Reigning Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic impressed the entire league with what he did last year, but to become his final form, here are 5 ways he can improve on his historic rookie campaign.
This past year, Luka Doncic earned the respect of every Mavs fan in just a few games. He earned the respect of his idol, Lebron James, in under 6 weeks. He earned the respect of NBA fans by coming in 3rd overall in All-Star fan voting after 3 months. And finally, he earned the respect of the league when he was announced as the Rookie of the Year in June.
Suffice it to say, Luka Doncic is special. He posted historic rookie numbers that could only be matched by The Big O, Oscar Robinson as succinctly put by Fox Sports Southwest’s Mark Followill:
With Luka’s 27 pts tonight, he is assured of avg at least 20 ppg, 7 rpg, 5 apg. The only other rookie to reach those benchmarks in NBA history….Oscar Robertson 1960-61
— Mark Followill (@MFollowill) April 4, 2019
Having said that, he was not a perfect player out of the box. No player arrives in the NBA without room to grow and Luka was no exception. When you are the face of a 33 win team and on the precipice of becoming a superstar, the expectation is that you elevate your game and bring your team with you. “A rising tide lifts all boats” and the Mavs believe Luka is that tide. So let’s hope that Luka has been working his butt off this offseason to improve in these 5 areas.
During summer league, Coach Rick Carlisle spoke about Luka needing to get in “the best shape of his life”. Last year, he came into the season well rested and well fed after finishing his Euroleague season only days before draft night. Even The Ringer’s “Halleluka” commented on him being “thicc” while praising his game. Early in the season, Luka was sucking wind, then he found his groove leading up to the All-Star Break and then proceeded to taper off a bit down the stretch. The NBA season is an absolute grind, especially for rookies and even more so for the rookie with as high of usage as Luka. He played roughly 31 min a night last season and if this team is going to push for the playoffs while KP is being load managed, Luka will be expected to play more every night at that high level all season. We know from his Instagram that he’s putting in the work, we’ll just have to see how it translates on the court.
Swole Luka OTW pic.twitter.com/sUyb9pRJjI
— /r/mavericks (@redditmavericks) July 30, 2019
Luka came into the league as an accomplished ball-handler and scorer, however, it was apparent that his defensive game would take time to develop. Luka was not quick enough to defend many of the players he was matched up against and defensive specialists like Dorian Finney-Smith were inserted into the lineup to cover for his deficiencies. In year two, this Maverick team needs him to pull his weight by defending the perimeter better and guarding players his size and smaller. If he can develop this, he and Delon Wright could be a formidable backcourt.
Yes, that’s right, Luka needs to improve his three-point shooting. While every Mavs fan remembers countless step backs and impossible buzzer-beaters in Houston and Portland, Luka actually shot 32.7% from three on the season. While definitely not a horrendous number, the team has done its part to help him with this by bringing in floor spreaders like KP and Seth Curry who should keep Luka from having to throw up as many bad shots.
Luka is a 3 point shooter. He shot over 43% of all shots he took last year from behind the arc. However, some of that can be attributed to the caliber of teammate he was working with, especially after the trade deadline where he shot an abysmal 22.5% from 3 in February as the sole consistent scoring threat on the team. With scorers like KP, Seth and THJ around him and healthy, his 3 point shooting should go up without too much change to his game.
Luka Doncic drew 193 fouls last year, with 177 of those being shooting fouls, which means he’s going to the line A LOT. However, he was rather unsuccessful compared to his peers with his attempts. Last year, Luka shot 71.3% from the charity stripe on 6.7 attempts per game. To put that into perspective, only 9 players in the NBA averaged 6.7 free throw attempts per game, but 193 players shot at least 71.3% from the line.
If Luka brings up his percentage from the line, he could move into some rare air. Last year only 18 players made 4.8 free throws a game (as many as Luka), but if he moved that number to 5.5 made per game (which is 82% from the stripe), he would be top 10 in free throw scoring last year. A modest increase from the free-throw line would really help the Mavs in their playoff hopes.
This might be the thing Luka beat himself up about most in postgame media sessions. He did not like his number of turnovers. Last year, he averaged 3.4 turnovers per game, which is bad enough to make him top 10 in the league in that stat. Not a good list for your primary ball-handler to be on. His season-high in turnovers was 9 in one game. That is, theoretically, an 18 pt deficit off one player’s turnovers. Neither of these things is good and Luka would be the first to tell you.
With him being so frustrated by this flaw in his game, it should be expected that he prioritize ball security next year. It will absolutely help that he has some better floor spacing options surrounding him this year, which will reduce double teams and potential turnovers with him doing very little differently.
However, part of what makes Luka magical is his brilliant court vision, which can absolutely go awry on him. To quote Carlisle, “He feels he can thread any needle and throw the ball through one guy’s nose and out his rear and hit a teammate. You just can’t do that in this league on a consistent basis.” Last year, 77% of Luka’s turnovers were off of bad passes, which equates to 161 turnovers off of passes. With more comradery among his returning teammates and bigger targets to hit like KP, Mavs fans can hope that Luka turnovers off passes go down some and there are even more incredible passes to make gifs out of.
All of this being said about his deficiencies last year, you won’t find a single Mavs fan disappointed in what the 20-year-old turned in for his rookie season. However, it did raise expectations for him and the team based on that stat line. When Luka’s name is mentioned among the greats of the game, it’s hard to keep the excitement and expectations in check. But the Mavs have done a solid job putting pieces around Luka this offseason to support him and give him options to work within a way that sets him up for success.
Luka magic will continue this year and improvement in any and all of these areas should make Mavs fans love him all the more.
Featured Image: NBAE/Getty Images via Forbes.com