Mavs Weekend Donuts: Is Luka Like Harden (And Is That Good?)
DONUT 1: IS THAT GOOD? There are a lot of people saying that Houston Rockets star James Harden and Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic play the same kind of game. Is that true? And is that a good thing?
DONUT 2: TAKE A BREATH The Mavs' schedule has slowed a bit here - we are just over a quarter-of-a-season through, Dallas with a 15-6 record good for SECOND in the West, a home back-to-back this weekend and then no games until Thursday - and we all deserve to catch our collective breath.
They've been free to practice for a time now, and to reflect ... Maybe on their NBA Playoff-related outlook (look what even Daryl Morey says about Dallas!) or ...
DONUT 3: 'STAY HUMBLE' ... Maybe on coach Rick Carlisle's quote of the week.
“We did a lot of good things and we’re going to stay humble.''
You know what it means when a coach feels obliged to caution his team toward humility, right?
It means it is accomplishing things that make egos soar ... understandably.
DONUT 4: AN UNSELFISH EGO Which takes us back to Luka Doncic.
If Luka has a playing style that reminds of Harden - if - then why is is that NBA watchers don’t complain about Luka as much as they complain about James?
We travel in MFFL circles and we carry our biases with us. But ... People seem to enjoy watching Luka play, whereas many people (including, we'll say snarkily, some of his teammates) seem bored with the way Harden plays basketball.
Why is this? Are we being too pro-Luka here and too anti-Harden? Let's think this one through ...
DONUT 5: IT'S THE LAUNDRY For Houston fans, this feels like an unfair bias against their guy, with no basis in reality. “They play the same game, but you like him more than you like our guy.” Even the Rockets announcers are still whining about Harden’s runner-up MVP finish last year, and making up stats about how he drives to the basket twice as often as anyone else in the NBA.
DONUT 6: BY THE NUMBERS Just to be clear here, and not to denigrate Harden's ability to get to the rim: The announcers' claim is not true. The veteran Harden (who gets "veteran calls'') drives to the basket about 0.3 times more often than Atlanta youngster Trae Young, and only 2.1 times more per game than Dallas youngster Luka.
DONUT 7: IT'S THE ISO'S, STUPID Part of the issue with Harden’s game is not that he occasionally works in isolation - which Luka also does. Good iso players are a must, especially in late-clock situations when you need a guy who can create his own shot even when the offense breaks down.
No, it's something else.
It’s that Harden operates almost entirely as an isolation player. Harden touches the ball 87.1 times per game. That’s ninth in the NBA (Luka touches it 99.4 times). Harden's time of possession is 8.6 seconds (behind only Luka and Trae Young who are at 9.2). Harden passes the ball 48 times per game.
It’s not a perfect way to look at this stat, but it means that nearly half the time Harden gets the ball, it stops with him.
Luka, on the other hand, passes the ball 65.9 times per game. That means that two-thirds of Luka’s touches keep the ball moving and keep his teammates involved.
DONUT 8: QUOTABLE Well, there are a ton of "Quotables'' from old pal Shawn Marion as "The Matrix'' joins the incomparable "Mavs Step Back'' Podcast.
Great stuff from the SI.com / DBcom podcast ... the best in the Mavs' business.
DONUT 9: 'INVOLVED' OVER 'BORED' There’s a reason supporting players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, Justin Jackson, and Dwight Powell always seem ready. This is not a collection of "great'' players. But most recently evidenced in the win at the Lakers, they are "Be Ready'' players.
No, not in the old Carlisle "Be Ready''-to-come-off-the-bench way, good as that is. This is, "Be Ready, because when you cut, I'll deliver. When you pass to me, I'll pass it back. When I drive, find your spot.''
Luka loves getting people involved. He likes the joy and "artistry'' of the game. It’s part of how he has fun.
DONUT 10: ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? Meanwhile - and maybe he's hiding a wide grin behind the beard, who knows? - Harden never seems to be enjoying himself on the court. Does he?
Now, that's fine. We're not being "judge'y.'' Monta Ellis is an old favorite of ours, and he wore "surly'' all day long. On this year's edition of the Mavs? We almost broke the internet trying to find a picture of Tim Hardaway Jr. smiling during a game.
But Harden’s teammates also seem to check out sometimes, and we'll argue (admittedly from afar) that maybe that's because they know they’re not getting involved in a particular possession ... or a particular game.
DONUT 11: HERE'S HOPING ... Our argument is the The Harden Way is acceptable if you want to win 55 regular-season games but then flame out in the playoffs. Does being an "Iso King'' work in the postseason? Or do you need to trust your teammates then ... meaning that now, you need to get them used to the responsibility of contributing?
We think this will be a fun sidebar to watch for this weekend, with the Pels here today in a 1 p.m. tip and on Sunday a 6 p.m. visit from the Kings: When Luka takes over a game (as he surely will), will it be to the detriment of the team's overall good? Will unselfishness help win these two games ... which'll help Dallas win more after that?
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD "We love the team. It’s a group of guys getting closer all the time. The commitment to defense the last 10 games has been a real difference-maker for us. And we got to continue with it. We've got a good group.'' - Coach Rick Carlisle.