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

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/why_mavericks_luka_doncic_is_so_good_so_quickly/s1_13132_30694136

Knicks reportedly expect Kristaps Porzingis to return this season

Kristaps Porzingis’ recovery from a torn ACL does not seem to be progressing at a rapid pace, but the team still expects to have him back this season.

The New York Post’s Mark Berman wrote an article published on Thursday about Porzingis and how Knicks head coach David Fizdale is handling things. Fizdale says he is no longer talking about Porzingis’ potential return to the team because he doesn’t want to let his mind run wild fantasizing about when he gets the big man back. Instead, he says he’s focusing on the players on the team’s roster and trying to do the best with what he has.

“Just mentally for me,” Fizdale said via Berman. “That’s somewhere else. I don’t want to get distracted personally as the coach, worried about if and when he’s coming back. I’d rather be focused on the day-to-day task with these guys, and when he gets back, that’ll just be a gift for me. You can get distracted as a coach, caught up in that world of when and hopefully soon and you lose focus on what you’re doing. And these guys deserve my undivided attention.”

Berman reports that the Knicks expect to have Porzingis back this season. However, he suggests that may not be imminent because Porzingis is still not sprinting and has not done more activities since training camp.

Back in September, Porzingis said he wasn’t putting any timetable on his recovery because there is no precedent for a 7-foot-3 player returning from the surgery. Porzingis should take his time and return when he feels comfortable because he’s right — there isn’t a precedent for his return — and he has a bright future that should not be jeopardized.

Porzingis suffered his injury in February. Players often take nine to 12 months before returning from such injuries, but they vary from case to case.

Article here

By: Larry Brown

Phil Jackson Hates The Knicks; Willing To Trade Latvian Unicorn

Written by Ian Begley at ESPN.com

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson confirmed Wednesday night that he has received calls in recent days from teams interested in trading for Kristaps Porzingis.

“We’re getting calls. As much as we value Kristaps and what he’s done for us, when a guy doesn’t show up for an exit meeting, everybody starts speculating on the duration or movability from a club,” Jackson said in an interview on MSG Network. “So we’ve been getting calls and we’re listening, but we’re not intrigued yet at this level. But as much as we love this guy, we have to do what’s good for our club.”

Teams in touch with the Knicks indicated New York has not ruled out the possibility of trading Porzingis, though one opposing club said it came away with the impression that the price tag for the star forward was extremely high.

Jackson was asked why he would consider trading Porzingis, the Knicks’ young star and a player regarded around the NBA as someone whom a franchise can be built around.

“The future, you know, what it brings,” Jackson said. “Does it bring us two starters and a draft pick or something that’s even beyond that? [That’s] something we have to look at as far as going down the road. We know what he is. He’s a unicorn, and he’s special.”

Jackson confirmed reports from both ESPN and The Vertical that the Knicks had received numerous inquiries about Porzingis in recent days.

Sources told ESPN on Tuesday that the Knicks had talks with each team positioned in the top five in the lottery, trying to acquire both its pick and a young player with star potential for Porzingis.

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Is the NBA Schedule Too Long?

Written by Tom Haberstroh at ESPN.com

TO THE UNTRAINED EYE, Kristaps Porzingis looked fresh and rested as he walked into the Quicken Loans Arena for a late-December game in Cleveland. And for the first three quarters, he played that way.

But even if the 20-year-old rookie phenom looked good on the outside, on the inside his body was surely a mess. For the past three months, it had been systematically trashed by the NBA’s silent killer: its grueling 82-game schedule. New York had just come off a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, which had come on the heels of a three-games-in-four-nights swing through Utah, Sacramento and Portland. Not surprisingly, Carmelo Anthony had rolled his ankle late in a game two nights earlier and was now out.

Sure enough, by the fourth quarter, the hormonal, mental and physical aftershock of the Knicks’ schedule emerged into full view. With a minute left, Porzingis, who had scored 23 points in the first three quarters, had yet to score in the fourth and was visibly dragging. The Knicks trailed by four and needed a stop. And with the entire arena on its feet, LeBron James — coming off a luxurious, if rare, two days of rest — made his move. From the left corner, LeBron darted toward Porzingis before rising up for a sky-high one-handed slam. Instead of challenging James at the rim, Porzingis ducked away, like a matador. The Cavs would win by seven, with the Knicks mustering just 12 points in the fourth, tying their then-season low.

For the NBA, LeBron’s slam was the stuff of dreams: A superstar soaring for a game-clinching dunk is the very thing that sells tickets, spikes ratings and launches Vines. But here’s the thing: It almost never happens, and for reasons most people don’t realize.

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