Why Mavericks’ Luka Doncic is so good, so quickly

Luka Doncic is 20 years old. Watch him play basketball, however, and he looks more like a player who has spent 20 years in the NBA. Before he can even legally drink in the U.S., Doncic has wedged himself near the top of league leaderboards in points (30.6) and assists (9.6) per game, ranking third and second, respectively. For his latest feat, Doncic took down LeBron James — the only player ahead of Doncic when it comes to dropping dimes — and his Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles, 114-100.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Doncic — who scored 27 points, dished out 10 assists and grabbed nine boards against L.A.  —  continued his incredible early season run against James. That’s because LeBron was the last player to have the monster impact Doncic is having just a year out of his teens. If you’re trying to figure how this young Slovenian star is pulling this off, here’s a key number: 3,441. That’s the minutes Doncic played professionally before he even stepped on an NBA floor.

When he was just 16, Doncic began his career with Real Madrid, a team in Spain that competes in two of the best competitions outside the NBA — the ACB, Spain’s top domestic league, and Euroleague, the intercontinental competition that pits Europe’s best clubs against each other. For three years, Doncic honed his game against former NBA players and top international stars, a vast improvement in competition faced by players who spend just a lone season in the NCAA.

That experience is exemplified by Doncic’s passing. He plays chess, with some flair, whereas most NBA players play checkers. Doncic whips passes to the weakside corner, lob balls into space where only his teammates can catch, or uses his eyes to bait defenders away from the true target about to receive his pass.

While we often think of assists as a lone category, what Doncic is really doing is creating points without shooting the ball himself — 24.6 points per game, according to NBA.com’s tracking data. During his last season in Spain, Doncic averaged a whopping 1.275 points per possession on passes out of pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports. That mark was the best in Spain and fifth best in any league outside of the NBA. So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Doncic has carved up the NBA with his ball movement.

What is a little surprising is how Doncic has scored. Scroll through Twitter during his rookie year last season and you’ll find plenty of highlights featuring Doncic using some crafty dribble and footwork combination before launching a step-back jumper. This ability to create space before launching a shot helps Doncic balance his elite passing. And this season, the Mavericks’ forward is attempting more “open”  shots per game than any other player besides the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard. (“Open” is the term NBA.com uses to define shots where a defender is four to six feet away.)

Open shots don’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a high degree of difficulty either. Because Doncic incorporates so many step-backs — NBA.com has him at 102 since he entered the league — it sort of masks where he’s at as a shooter. Doncic was considered a good but not great outside shooter before he entered the NBA. The one flaw in his game is that he shoots 33 percent from beyond the arc, so it’s scary to think where Doncic will be should he improve in that area.

If you are looking for an area where Doncic has already improved, it’s his commitment to attacking the basket. He averages 18.3 drives per game this season, according to NBA.com data, up from 14.7 during his rookie season. This mindset of going downhill more has helped Doncic up his free throw rate from .409 last season to .484 this season. In raw numbers, that means Doncic is averaging just a shade under three more free throws per game.

Getting to the free throw line is really where a lot of the NBA’s offensive stars have separated themselves from other players. In his first season in the NBA, Doncic was in the middle of the pack at getting to the line. This season, the only players ahead of the Mavericks’ star are Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston’s James Harden — pretty good company as far as offensive powerhouses go.

This evolution to Doncic’s game is one that would have been hard to see coming. For all the benefits of honing his craft in Europe, the spacing is quite different there. The international line is shorter and there are no rules, like the NBA’s defensive three seconds, to keep hulking big men from planting themselves in front of the basket. Doncic has clearly figured that in the NBA’s new spacing craze, he’s going to encounter far less resistance heading to the rim than he ever could have imagined while playing overseas.

This combination of passing, shooting and driving have added up to Doncic propelling Dallas to the top of the NBA’s offensive hierarchy. The Mavericks are first in the league at 116.1 points per 100 possessions. The return to health of Kristaps Porzingis, as well as some other new additions, has boosted Dallas’ attack, but make no mistake, the key to it all is Doncic.

In the 648 minutes Doncic played entering Sunday night’s game, the Mavericks posted an amazing 117.1 points per 100 possessions. When the Slovenian star sits, that number “plummeted” to a still-solid 110.1 points per 100.

Although Doncic and Dallas are not excelling on defense, the team clearly is improving. With Sunday night’s win over the first-place Lakers (17-3), the Mavericks are tied for fourth in the Western Conference. For those looking for a better indicator of the team’s performance, Dallas also boasts the conference’s second-best point differential, trailing only the Lakers.

It’s a good bet that James is going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of the season to see how Doncic and Dallas perform. And when he does glance back, the player who took the NBA by storm en route to one of the best careers in league history might be looking at a player a lot like his old self.

By: Brett Koremenos


Rick Carlisle: Social media puts pressure on stars to generate highlights

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle believes that NBA superstars are under enormous pressure to make highlight reel-worthy plays to appease fans hungry for such content on social media, an issue that concerns him when it comes to young star Luka Doncic.

“Social media has created really an undue pressure on guys like Luka to generate highlights,” Carlisle said, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN. “[Fans] want to be seeing stuff every day on their phones.”

Doncic, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year is on a meteoric rise to superstardom, and rightfully so, as his second season is starting off on a remarkable, if not unprecedented, trajectory.

Doncic does admit he sometimes tries too hard to make the flashier play instead of the smarter one.

“That’s what I do. I like to enjoy the game,” Doncic said. “I like to be an entertainer. Sometimes it’s good to be, sometimes it’s too much. I just like to enjoy playing basketball.”

Carlisle of course recognizes social media isn’t going anywhere. He nevertheless believes Doncic has his priorities in the right order.

“I understand that he’s a performer, he’s an artist,” Carlisle said. “It’s important for him to feel that he is out there doing a job to win a game, but also he’s an entertainer. I get that. What the great players in history of sport have in common is they can take the understanding of the entertainment side and fit it into the team concept and still make winning the priority.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that for Luka Doncic, winning is the No. 1 and most important thing, hands down.”

While social media obviously can be a pervasive presence when it comes to the day-to-day experiences of the modern superstar athlete, there has long been an abundance of outlets that celebrated NBA player highlights, from the “Top 10 Plays” list on “SportsCenter” to programs like “NBA Inside Stuff.”

However, social media without question has a greater potential to exert a toxic influence on NBA superstars. Carlisle presumably is simply highlighting how Twitter and the like has changed the game in that regard.


By: Jason Rowan

Celtics Beat Mavs, Win 16 Straight

Written by Tim MacMahon at ESPN.com

The Boston Celtics’ 16-game winning streak has been built on big comebacks and consistent crunchtime dominance.

The Dallas Mavericks became the most recent victim Monday night, as the Celtics rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull out a 110-102 overtime victory, fueled by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving’s spectacular efficient, season-high 47-point performance.

It marked the eighth comeback win during Boston’s streak, which is three games shy of tying the franchise record set during the 2008-09 season. The Celtics trailed by double digits in five of those comebacks, including their past three games, when they trailed the Golden State Warriors by 17, the Atlanta Hawks by 16 and the Mavericks by 13 before pulling out wins.

“Teams make their runs and we just stay the course,” Irving said after single-handedly outscoring the Mavs by a 17-12 margin in the final 12:47 of the game. “We’re just unwavering in our approach, and I think that we’ve been that way. In the last few games, we’ve been down quite a few, so for us it’s just about battling back when teams get a comfortable rhythm, whether it’d be in the first half or the second half. As a group, we continue just to stick together throughout anything and everything.”

Irving, playing with a clear plastic mask to protect the minor facial fractures he suffered earlier this month, followed up a 30-point performance in Saturday’s win over the Hawks by becoming the first Boston player since Larry Bird to score 45-plus points while shooting 70 percent or higher from the floor, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

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Mark Cuban Thinks The Mavs Wouldn’t Be Rebuilding If Part Of The East

Written by Tim MacMahon at ESPN.com

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban cited the dominance of the Golden State Warriors and depth of the Western Conference as reasons for the direction of his franchise.

“We’re rebuilding. Right?” Cuban said during the ESPN broadcast of the Mavs’ 88-77 win Sunday over the Phoenix Suns in the Las Vegas Summer League. “There’s no question about it. If we were in the East, we would not be rebuilding. We’d be handling things completely different. I think I’m going to kidnap [commissioner] Adam Silver and not let him out until he moves us to the Eastern Conference.

“Given where we are, given where the Warriors are and what’s happening in the Western Conference, it kind of sealed what we have to do.”

Dallas is coming off a 33-49 season, the franchise’s first losing campaign since 1999-2000, when Cuban purchased the team midseason. The Mavs missed the playoffs for only the second time in the past 17 seasons and used its lottery pick to select point guard Dennis Smith Jr., whom coach Rick Carlisle immediately projected to be the starter next season.

The Mavs’ had dual goals last summer: attempting to acquire players who can be part of the franchise’s foundation after Dirk Nowitzki’s retirement but trying to build a team that gave Nowitzki a chance to compete in the playoffs during its golden years. A slow start, which occurred in part due to an Achilles tendon injury that sidelined Nowitzki for most of the first two months of the season, contributed to the Mavs’ midseason decision to emphasize the youth movement.

Dallas parted with two stopgap veterans at the trade deadline, waiving point guard Deron Williams and dumping center Andrew Bogut in the trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that sent center Nerlens Noel to Dallas.

The Mavs have been mostly spectators during this free-agency period, aside from re-signing the 39-year-old Nowitzki to a hometown-discount, two-year, $10 million deal and acquiring Josh McRoberts in a salary dump from the Miami Heat. They intend to re-sign Noel, a restricted free agent who hopes to drive up his price by receiving an offer sheet from another team.

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Dirk Takes A Paycut to Help Mavs Win Next Season

Written By Eddie Sefko at Sportsday.com

Dirk Nowitzki will be taking a massive pay cut this season — not that that’s anything new for him.

Nowitzki and the Mavericks on Thursday were close to agreeing on a two-year contract that would pay him $5 million per season, with the second year at the Mavericks’ option, two sources said.

It’s essentially the same contract he signed last summer, just for $20 million less. The second season of last year’s deal was only guaranteed for $5 million.

Retaining Nowitzki was a formality. It will be his 20th season, all with the Mavericks and the only question was how much of a hometown discount he would give them.

Contracts can be signed anytime now as the moratorium period ended at 11 a.m. Thursday.

What Nowitzki’s deal does is free up enough money to make sure the Mavericks can match any offer restricted free agent Nerlens Noel gets, even if some team ponies up with the maximum $24.75 million.

The Mavericks and Noel still are in negotiations.

Nowitzki has given the Mavericks steep discounts in the past and last year, when other free-agent dealings didn’t pan out, he was rewarded with the $25 million deal.

He’s been the face of the franchise for nearly two decades — and has given no indication that this season will be for sure his last.

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Tony Romo Sat On The Bench During a Mavericks Game, But Didn’t Play

Written by Todd Archer at ESPN.com

If Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had his way, Tony Romo would not only have dressed for Tuesday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, he would have found his way into the game.

When he approached NBA commissioner Adam Silver with the idea, Cuban said, “I told him what I was going to do and said, ‘Fine me if you don’t like it.'”

Silver told Cuban the contract would not be honored, which killed the idea but did not stop the Mavericks from honoring the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

“Signing him and stuff like that, would have been too much for a lot of reasons,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said before his team’s 109-91 loss. “No. 1, he’s a football athlete that’s not ready to play in an NBA game. That’s very risky. No. 2, to sign a guy with all of our requirements from a physical standpoint with the hours and hours of screening and all that kinds of other stuff, it just wasn’t worth going there. And that’s not really what this is about.”

There has been some criticism of the Mavericks for how they chose to honor Romo. Cuban believes it falls in line with how the Mavericks have honored other Dallas stars, such as Mike Modano, Ivan Rodriguez and others.

“Anybody who thinks a layup line is disrespectful, hasn’t watched an NBA game,” Cuban said. “We’ve got people shooting half-court shots at every break, we’ve got kids for ball boys … We’re entertainment. And if they’re so self-important they can’t recognize that, it’s on them. Not me.”

Romo admitted to feeling a little out of place after going through his first — and only — Mavericks shootaround on Tuesday morning.

“I feel like they’re all 7 feet tall,” Romo said. “They’re all long and lean. I look like a turtle out there next to these guys. But it’s a special group of guys who are talented and the NBA is a special fraternity.”

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Russell Westbrook Hits Game Winner Against Dallas, Strengthens MVP Candidacy

Written by Matt Moore at CBS Sports.com

The MVP argument for Russell Westbrook is basically:

  • He’s averaging a triple-double, which hasn’t been done since Oscar Robertson
  • He’s doing so while leading the league in scoring
  • His play has boosted the Thunder to a record (42-31) that’s significantly better than was expected
  • He has been a supernova in crunch time this season

All of those things showed up in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 92-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. Westbrook notched his 37th triple-double with 37 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, putting him only four away from Robertson’s record of 41 triple-doubles in a season with nine games to go. Then, with the Mavericks leading by 15 at one point, Westbrook led a furious late charge, completely taking the game over, and then notching the shot to take home another win.

If you were curious, it was Westbrook’s seventh shot inside the final 10 seconds when his team is trailing by three points or fewer. It was his 71st bucket in what the NBAcalls “clutch time” — inside of a 5-point game in the final five minutes. It should be noted in the final two minutes, when behind by two points or fewer, Westbrook is 14 for 42 and a minus-13, per NBA.com.

That doesn’t invalidate or validate his MVP candidacy. But it is notable that the clutch statistics tend to swing wildly on Westbrook, depending on what parameters you apply.

But those are all numbers. The reality is you have this game, the game earlier in the season in Boston, and others where Westbrook has simply taken over. He remains one of the most dominant players when it comes to imposing his will in these situations, and it’s part of why so many believe he truly is the most valuable player.

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Dirk Is the Most Underrated Legend in the NBA

Written by Nate Scott at Fox Sports.com

If I asked you to sit down and think about the 20 best basketball players of all time, then write down that list, some names would be there for just about everyone. Jordan, Kareem, Bird, Magic, Oscar, Wilt, Kobe, Bill Russell, Duncan, Shaq: Those ten are the ones that would leap out for a lot of fans. Others might toss in LeBron, Barkley, Hakeem, Moses, Garnett, Stockton, Malone. Historians of the game will make sure to include West, Baylor, Dr. J, Pettit, Havlicek.

Outside of the Dallas area, how many people are putting Dirk Nowitzki on that list?

On Tuesday night, Nowitzki confirmed he belonged with those names, however, scoring his 30,000th career point, making him just the sixth player to ever do that, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. He becomes just the third, along with Malone and Bryant, to have done it with one team.

What’s strange about Nowitzki is that his career numbers, which are flabbergasting, don’t really go hand-in-hand with a widespread belief that he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game. An informal Twitter poll by my friend Adi Joseph has Nowitzki as the fourth best player at his position in the modern era. (Which may be true. More on that to come.)

When speaking about how Nowitzki became so underrated, a big reason why is that he happened to play the same position, in the same state, at the same time, as the greatest power forward to ever live: Tim Duncan. (I know Duncan played center at the end of his career. For the purposes of this article, he’s a power forward. Please send all complaints to thisisafreearticleontheinternetandicanclickawayatanymoment@fox.com. It just so happened that Duncan was also wildly underrated in his own way, so Nowitzki could never even really gain narrative traction that way – when discussing an about-his-business big man who was unbelievably consistent in the state of Texas, you talked about Duncan. It was (and remains) rare to talk about Nowitzki.

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Jazz Trying To Bring Deron Williams Back To Utah

Written by Matt Moore at CBSSports.com

Maybe you can go home again. Deron Williams has been a popular trade target due to his veteran status and expiring $9 million contract. Now an interesting suitor has emerged: his former team, the Utah Jazz. From ESPN:

The Utah Jazz have expressed interest in reacquiring former All-Star guard Deron Williams via trade from the Dallas Mavericks, according to league sources.No deal appeared imminent Tuesday night, sources told ESPN.com, but Utah has registered its interest in bringing Williams back to his original team, with Dallas open to making both Williams and center Andrew Bogut available to other teams in advance of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

The Jazz have needed guard help: Dante Exum has regressed and been struggling for some time. Williams would give them a veteran guard who can run the offense. Between Williams and Joe Johnson, they would have a very strong veteran core off the bench with Boris Diaw for their playoff run.

During his six seasons in Utah, Williams guided the Jazz them to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. But eventually he went looking for greener pastures, and after Jerry Sloan retired out of frustration in early 2011, Williams was suddenly traded to the Nets. In recent years, he has expressed regret over how his time in Utah ended. Going back would put him on a playoff team with a chance to play a significant role. The Mavericks need to try for as many assets as they can generate. This could work for both sides, but several teams will likely pursue offers for the veteran guard, and if he’s bought out, Cleveland will be first in line.

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Cavs Trying To Get Deron Williams

Written by Ananth Pandiam at CBSSports.com

Not mincing any words, LeBron James made his feelings about the Cavaliers’ roster well-known when he told reporters he wants the team to add a play-maker off the bench. Taking James’ public request into consideration, the Cavs are working outLance Stephenson, Kirk Hinrich and Mario Chalmers. But that’s not all the Cavs are doing.

Cleveland is also looking for a play-maker via trade and has reportedly reached out to the Dallas Mavericks about Deron Williams, who would be a nice fit off the bench for the Cavs. The Mavs reportedly are interested in Iman Shumpert so perhaps the two teams could work out a deal.

From Sam Amick of USA Today:

The Cavs could take the trade route too, of course, and they are known to have inquired about the Dallas Mavericks’ Deron Williams. The 32-year-old, three-time All-Star is in the final year of his deal ($9 million), and it’s worth noting that Dallas has shown interest in the Cavs’ Iman Shumpert previously when he was a free agent (he’s owed a combined $31 million for this season and the next two, with a player option for 2018-19).

Williams is no longer the All-Star player he once was, yet he is still producing and is averaging 13.5 points and 7.1 assists in 30.1 minutes for the Mavs this season. If the Cavs were able to acquire Williams, his production might get better as he would mainly be going up against the second unit of opposing teams. However, there is one problem, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge — the Mavs have no interest in trading Williams:

…league sources indicate that Deron Williams is equally unattainable. (Nor is Williams interested in a buyout.)

Anything is possible, of course, but if Williams is truly “unattainable,” then perhaps the Cavs should focus on the players they are bringing in for a workout. Stephenson or Chalmers might be their best bet.

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