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

NBA players who are deserving of All-Star consideration

This is not about LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Rather, it’s focused on the players who are playing well enough to receive serious consideration but aren’t quite locks to play in the All Star Game. For simplicity’s sake, any player who is an obvious All Star (Joel Embiid) or has been selected to the All-Star team two of the last three seasons (Kemba Walker, LaMarcus Aldridge) was not considered. Further, context matters. If certain players are not playing up to expectations (Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons) or having weird seasons (Jimmy Butler), they weren’t included either.

With that introduction, here’s the list of NBA players who are deserving of All-Star consideration.

1 of 15

Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal is probably too good to even be on this list, but I’m including him because he has made only one All-Star team so far in his career. His stat line (25 points, five rebounds and five assists) would suggest that he’s a virtual lock to make the All-Star team from the Eastern Conference. His play since John Wall got injured would also indicate that he’s a shoo-in for an All-NBA team, as he is averaging over 29 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. He’s elevated his game from borderline All-Star to clear-cut All-Star in his seventh NBA season.

Jrue Holiday

Jrue Holiday is an elite player. Yeah, I said it. The stats are quite good — 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game — but watching him live is a treat. He’s a rugged defender who will man up on anyone, from Damian Lillard to James Harden to Kevin Durant, on defense. On offense he’s as smooth as any guard in the league at finishing at the rim — left hand, right hand; it doesn’t matter. He deserves to be recognized as one of the top guards in the NBA.

3 of 15

Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic is set to be the first rookie to make the All-Star Game since Blake Griffin did it in 2011. Doncic will likely get voted in by the fans, but he’s played so well this season that he has a compelling case either way. His numbers are awesome — 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game — and his highlights are even better. Expect this to be the first of many All-Star Game selections for the Croatian prodigy.

Clint Capela

Although he has a thumb injury and will likely miss the All-Star Game, Clint Capela still deserves All-Star consideration and recognition for the season he’s had. With his teammate James Harden on a historic tear lately, Capela’s marked improvement has barely been a story despite his averaging 18 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game. The advanced statistics are also quite favorable for the fifth-year big man from Switzerland, as he ranks in the top 20 in a number of categories, including player efficiency rating, effective field goal percentage, offensive rating and offensive win shares. He’s an All-Star-caliber player no matter how you slice it.

Blake Griffin

Believe it or not, Blake Griffin hasn’t been an All-Star since 2015. Despite averaging a career-high 26 points per game to go along with eight rebounds and five assists, Griffin somehow isn’t a lock to be an All-Star this year, but he absolutely should be. He used to rely on his athleticism to impact games, but now he’s one of the best big man playmakers in the league and a more than adequate shooter (48/36/76 shooting splits). He may not be as aesthetically pleasing to watch as he once was, but give credit where credit is due.

Tobias Harris/Danilo Gallinari

The two best players on the Clippers, Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari, are having great seasons and deserve All-Star consideration. If one of them earns a spot, it will probably be Harris, who actually won Western Conference Player of the Month in November and is averaging 20 points and eight rebounds on insanely efficient shooting splits (50/44/89). Gallinari is also shooting the crap out of the ball this year with shooting splits (45/45/91). Even if he doesn’t make the All Star team, Gallinari is playing the best basketball of his career right now.

Devin Booker

With no real NBA point guards on their roster, the Suns have decided to put the ball in Devin Booker’s hands this season in a James Harden-esque lead guard role. The increased usage has paid dividends so far: Booker is averaging an impressive 25 points and seven assists per game. Are his offensive stats enough to justify an All-Star selection? Possibly, but he has his team’s putrid record and the sheer number of great guards in the Western Conference working against him.

JJ Redick

JJ Redick is having a Benjamin Button-like finish to his career, posting career-highs in scoring each of the past two seasons. Despite being 34-years-old, Redick is averaging almost 19 points per game and is arguably the second-most important player on the 76ers besides Joel Embiid because of his ability to space the court. Why not reward Redick with his first-ever All-Star team selection of his career? If he makes the team, he’ll be the oldest first-time All-Star in NBA history.

Steven Adams

Steven Adams, who is still only 25 years old, has steadily improved every season of his career. At this point, he’s an All-Star-caliber center for the Thunder. In addition to anchoring the fourth-best defense in the NBA, Adams is averaging a career high in points (15.4 per game) and rebounds (10.1 per game). He’s the perfect selfless teammate and bodyguard for an intense franchise player like Russell Westbrook. Even if he doesn’t make the All-Star team, he’s playing as well as anyone could in his role with the Thunder.

Pascal Siakam

Along with Kawhi Leonard’s return to superstardom, Pascal Siakam’s leap has the Raptors playing better than any team in the NBA halfway through the season. Siakam spent his first two years as a defensive specialist off the bench for Toronto, but this season he broke out and became a contender for the Most Improved Player Award. His stats are nice — 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game — and his defense is excellent. He also jumps off the screen a bit by making winning plays all over the court.

Full List

By: Pat Heery