season, this feels like a preposterous statement. And yet, even the staunchest of Doncic defenders can point to numerous areas where he simply hasn’t shown much improvement during his time as an NBA player.
Once again, he can show up in better shape (and stay that way, Doncic’s ability to fall out of shape during a season is remarkable). Though one could argue that his defensive lapses aren’t all on him, it ties into his focus and frankly, Dallas can’t have him exist as a liability all the time on the defensive end. Related to that is his maturity and engagement with officials. He’s simply got to be better and not just for a game or two. He needs to commit to being more of a grown-up in terms of how he deals with his frustration with officials. It impacts both his game and the team’s defense and it’s a real thing that’s going to follow him around until he cleans it up. While we’re picking nits, he really has to shoot better from the line too.
I did the season preview for Doncic as well and considering how every one of our worst roster concerns came true, I think he had a pretty good season. The recent dreck to end the year sticks in the minds of all fans and critics, but the fact is, at one point in the year Dallas was the 4th seed in the West. That’s Luka Doncic.
There are better days ahead for Dallas and Luka, I hope, but this season ended up as one we’d all mostly like to forget.