Luka Doncic captured the NBA hearts and minds last season as he took home the Rookie of the Year award. This season, the new Boy Wonder has turned the Dallas Mavericks into a serious playoffs contender while making himself into a challenger for the MVP of the league. But just how much better can the 21-year-old get?
After collecting 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in his first go around the league, Doncic went to the gym and worked his butt off in the off-season, especially on his body and athleticism.
Teammate Maxi Kleber noticed a difference, saying: “I saw in the 2019 off-season that Luka got quicker … When I saw that in the summer I thought he would have a good season, but nobody thought he would be this good.”
“This good” meaning 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists, which has seen Doncic’s usage rate jump from 30.5 percent last season to 37.0 percent, meaning 37.0 percent of the Mavs’ possessions end in a Doncic shot, free throw or a turnover.
For historical perspective, Michael Jordan only had one usage rate over 35.0 percent (in 1986-87), the same with Kobe Bryant (2005-06) and even Allen Iverson’s one-man show with the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers had a usage rate of 35.9 percent.
Don’t forget, Doncic only turned 21 years old on February 28.
Since 1946, only two players before their 22nd birthday have averaged at least 20 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per 36 minutes. The first was Earvin “Magic” Johnson for the LA Lakers in 1980-81, when he had 21.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists per 36 minutes. Doncic is the other and his numbers per 36 minutes are: 31.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.4 assists.
The great Jerry West lauded Doncic, telling the Dallas Morning News: “He will be the best player Dallas has ever had. I have great respect for Nowitzki, but Dirk it not him.”
With the season halted due to the Corona virus, Dallas are second in the Southwest Division with a 40-27 record – good for seventh in the Western Conference. But the Mavericks have actually not been that good in tight games with just a 6-16 mark in games decided by five points or fewer.
Since Doncic has the ball in his hands most of the time, the responsibility for those struggles lands on the Slovenian’s shoulders. The stats definitely show that he has not performed in the clutch – the final five minutes of a close game or overtime.
Doncic’s effective field goal percentage for the season is 53.7 percent but only 39.4 percent in clutch moments. His three-point shooting drops from 32.4 percent for the whole season to an ice-cold 18.5 percent in the clutch. One issue is that everyone knows the ball will be in Luka’s hands.
Whatever the Mavs’ coaching staff comes up with to solve that, of course it will be Doncic who will have to deliver in the end. Still, Luka is still so early in his career, having only played 126 games through his first two seasons. And with more experience will come more confidence and knowledge of how to win tight games late.
For everything that Doncic does at the elite level, there are areas he needs work. He has clean shooting mechanics meaning putting in the time and getting reps will push up his 31.8 percent from downtown.
He will work on his fitness, strength and nutrition while he also can improve on his shot selection and working at the edge of the paint – not necessarily to post-up and score but also as a playmaker.
The best of all for Doncic and Dallas fans is that Luka, just like Nowitzki, likes going to the gym and working on his game. Meaning improvements to an already great star are just a matter of time.