The Luka Doncic Show: Just how sustainable is this Dallas Mavericks offense?
A future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki's successor, the next LeBron, the destined greatest of all time – a lot has been already said about Luka Doncic. Just when the world thought he was done surprising us all with unprecedented performances in his rookie year, Luka has done us one further by simply setting the NBA ablaze in his sophomore year.
The basketball universe didn't know that a 20-year-old could record an almost 30-point triple-double in a season but with 30.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 9.6 assists per game, the Slovenian is setting the benchmark quite high. The Dallas Mavericks are now simply reaping the rewards of his prowess.
The Mavs started the season with a respectable 6-5 record, indicative of an expected 7th or 8th seed finish come the end of the season. However, Doncic's November surge has propelled Dallas to a 14-6 record which sees them placed comfortably at 4th in the Western Conference standings.
The Western Conference Player of the Month has seen his efficacy rub-off on the Dallas franchise, who currently have the best offensive rating in the league (117.0). Having said that, it's not like Luka has no help, at least on paper. The Mavs traded for Kristaps Porzingis last season and resigned him to a 5-year $158 million contract this summer.
The Porzingis problem
The Unicorn is still getting up to speed following his ACL rehab but hasn't entirely flattered to deceive either. While 16.6 points per game isn't acceptable from a player set to pocket over $27 million this year, you have to give Porzingis the benefit of the doubt.
For what it's worth, the Mavs are sailing along nicely for them to overly scrutinize the Latvian right now. However, what you cannot ignore is the fact that he's recording career-lows in shooting accuracy from the field (39.2%) and the charity stripe (69.9%). That's a definitive red flag.
Looking beyond the star duo
While statistics might suggest Rick Carlisle's side has other scoring options in Tim Hardaway Jr, Seth Curry, and JJ Barea, it might be better to delve deeper.
Hardaway's streaky shooting has seen him being shuffled in and out of the starting line-up. Seth Curry, on the other hand, is a liability on the defensive end and his offensive production, although efficient, isn't that voluminous at 8.4 points per game.
While Barea certainly knows how to drain a bucket, the 35-year-old veteran is averaging career-lows in minutes played and he cannot be the go-to option down the stretch.
What's Dallas' identity without Luka?
For all the apparent cracks in the wall, this Dallas roster is still outscoring opponents night in and night out which simply means that all the aforementioned inhibitions aren't playing a substantial part right now. But that's simply down to the X-factor that Luka brings to the table. Out of the 24.4 assists that the Mavs are racking up per game, Doncic is responsible for roughly 40% of them. He is quite literally the glue that is sticking this franchise together.
But what about the nights where Doncic doesn't turn up? What about games where the opposition defense simply restricts the Slovenian? The most recent instance of the same was against the Los Angeles Clippers where Doncic was restricted to just 4-of-14 shooting from the field and the Mavericks succumbed to a blowout loss.
Then there have been games like the ones against Boston Celtics and New York Knicks where the supporting cast has been simply too underwhelming to cross the finish line despite Luka's brilliance.
There have been signs of scoring slumps even in match-ups where the Mavericks have come up trumps. In their most recent win against the New Orleans Pelicans, Doncic and Porzingis together scored the first 15 points of the game out of which the former had ten. It took nearly nine minutes for a Mavs player other than these two to get on the board. Additionally, Doncic was on the bench to start off the 2nd quarter and the Mavs needed more than three minutes to get a bucket to fall. That's simply uninspiring.
The way forward
Well, there's no need to panic yet as far as Rick Carlisle is concerned. As long as the Doncic wave is carrying Dallas forward, there's little to fret about. Having said that, there's no harm in preparing for the worst.
Mavericks have started the season really well and would like to overshoot on their end of season objectives as well. For that to happen, the offense needs to flow even when Doncic is not the one channeling it. There will be nights where Luka won't be at his best. And on those nights, coach Carlisle will have to eke out rotations that get the job done.
The Mavs are bound to turn to Porzingis in such situations and one can only hope that he finds his footing soon. He has been performing well on defense but needs to rediscover his efficient self on offense.
It goes without saying that Luka Doncic will be the poster boy of Dallas basketball for the foreseeable future. However, if that future is to be laden with championship rings, then Doncic alone cannot be one forming the vanguard.