Luka Doncic’s Playmaking is the Key to Unlocking the Mavericks’ Full Potential

As one European legend gets ready to step down and put the final touches on an illustrious career, another emerges hoping to make his own mark.

At just 19 years old, Doncic became the youngest Euroleague MVP of the Final Four after averaging 16.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

His rare combination of IQ, ball-handling and court-vision (along with other things) make him the best prospect in this years draft. And if you’re a Mavs fan, it’s likely that you won’t have to wait long to feel his immediate impact.

The Mavs hope they have found their superstar(s) of the future with their recent lottery pickups. Adding Doncic gives their franchise a refreshing, yet familiar identity that has not been seen since Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were creating havoc for opposing defenses.

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The Mavericks are already on the right track to becoming a top-tier passing team. They’ve improved their assist numbers in the last two years, from 20.8 assists per game in 2017, to 22.7 a game in 2018 — the franchises highest APG average since 2014. So, if their plan moving forward was to become a more unselfish and giving ball-club, then adding Doncic is a step in the right direction.

Picking up the tempo and getting out in transition should be a point of emphasis for Dallas. Since the 2005 season, they have finished top 10 in pace only twice. They ranked 26th in pace for the 2018 season, and 29th the year before that.

As a result, the Mavs found themselves at the bottom of the rankings in nearly all transition statistics; They were second to last in total transition points scored for the season (970), 29th in frequency, meaning how often they got out in transition a game (10.8%), and 28th in points per possession (1.03).

But, no need to fear, Luka Doncic is here.

Doncic’s presence should be felt immediately as he is marvelous in transition whether it be as a scorer or playmaker. We could breakdown either one of his strengths, but for this article specifically, we’ll just stick to his playmaking abilities.

At 6’8” with guard-like mobility, Doncic is big enough to see over most defenders. This, along with his strong vision give him a distinct advantage in the open-court. He’s crafty with both his handle and passing to dupe defenders into making poor defensive choices.

With a corner specialist like Wesley Matthews flaring out to those corners, an explosive young athlete like Dennis Smith running the wing, Doncic won’t be able to contain his excitement out in the open-floor.

The half-court set is where Doncic and the rest of the team are going to feast. With the off-season signing of DeAndre Jordan, he and Doncic should complement each other exceptionally and open the floor up for the rest of the lineup.

Jordan has always been one of the top pick setters/roll guys. As a roll guy, he’s going to generate a lot of attention with his gravity. Doncic is capable of snapping a quick dime through or around defenders to give DJ spoon-fed baskets, something Jordan is all too familiar with during his time with Chris Paul.

The PnR is where Doncic’s advanced IQ and ball-handling will really benefit him. These tools will assist him in maneuvering around defenders, breaking down defenses, and dropping a gentle lob pass right on the money. And if DeAndre Jordan wasn’t enough, Doncic will have another toy to play with in Dwight Powell, who will be entering his sixth season with the franchise.

For the 2017-18 season, Powell ranked around top 20 in frequency (26.6%), and top 25 in points per game (2.7) when rolling to the basket. He’s springy, athletic, and active. It’s a perfect relationship.

Both DeAndre and Powell are excellent cutters as well. DeAndre was top 20 in possessions (2.1) and converted the 10th most points off cuts to the basket (3.0), while Powell had 1.9 possessions and scored more points per possession (1.33) than Steven Adams, Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert, just to name a few.

Their 1.36 PPP as a team on cuts was good for a second place ranking in the entire NBA. It’s also worth mentioning that they posted the third best effective field-goal percentage at 69.7 percent.

Doncic will thrive off his bigs, and his bigs will thrive off him. If he was capable of effectively running the pick and roll with Edy Tavares — no disrespect — then imagine what he can do with leapers like DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Powell cutting or rolling towards the goal.

The Mavericks really like the three-ball. Which is good if you’re Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Not so good if you’re team that has to contain them.

Dallas attempted the fourth most three-point attempts at 32.8 a game, and made the fifth most at 11.8, however, they didn’t shoot a high percentag – just 36 percent for a 17th place league rank.

According to NBA.com, the majority of the Mavs’ three-point attempts came from the top of the key where they shot a meager 35.0%. Their best percentage came from the right corner at 45.6%, followed by the left corner at 39.2% on 61 more attempts.

Though, they didn’t shoot as well from the left corner as they did from the right, it’s a positive sign that Dallas prefers to take more of their attempts from that side of the floor because Doncic has a tendency for hitting shooters in that vicinity.

When examining Doncic’s game, you will notice how much he loves to operate off a pick on his right side. It’s where defenses are most vulnerable and when shooters should be on high alert because at any instant he can beam a cross-court pass with precision right into the shooters pocket.

Guys like Wesley Matthews that excel at spot up shooting will especially thrive in this role; Twenty percent of Matthews’ three-point attempts came from the corner where he shot 46 percent. Among the rest of his teammates, he had the highest amount of possessions on spot up jumpers at 3.8 a game, though he only shot 37% on them. But with Doncic’s quick passing, sense of surrounding, and him not having to penetrate deep into the floor to make a play, Matthews should get better looks on those corners when defenders are sluggish to close out.

Other notable players like Max Kleber — who took 40% of his threes from the corner and shot 36% — and Harrison Barnes — twenty-five percent came from the corner and converted for 40 percent — will elevate the team’s three-point ceiling even higher.

Even the aging Dirk will get some easy opportunities sharing the floor with Doncic. Listen to this; Among players that played 50 or more games for the 2017-18 season, Dirk was second, SECOND, in catch-and-shoot points (8.0), right behind Klay Thompson. What a stat.

And who knows, Dirk might even come back to play an extra year with all the open looks Doncic is going to create for him.

Then there’s other players like Dennis Smith Jr. who have to self-create the majority of their attempts.

Smith was not a good three-point shooter, or shooter in general. He ended his rookie season with a total of 339 three-point attempts that included 314 of them coming from above the break, according to NBA.com. The worst part is only 55.6% of those above the break threes were assisted on.

You see the problem here? Smith taking nearly every one of his threes from the longest distance around the three-point line and having to create that shot on his own are not the kind of looks you want from your 20-year-old point guard.

It also doesn’t help that he had one of the highest usage percentages of any rookie in NBA history. Using basketball-reference’s player season finder, Dennis Smith had the seventh highest usage percentage (28.9) all-time among players that played 65 or more games in their first year.

Just look at some of the players he’s above. Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, LeBron James. That is brutal.

Luckily, with the addition of Doncic, Dennis Smith will have another ball-handler and teammate that can take some of that pressure off of him. Doncic will allow Smith to play off the ball more, spot up for jumpers, and slash down the lane where he can use his athleticism to attack the rim — he shot 56.7% on 367 attempts in the restricted area — for higher percentage looks.

So, the Luka Doncic era is officially upon us, and expectations are set higher than the arc on Dirk’s fadeaway jumper. All eyes will be on the young Slovenian from the moment the Mavericks tip-off against the Suns on October 17th.

About Adi Brescic 14 Articles
Playing in the NBA didn't work out so here I am writing about it.

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