After being drafted third overall and then traded to the Dallas Mavericks, expectations were sky-high for Luka Doncic. Coming from Real Madrid, the former EuroLeague MVP had accomplished more by the tender age of 19 than most professional athletes achieve in their lifetime. Despite this, a rather vocal minority remained, questioning whether the somewhat “doughy” Slovenian could turn around the fortunes of a struggling franchise in Dallas. Suffice to say, one year later, he’s done just that. Doncic went on to not only win the Rookie of the Year award, claiming 98 of the 100 total votes, but he managed to fast-track the Mavericks rebuilding process along the way, compelling the franchise to swing a massive mid-season trade for Kristaps Porzingis.
Unlike the first quarter of last season, Doncic will enter year two as the unquestioned leader of the new era in Dallas, rather than having to work his way up and earn the respect of other veterans to get his touches and to be allowed to orchestrate the offense. He’ll also have the added benefit of the aforementioned Porzingis, a teammate the caliber of which he’s never had before. But does that definitively mean he’ll avoid a sophomore slump?
As a rookie, Doncic posted a line of 21.2 points, 7.8 boards, and 6 assists a night. He did all of this on 42.7% from the field and 32.2% from beyond the arc. While the percentages don’t leap off the page, it’s important to note that before Dallas executed the trades for Porzingis and Justin Jackson, Luka was hovering around 44% and 37% respectively. Without Dennis Smith Jr, Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and DeAndre Jordan alongside him, Luka was forced to take on a greater burden within the offense, playing 40 minutes a night for nearly a quarter of the season with what had previously been reserve players. Needless to say, this will not be the case in year two. With guys like Porzingis, who was averaging 22.7 points/game prior to his knee injury, Seth Curry, a career 43.9% three point shooter, and a strong bench unit, the burden should be more than eased comparatively speaking.
As a rookie, Luka recorded eight triple-doubles, displaying a true propensity for impacting the game even beyond his own scoring. While this would potentially bring to question whether he could improve on an already solid scoring average of 21 points, the fact that his game and Porzingis’ compliment one another so well suggests it certainly could. Although Porzingis wasn’t utilized all that much in pick-and-roll action with the Knicks, the set itself has long since been a featured part of head coach Rick Carlisle’s offense. Taking advantage of both Luka’s shiftiness and Porzingis’ ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, Dallas’ pick-and-roll action has the potential to wreck defenses on a nightly basis.
Like Maverick great, Dirk Nowitzki, KP’s presence in the pick-and-roll could create a gravitational pull of sorts, causing defenders to stick to him as the ball handler blows by for fear of giving up a wide open jump shot. This action alone would provide Luka the kind of spacing he lacked following the trade deadline, allowing him to pick defenses apart with precision passing or drives to the basket. This should thus result in a bump to both his scoring average and assist numbers in year two.
The one place Luka may hover a bit in terms of last year’s averages, however, is rebounding. Despite playing alongside a giant in KP, the sharpshooting big man has posted a career average of 7.1 boards per game. Even his best season, 7.3 rebounds/game, is lower than the Doncic’s rookie campaign. It is worth noting that Porzingis has been putting on some serious muscle this offseason, which could conceivably help him in this area of his game, but it still seems likely Dallas will employ more of a “rebound by committee” approach, as was the case last year after moving DeAndre Jordan as part of the Porzingis blockbuster. Even if this is the case, it seems likely this could be an area of Luka’s game that drops off just a bit, and that would be more than okay so long as the offense is humming.
With another star at his side now, as well as some much needed shooting, Luka looks poised to lead the Mavericks into the new era, improving on what was already a stellar rookie season as he tries to lead Dallas back to the playoffs.
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