In the lead up to the 2018 NBA Draft, the hype surrounding Luka Doncic was beginning to reach a fever pitch. Those who had really studied the 19 year-old Slovenian were convinced he was the best, most NBA-ready player heading into the draft. For the Dallas Mavericks, they’d already seen more than enough, stopping at nothing to ensure they got their man on draft night when they completed a trade with the Atlanta Hawks to move up from 5 to 3 and essentially flip Trae Young for the Real Madrid product. Almost immediately, front offices around the league were dubbing Doncic the favorite to win Rookie of the Year in preseason surveys. But the doubters remained, waiting in the weeds for the rookie phenom’s first stumble.
After sitting out of Summer League action and then turning in a nice preseason that featured plenty of flashes for his potential, Doncic at last made his NBA regular season debut in Phoenix. On that particular night, the Wonderboy would have a fairly uneven performance as he logged 10 points, 8 boards, and 4 assists. By itself, that wouldn’t be too bad. The problem was he also recorded 4 turnovers while shooting 5/16 from the field. Almost immediately the haters came out of the woodwork, dubbing the kid ‘overrated.’ Ah yes, because there was so much tape and evidence to support such a claim!
Since that rough first outing, however, Doncic has been nothing short of tremendous for the Dallas Mavericks, joining Oscar Robertson as the only player in NBA history to average at least 19 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists through his first 10 games. To be precise, Doncic totaled 198 points, 65 rebounds, and 44 assists during that span, all the while shooting better than 47% from the field and close to 40% from beyond the arc. Along the way, he’s had strong outings like his 26 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the home opener, 31 points in San Antonio in a 113-108 overtime loss, and 24 points on 50% shooting and 3/4 from deep in Utah Wednesday night.
His finest game, however, may well be his 14 point outing in Los Angeles against the Lakers. Though he struggled mightily on the night, Doncic came up clutch time and time again down the stretch, ultimately tying the game on a tough runner with under 10 seconds to play. Over the course of the season, every player will have nights where their shots just aren’t falling, but the great ones know how to close games out. It’s like a switch flips in their mind and suddenly everything up to that point no longer matters. On that night especially, Doncic proved he possesses that trait.
But what differentiates Doncic most from the rest of this solid rookie class? Trae Young, for instance, has had some big performances as well. True, but he hasn’t been as efficient or consistent in his scoring. And while Luka’s assist-to-turnover ratio certainly needs improvement, he’s still shooting a strong 47.9% from the field on the season and a blistering 40.3% from beyond the arc. Young, meanwhile, is shooting 42.3% from the field and just 27.1% from range.
It’s not secret Young can get white hot on any given night and rain down half a dozen threes or more on an opposing team’s head, but he’s also liable to go 1/7 if his shot isn’t falling. With Luka, such nights feel more rare. If his long ball isn’t hitting, he doesn’t appear overly stubborn in trying to force it. Rather, he goes to his bag to bring out a whole array of mid-range jumpers, floaters and runners to get himself going.
Deandre Ayton, meanwhile, is also enjoying a strong start, averaging 15.9 points and 10.9 boards on 59% shooting from the field. The difference is that Ayton isn’t asked to do as much. Devin Booker is the best player on the Suns, allowing Ayton to shine in that secondary role, whereas Doncic was forced to immediately take up the mantle of Dallas’ best player the moment he stepped onto the floor.
Obviously, it’s incredibly early in an 82 game NBA regular season, but through 11 games, Luka Doncic has proven to MFFLs everywhere that he is that dude, and opposing teams and fan bases are beginning to take note. Each and every time Luka steps on the court, he can see him getting more and more comfortable, and even more confident as a result. Currently, he’s taking just 15 shot per game, narrowly making him the attempts leader on the team but certainly not the typical average among star players. As such, as the season wears on and he further establishes himself on the team and around the league, that number will undoubtedly rise, allowing the 19 year-old to extend his lead among his rookie classmates as he tries to become the first Dallas Maverick since Jason Kidd to win Rookie of the Year.