There was a good deal of skepticism surrounding Luka Doncic heading into the 2018 NBA Draft. Sure, he was practically a lock to go in the top five, but he was also just a teenager.
The stakes were raised even higher when the Dallas Mavericks traded up in order to acquire the rights to Doncic on draft night. A great debate waged around whether or not Doncic’s success in Europe could translate to the NBA.
Of course, the answer was a resounding yes.
Doncic won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award after posting averages of 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists while also leaving his mark as one of the best “clutch time” players in all of basketball.
In a season where the greatest European player of all time–Dirk Nowitzki–called it a career, Doncic immediately cemented his place as the successor in Dallas.
The Mavericks are building a young core around Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but there is still some uncertainty with respect to the future of both players. After all, Porzingis has yet to prove that he can really stay healthy over the course of a full season.
But really, the foundation begins with Doncic. After a superb rookie season, what is the ceiling for the Mavs guard as he looks to take the next step in his development?
Doncic already looks like he is ready to take off as one of the top scorers in the league. Given his ability to shoot from the perimeter as well as his physical build, he can score inside the paint or at the top of the key.
Similarly to James Harden, Doncic gets a lot of his buckets by creating separation through an assortment of dribble moves and step back jumpers. Although he is certainly not the quickest guard in the league, Doncic does have a lightning-fast first step and can get to the cup in a flash while shielding defenders.
How much freedom will Doncic have this season? The Mavericks were quick to recognize that he may not be the most ideal player to constantly run the point given some of his defensive deficiencies and his size. Can Doncic be effective on the wing, and how will he connect with Porzingis?
A large part of Doncic’s development on the offensive end revolves around his improvement as a shooter. Doncic shot over seven threes per game last season, but made under 33 percent of those attempts. That is a pretty low clip for someone with so much volume.
Can Doncic improve in catch-and-shoot situations now that he will be playing off the ball more? If so, that could open up a whole new element to his game.
The ability for Doncic to keep defenders on their toes by either pulling from deep or using hesitations and dribbles to create even more space could make him a lethal offensive threat, especially now that opposing defenses will also have to worry about guarding Porzingis.
Should Doncic take better care of the ball and improve his shooting and spacing, he is bound to be one of the best playmakers in the NBA.
Improve where it matters most
Doncic absolutely has more room to grow on the defensive end. Given his size and build, strength is not an issue. However, his instincts and competitiveness can be lacking from a defensive standpoint. Doncic would often be caught reaching in for steals rather than sliding his feet to get back into a play.
The 20-year-old posted a defensive rating of 109 per 100 possessions. According to NBA.com, Doncic was one of the worst defensive guards in the entire league (based on defensive rating).
Considering that both Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. were also in the bottom tier of perimeter defenders, the Mavericks need Doncic to improve as an individual defender. With Porzingis now in the frontcourt, Dallas has an elite rim protector. They need to defend tougher against opposing guards and wing players.
There is no question that Doncic has the ability to be an All-NBA player, and maybe even an MVP.
In fact, a good comparison for his potential ascension may be to look at Harden’s first few years with the Houston Rockets.
Luka has already become a star in the NBA, but he has superstar ability, and we could be seeing the development of an all-time great.