The Slovenian wunderkind is amazing, but the Mavericks need more
Luka Doncic is a fantastic basketball player. It is not a stretch to say that he is off to one of the top five best offensive starts to a career in the history of the NBA. He is also my favorite player. Yet, the Mavericks need more from him this season.
Luka is not only the Mavericks best scorer, he is their best facilitator too. The gap between him and the next best facilitator might actually be larger than the gap between him and the next best scorer. Coach Jason Kidd and the rest of the Mavericks brain trust leaned hard into the idea that Luka needs to rely on his teammates more this offseason.
The first option of any Luka screen and roll should be to get an uncontested layup or dunk. Despite all of the statements regarding three points being more than two, a layup is still the most efficient shot in basketball because of how much more efficiently they are converted. Luka is one of the most efficient paint scorers in the league so getting him a layup is especially promising.
In the above play, Nikola Jokic already has four fouls early in the third quarter and chooses to concede the layup rather than risk a fifth foul. Rather than attempt the layup, Luka attempts a ridiculously dangerous pass that doesn’t even create an open look. If Luka is unable to get himself a layup, the next option should be a lob to the roll man. Those lobs are much easier, if the defenders are actively attacking Luka because they are terrified to allow him to finish.
Layups aren’t the only shots Luka is turning down. Luka became a true three level scorer last season. He absolutely obliterated teams in the midrange. Early in the season, teams have given Luka a ton of space in the midrange coming off of pick and rolls and he has failed to punish them for doing so.
This possession still ends up in a good shot. Dorian Finney-Smith is shooting a very lightly contested three which is likely even analytically preferable to a wide open Luka midrange jumper. But teams fear Luka. They do not fear Finney-Smith. Dwight Powell’s only usage as an NBA player is as a roll man. Allowing the big man to drop this deep, especially when his initial defender is so far behind him, completely neuters the threat of Powell’s roll.
Luka has actually nearly doubled his midrange attempts from 2.8 per game last season to a whopping 5.4 per game this season. Those extra shots have mostly come at the expense of at rim attempts at those attempts have fallen to only 2.6 per game. Too many of those shots are bail out shots late in a possession
Luka is still taking roughly the same number of attempts per game and per 100 possessions as he has the last two seasons, but he is converting them much less efficiently. He got off to a similarly slow start last season and he will improve but taking these open looks would be a good way to jump start that improvement.
The rest of his teammates rely on him to create looks for them. The best way for him to create quality looks for his teammates is to force the opposing defense to overload on him by scoring early. In order to do that, Luka needs to look for his own shot, and only pass once the defense forces him to do so. It sounds like a parable but in order to most effectively pass, Luka must look to score.