By Mike Stearman, PSO Director of Basketball Operations
Nov 19, 2019

One of the most entertaining storylines of the 2018-19 season was the emergence of wunderkind Luka Doncic. Throughout his rookie season, the Harden-Ginobili hybrid dazzled casual and hardcore NBA fans alike with a free and easy style of play, culminating in runaway Rookie of the Year honors. The anticipation for his second year was colossal, but he’s lived up to the hype and then some. 13 games in, the Mavs are 8-5 and Luka is averaging a damn near a triple-double at only 20 years old. Here’s how the foreign ‘Chosen One‘ has taken the next step to infinite greatness. 

  • 3rd overall pick in 2018 NBA draft by Atlanta Hawks (traded to Dallas for Trae Young & 2019 1st Rd Pick)
  • Signed first professional contract with Real Madrid at 13 years old
  • Won EuroLeague MVP at 19 years old 
  • 2018-19 Per-36 Min stats: 23.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.7 APG
  • 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year (98 of 100 first place votes)
  • 2019-20 Stats (13 GP): 28.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 9.3 APG with an 54.8 eFG%
  • Finished fifth in Western Conference Front-court All-Star voting
  • 2019-20 Advanced Stats: 30.0 PER (4th), 11.4 Box Plus/Minus (2nd) and 2.2 Win Shares (5th)
  • Mavericks are 8-5 and tied for fourth in the Western Conference

From Year 1 to Year 2, Luka’s improved his scoring average from 21.2 to 28.3. It’s quite the leap, but it’s even more impressive considering he’s only taking three more shots per game. Luka has improved his efficiency in nearly every offensive facet of the game. Of players with three isolation possessions per game, his eFG% (52.6) is third in the league and up 7% from a year ago. Even in offensive sets he runs infrequently (post ups, handoffscoming off screens) his points per possession have bumped up.

One of Luka’s biggest strengths is his beautiful finishing ability around the rim. Fifth in the league in drives per game and first in FG% when shooting off drives, he’s refined his offensive repertoire when attacking the basket. Let’s not forget his improvement at the line, where he’s knocking down free throws at an 82.6% clip, a 12% uptick from a season ago. Of all players averaging 25 PPG this year, Luka is seventh in eFG% at 54.1%. Keep in mind, he’s doing all of this as the Mavericks de facto point guard, who are second in the league in offensive rating at 112.6. He’s become not just the teams best scorer, but he’s their primary facilitator as well.

One of the standout abilities Luka showed his rookie year was a natural understanding of pick-and-roll actions far beyond his years. In 8.7 possessions per game, he averaged 0.90 PPP (points per possession) on 50.6 eFG%, landing him in the 68th percentile league-wide. That’s certainly above average, but far from the ranks of elite orchestrators like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, or James Harden. One year later, and he’s surpassed all of those guys. In 10.3 PnR’s a game, his PPP has jumped to 1.16 and eFG% to 61.5%, while his turnover percentage dropped from 19.3% to 13.7%. 

Take all the stats into account, and Luka tops out in the 93rd percentile, trailing only Damian Lillard. To sum it up, his scoring frequency in these actions is 53.2%. When Luka runs a pick and roll, the Mavs score more than half of the time. To make matters worse for the rest of the league, Kristaps Porzingis still isn’t 100% himself yet. Imagine the possibilities with a healthy KP rolling to the rim and Luka handling the rock. If not for a certain duo in Los Angeles, that’d be the scariest pick-and-roll combo in the NBA. 

Let’s face it, rebounding isn’t a “sexy” stat, and it’s certainly not easy to evaluate (ex. Russell Westbrook). It has to be judged within the context of the game, and Luka shines in this regard. Despite never being the most athletic or tallest guy on the floor, Luka always manages to come up with the board. It’s due to his natural basketball instincts. Of the 53 players averaging at least 7.0 RPG, Luka has the sixth-highest adjusted rebound chance percentage at 75.5%. For all the non-analytics nerds out there, that means that three out of four times Luka has a chance at a rebound, he’s getting it. 

His 10.7 RPG doesn’t just look great on the stat sheet, but they’re crucial to the Mavericks offense as well. Take a look at the big men on the roster. For all his unicorn-ish abilities, Kristaps Porzingis has never been a premier rebounder, same with Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell. Doncic alleviating that burden allows them to play to their strengths, like rim protection and running the fastbreak. Doncic’s rebounding gives head coach Rick Carlisle freedom to toy with different lineups as well (eight different starting fives this year) whether it’s bringing in shooters or calling on perimeter defenders instead of traditional big men because Doncic can handle the glass. On pace for one of the best rebounding seasons for a perimeter player in historyDoncic is setting a new standard for NBA wings.

Given his brilliance to start 2019-20, it seems ludicrous that Luka fell to the third pick in the draft, behind Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley. At just 20 years old, he’s almost averaging a triple-double. How did the Suns and Kings not take advantage of the opportunity to add this game-changing talent? It came down to conditioning, which at the time was a fair criticism. In his rookie year, Luka appeared out of shape, struggling to keep up with the pace of the NBA at times and bowling over defensively. In response, he made it a mission in the offseason to transform his body, and it’s paid dividends thus far. 

Before the season, Luka claimed he lost 20 pounds (take that exact figure with a grain of salt), and that he’d be better on the defensive end. 12 games in, his Defensive Box Plus/Minus has increased from 1.2 to 1.7 and his steals from 1.1 to 1.3 per game. Head Coach Rick Carslile commented on Luka’s dedication back in August, and has backed it up by increasing his usage rate. If this trend continues and Luka can become just average defensively, he’ll be in the discussion for the best player in the league with the value he brings to every other facet of the game.

In 1998, Dallas traded up to draft NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki in what was the greatest front office move in team history. Exactly 20 years later, Mark Cuban and co. may have topped it by snagging Luka Doncic with the third pick in the 2018 draft. To put it bluntly, what Luka is doing at age 20 has never happened before in NBA history (not even with LeBron James). 

To approximate, Luka is averaging 28-10-9 so far this season, while LeBron put up an almost as impressive 27-7-7 in his sophomore campaign. Similar numbers, but keep in mind Luka’s doing it in seven less minutes per game. Has it been mentioned that he’s only 20 years old!? Who’s to say he’s even close to reaching his full potential? Imagine him at age 27, experienced from all types of NBA defenses while also in the best shape of his life. The discussion isn’t how many All-Star games will he make anymore, it’s how many MVPs will be showcased in his trophy case.

Future Outlook: Perennial MVP candidate and potential face of the NBA

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