When did the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings realize they made a mistake by passing on Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft?
Was it after Doncic’s miracle three at the buzzer against Portland? Perhaps his career first-triple in January did the trick?
This is not to slight Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley, both of whom should have productive NBA careers–but ultimately, passing on Doncic became increasingly foolish as last season wrapped up.
The start of 2019-20 has only hammered the point home.
Not only is Doncic shaping up to be the best player in his draft class (all due respect to Trae Young), but the 20-year Slovenian is already diving head-first into the All-NBA discussion.
Doncic’s performance through seven games backs up the hype. The sophomore is posting LeBron James-esque numbers, averaging 26.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game entering Friday, and the statistical heights aren’t misleading.
Dallas trails only Milwaukee in offensive rating. Only the Lakers and Bucks have more wins.
Doncic is one of the game’s premier offensive weapons, and is proving to be a true force. Dallas has found its next superstar.
Doncic showed flashes of brilliance throughout last season en route to the first Rookie of the Year selection for a European since Pau Gasol in 2002. Doncic entered the league as arguably the most accomplished international teenager in basketball history, and his maturity was evident from the outset.
His doughy frame notwithstanding, Doncic entered the NBA with an uncanny passing ability and a flair for the dramatic, having no trouble seizing control of Dallas’ offense late in games. Only five Western Conference players scored more crunch-time points last season, per NBA data. Doncic’s field goal percentage in clutch situations ranked sixth out of the 21 players to score at least 100 clutch points.
Most rookies are happy to finish the season as a replacement-level player. Such modest expectations did not apply to the European phenom, and the growth has only continued in year two in the NBA.
Doncic had his slate of criticisms lobbed at him in the pre-draft process. Skeptics cited his years of European club experience as a demerit, arguing Doncic was closer to his ceiling than his less-experienced counterparts. His frame was dissected at length, as was his middling footspeed. If Doncic could not sprint past aging European players, how could he get to the rim in the NBA?
The concerns were clearly overblown.
Doncic is by no means a speedster, but he can consistently work his way to the tin nonetheless. Proof of his efficiency is in the numbers, with 69.7% of his shots coming within three feet this season, up 6% from last season.
Few, if any, players Doncic’s age possess his cadre of canny moves in traffic. Doncic is an expert at splitting double teams and spinning past defenders in tight quarters. He uses his shot fake brilliantly, either ducking under leaping defenders or waiting until they approach the floor to initiate contact.
Doncic’s size is another major advantage. Similarly shifty players–namely, Young–rely on finesse and trickery to find breathing room, but Doncic can be the bully if called upon. He is increasingly willing to hunt the mouse in the house (a personal favorite NBA phrase), and larger defenders have little chance containing him if a switch is required. Doncic provides the ultimate pick-your-poison.
Have we mentioned he will not turn 21 for another three months?
Doncic’s efficiency as a lead ball handler has seen an uptick this season. He is currently averaging 1.04 points per isolation possession, trailing only James Harden and Malcolm Brogdon among the 19 players with 20-plus iso possessions. Doncic dips to 0.96 PPP as a pick-and-roll ball handler, though his natural abilities shine brightest in those situations.
Even as Kristaps Porzingis struggles in his first games with Dallas, the duo’s budding chemistry is already present. Given Doncic’s imagination and vision, Porzingis should feast as the team rolls toward Thanksgiving.
It is rare to find a young player with such creativity as Doncic. Acting as Dallas’ offensive fulcrum. he scans the floor with shades of a young LeBron, both in transition and in the half-court. There is seldom a Mavericks’ cutter missed, and shooters in either corner must be prepared for a crosscourt pass slung with one hand.
Doncic mastered the art of reading NBA defenses as a rookie. In year two, he’s beginning to manipulate them. The difference is largely responsible for Dallas’ early run up the Western Conference standings.
The Mavericks’ rise is ahead of schedule in Doncic’s second season. There were assumed to be growing pains after the addition of Porzingis, and Dallas’ core lacks top-end talent despite a wealth of depth. But Doncic appears set on changing the franchise’s trajectory before the next decade begins. He commands the floor with the maturity of a player in his second contract, and few players are better at scoring in tight windows.
Doncic has grown from phenom to potential All-Star starter in just one season, and the Western Conference has a new contender because of it.