I am not the first person to tell you how good Luka Doncic has been in his second season with the Mavericks. I am not even the first person on this site to do it this week. The 20-year-old has seemingly hit new highs with each passing game. This week, for instance, he followed a 42 point, 11 rebounds, 12 assists triple-double with another triple-double (35-10-11) in only 26 minutes, and this time adding four steals. In his last 10 games, he is averaging a triple-double — 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists — and he is close to doing so over the entire season (29.9, 10.6, 9.4).
The numbers all match up to the eye test, too. If anything, he looks even better than his numbers. Those assists aren’t on simple chest passes to wide-open spot-up shooters and the rebounds aren’t coming on a bunch of missed free throws. And he’s doing it all without a steady third-best player and a second-best player (Kristaps Porzingis) still finding his way back from his 18-month injury absence. If he is never better than he is right at this very moment, it’s almost more than we deserve. Especially after more than two decades with Dirk Nowitzki. But it is clear that Luka has not reached his ceiling just yet.
For one thing, Doncic could be averaging, conservatively, two to three more assists per game. His teammates are still getting used to some of his passes, the ones that hit their hands before they even realize they are open. That doesn’t even count the times he finds someone for an easy bucket that is only prevented by a foul. Part of this will change as everyone on the roster becomes more accustomed to playing with him. I’d say we are maybe 75 percent there overall and less so with Porzingis and maybe Tim Hardaway Jr., both of whom are about half a step out of synch on occasion. That timing will come. Also, three players (THJ, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Delon Wright) are currently below-league-average three-point shooters and certainly at least in Brunson’s case that number can get a bit better.
That’s the part he needs help with. The rest is on him. For the season, and for his career, Luka is a below-league-average three-point shooter, too, though it must be said that he is taking more difficult attempts than anyone outside James Harden. Over the last 10 games, however, he has brought his percentage up to league levels and that has translated to a slight uptick in his scoring average. I feel like not only could he continue at that pace but maybe get a little better. He has a good-looking shot and can get open when he wants. I think the difference will be playing with more playmakers who can free him up for a few spot-up attempts a game, instead of always having to rely on step-backs.
He also makes some mistakes — not a ton, mind you — that are wholly attributable to his age and relative inexperience, times where he gets caught between thoughts and plans, where he gets too ambitious or playful, where he has more confidence in who he is passing to than who he is passing to. Those are all fine and the cost of doing business. But it’ll happen less often as time goes on.
And as he gets into even better shape, he’ll be able to play at his normal high level for longer stretches. He’s already great, so the improvements going forward will be less mind-blowing game to game and week to week and year to year. But in five years, when we take it all in, it’ll be obvious.