The NBA is now essentially a quarter of the way through the 2019-2020 season. Early season trends for both players and teams are now solidifying into realities. Surprising starts are now falling closer to pre-season expectations (Phoenix) and those slow out of the blocks are now approaching the field (Sacramento). However, a Slovenian Superstar based in The Lone Star State has begun this season making a claim to the proverbial NBA throne and with each passing game, the threat he poses to claiming it for himself rises.
Luka Doncic was supposed to be good, maybe not this good and not this soon. For the first time in a long time, we are seeing a significant debate about who the best player in the league is. Is it Kawhi, after one of the most dominant postseasons in recent memory? Is it Giannis, who is posting modern-day Shaq numbers? Or is there not enough dominant evidence to overthrow the long-ruling King James? In a similar manner to one Brandon Stark from Game of Thrones can Luka take advantage of the chaos at the top and sneak in and claim the throne for himself?
The early season results are not only encouraging, but staggering. Through nineteen games the numbers paint a picture not seen before.
The raw numbers absolutely leap off the page. The natural inclination is to see the near thirty-point triple-double average. If Luka were to slightly increase his raw counting numbers to exceed that threshold, he would join Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only two players in the history of the league to accomplish this feat over an entire NBA season. The most staggering feat, however, is that Doncic is achieving this in a mere 34.1 minutes per game – slightly lower than Westbrooks’s 34.6 MPG average in his season and significantly lower than Oscar’s 44.3 MPG to generate his 30-point triple-double average from the 1961-1962 season. We are living in the pace and space era and numbers have undoubtedly been inflated because of it, but there is still merit in going out and getting the statistics. Just ask sixty-nine media members who voted Westbrook MVP of the 2016-2017 season.
As the legend of Luka has continued to grow, he is now garnering comparisons to a variety of players, namely James Harden, LeBron James, and Larry Bird. Again, this is premature as these players have sustained years of greatness, while Doncic has not yet guided a team into the playoffs. Nonetheless, here is how the three compare in year two of their NBA careers.
The numbers once again are mind-boggling. He is scoring more points, averaging more assists and shooting better from the field than any of the three others. There are so many factors that go into even having the opportunity to put up those numbers. Harden was identified as the 6th man in his early Oklahoma years, so he was never given an opportunity to flourish in the same way that Doncic has. Bird and James were granted more immediate opportunities, but that was because Bird was twenty-four and James was “the chosen one.” The fact that Luka has earned the trust of notoriously tough head coach Rick Carlisle is a truly impressive accomplishment, especially at age twenty.
Where Luka could see some improvement is in his three-point percentage, currently at .330%. Granted the majority of Luka’s 3-point attempts are some of the most difficult in basketball reserved for only the most elite shot creators, either a pull-up or a step-back shot. These make up 7.9 of his 9.4 3-point attempts per game. Time spent playing around with advanced statistics has revealed that of nineteen players in the league that have played at least ten games this season, while averaging at least 30 minutes, and taking at least three of what are classified as pull up threes per NBA.com, Doncic ranks 13th of the 19 (an interesting side note – Devonte Graham is leading the league by over 3%. Shame you just locked up Terry Rozier for nearly $57million over the next three years MJ). Doncic would likely also rank lower down this list if perennial high achievers Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry had passed the games played threshold.
Within the advanced statistics scene, Luka again thrives. Here are the three most telling:
- He has a current Player Efficiency Rating of 32.66. This would rate as the second-highest of ALL TIME.
- He is second in the league in wins added at 7.1.
- He has a 38.3% usage rate on the Mavericks, who as a team have an offensive rating of 116.0. This is the highest offensive rating in the history of recorded data for this statistic.
If you purely wish to just understand basketball from a number’s perspective, then Luka is the driving force behind the best offensive team in the history of the league. This is done on a team whose second-best player is recovering from a major knee injury that sidelined him for 20 months. Outside of Kristaps Porzingis who is their third-best player? Delon Wright? Tim Hardaway Jr.? Jalen Brunson? Dwight Powell? Not exactly the most notable names. Yet, between the evil genius minds of Luka Doncic and Rick Carlisle, the Mavs are maximizing their talent and winning games.
In the NBA, numbers and statistics only get a player so far — little indicators that a player is deserving of attention or he has gained the respect of his peers. There are obvious ones like the player gets the end of the game interview. Less obvious ones, such as being guarded by the other team’s premier defender. Even less obvious ones, that the whole other team raises their intensity because they know that this player is coming into town. Luka is now receiving these hard-to-measure honors. I have seen him on television spots. I have seen the Clippers guard him with Pat Beverly, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard and get by all three with his unique combination of handles, bigger-than-you-think frame and uniquely timed finishing ability. And on Sunday, December 1st, 2019 I saw the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis hit the Mavericks with everything they had. In response, Luka dropped 27-9-10 and walked out of Staples Center with a 14-point win.
Out of all the statistics mentioned the most important is 13/6. Or the Mavericks win-loss record. After years running on the much-maligned treadmill of mediocrity, the Mavericks organization can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The #MFFL faithful are remembering the brighter days of the mid-2000’s all the way to 2011. LeBron may have said it best in Dallas “You’re a bad mother******.” Takes one to know one, LeBron, but you’re right, and he may just be getting started.