In news that's shocking to absolutely no one at this point, the Dallas Mavericks struck gold in the 2018 NBA Draft when they traded up to the No. 3 pick to draft the European basketball prodigy, Luka Doncic. Many basketball experts acknowledged Doncic's potential for greatness from day one, given his glamorous resumé overseas, but no one was fully prepared for how he would take the league by storm in his rookie season.
From scraping the ceiling of the Trail Blazers' Moda Center with a buzzer-beating three to send the game into overtime, to orchestrating a personal 11-0 run in the final minutes of a thrilling win against the Houston Rockets, Doncic proved early and often that he had a flair for the dramatic.
"I've had pressure since I was 16," said Doncic at Mavs Media Day, after having an extremely productive offseason. "I like pressure."
There's a lot of truth to those words. When it comes to total points scored in the clutch (points scored in the last 5 minutes of a game with the point differential being 5 or less), the reigning Rookie of the Year finished 10th in the league last season, putting him on a list with some elite company.
Clutch Games Played
Clutch Points Scored
Doncic put up historical averages in year one -- 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, a stat line that hadn't been accomplished by a rookie since Oscar Robertson in 1960. Those numbers were good enough to win him the Rookie of the Year award in a 98-to-2 landslide over Trae Young (also a very good young player I might add), who was drafted by the Mavs and immediately traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Doncic.
If that wasn't impressive enough, there were only five players in the league last season who put up averages of at least 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists: reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, and Luka Doncic.
However, as good as Doncic was last season, he left a lot of room for improvement in year two when it comes to his efficiency. If you look at that 'clutch stat' table listed above, one of the things that really stands out is Doncic's free throw percentage. At 66.7 percent from the stripe, he's well below the averages of any of the other players on that list. For the season, Doncic shot 71.3 percent from the free-throw line. That's just not going to cut it for a guy with Doncic's kind of talent, and he knows it.
"Everything," said Doncic of what he wants to improve on this upcoming season. "Everything must go higher. That's what I'm looking for."
If Doncic's 'everything' could start with increasing his free-throw percentage to at least the league average -- which was right at 77-percent last season -- that should, in theory, add a couple of points to his points per game average, despite no longer having to shoulder as much of the offensive load with Porzingis in town.
There were a handful of times last season where Doncic would make a beautiful pass to a teammate for an open shot that didn't turn into an assist. You have to figure more assists will be heading Doncic's way this season, not only because of Porzingis, but because of some of the other acquisitions the Mavs made during the offseason, including bringing back 44-percent career three-point shooter (50-percent on corner threes), Seth Curry.
The fact that Doncic now seems to be in the best shape of his life should go a long way this season, in terms of being able to improve his overall efficiency. In the first half of last season, Doncic shot a respectable 37-percent from deep. However, in the second half of the season, Doncic shot a little less than 29-percent from deep on nearly the same number of attempts. He was exhausted from the NBA's 82-game gauntlet, and it showed.
Doncic, now having worked on his body, plus having a hopefully resurgent Porzingis at his disposal, figures to be "a nightmare for teams going forward," as Porzingis said in his own words.
(We were hoping to see a glimpse of the "nightmare'' when Dallas opens the NBA preseason against the OKC Thunder in Tulsa, but we’ll have to wait at least one more day, as the Mavs have chosen to sit Porzingis on the first night of the back-to-back.)
Better shooting percentages always seemed like a natural progression for Doncic heading into his second season, but with the extra help he'll now have around him, that progression could likely be accelerated.
We believe Luka Doncic, having invested in himself via the hard work, is ready to take the NBA by storm. And we believe the NBA isn't quite ready for the storm to come.