Mavs rookie sensation Doncic off to historic start
With every passing night, Luka Doncic looks more and more like the answer to the question: Who will be this season’s NBA rookie of the year?
Yet the form of the Mavericks’ 19-yearold phenom also poses a conundrum of its own. Just 11 games into his career, do his superb numbers indicate a fast-track toward greatness, or are they a quirk thrown up by the scoring-heavy nature of the league?
The truth likely lies somewhere in between. Doncic is an outstanding player, no question about it, with huge upside. Over the first three weeks of his NBA career, with no prior American basketball experience, he averaged 20.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
If these numbers are sustained, Doncic would be in an elite place in NBA history. Only eight other rookies have averaged at least 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, according to Basketball-reference.com.
There is also little doubt Doncic has a few more factors working in his favor than many who came before him when it comes to putting up big numbers.
“The game is easier to adjust to now than it was 10 years ago,” the young Slovenian’s teammate Dirk Nowitzki told USA TODAY. “It is less physical and more free flowing, so everything is set up for him to succeed and do well.
“He has confidence, he is taking big shots for us, the ball is in his hands a lot — it has been fun to watch. We haven’t seen it ever really, a rookie under 20 who averages 20 and six. The game is different now, and that obviously helps (European players) succeed. Back when I came in it was tougher, more physical, there was hand checking. It is a lot more open now; the rules have changed.”
Doncic’s latest strong performances came back-to-back. The first was a 23point outing Tuesday, as the Mavs ended a six-game losing skid to beat the Wizards 119-100.
“Every game, you look at him and say, ‘Are you sure this guy is only 19?’ ” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “I don’t look at him as a young player. He’s a legitimate NBA player who is going to be a superstar.”
The next night, Doncic scored 24 points and had six rebounds and two assists in a 117-102 loss to the Jazz.
Time will tell how much the stats are a reflection of Doncic’s excellence and how much can be attributed to the permissive nature that the NBA has toward scoring. It might become increasingly difficult to compare one era against another if the glut of scoring continues, both as a result of tactical shifts and in the extra protection given to offensive players.
“You really just can’t touch anyone at all or you are going to get called for a foul,” the Lakers’ LeBron James said recently. “That’s just how it is now.”
Before the end of the first week of November, teams had hit the 140-point barrier in regulation six times during the course of the season, compared with eight times in each of the previous two years and only three total occasions between 2014 and 2016, per ESPN.
Shooting frenzies have erupted, most notably when Klay Thompson drained a history-making 14 3-pointers in 27 minutes of action. And as notable as Doncic’s numbers are, 27 players around the league were scoring at a heavier rate going into Friday.
Doncic starred for Real Madrid last season as it won both Spanish league and EuroLeague titles, before being selected third in the draft by Atlanta, then being acquired by Dallas via trade.
“He is certainly capable of significant impact even early in the season, so it is no shock from our standpoint,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He is a good player who is getting better all the time and he’s more worldly than most 19-year-olds because he has been playing pro ball since he was 13.
“But I don’t care too much about the stats — that’s not what I look at.”
Regardless of the numbers, it is rare for a rookie to begin so strongly and with such composure. Trae Young (No. 5 overall pick) and Deandre Ayton (No. 1) have had strong flashes in the opening weeks, but neither of those rookies has looked as consistently solid as Doncic.
“He’s a heavy scorer, in a league that’s now built for scoring,” Nowitzki added. “You can’t just look at the stats the same way anymore, but he is passing the test.”
Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is averaging a team-high 20.2 points.