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What we've seen from Luka Doncic this season

The league-leader in scoring has taken his game to a new level this season. How great has he been?

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This article is part of a five-part series called “What We’ve Seen,” which examines the top candidates on the Kia Rookie Ladder and Kia MVP Ladder.

Luka Doncic is a special offensive talent, not just in today’s NBA, but in the history of the game.

He’s a 6-foot-7, 230-pound point guard with incredible skills, able to get to the basket, shoot from distance and make every pass on the floor. There isn’t a correct way to defend him, because he’ll always take whatever the defense wants to give him. Sometimes he’ll take what they don’t want to give.

Doncic finished fourth in Kia MVP voting in his second season, when he was just 21 years old. He’s still just 25 and bound to be an MVP candidate for many years to come.

All stats are through Tuesday, April 9.

1. Superlatives

A few things we’ll remember from Doncic’s sixth season:

Most impressive game: Four nights after Joel Embiid poured in a then-NBA-high 70 points, Doncic blistered Atlanta for 41 points in the first half on the way to finishing with 73 in a 148-143 victory. The scoring output tied for the fourth-highest in NBA history.

Most impressive milestone: Doncic achieved it Tuesday in Charlotte, breaking a 40-year-old Dallas franchise record for total points in a season (2,341), set in 1983-84 by Mark Aguirre (2,330). The 25-year-old did it in style, too, scoring 39 points with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 21st triple-double of the season.

Most impressive play: Jason Kidd called it a “Luka Special,” and the name certainly fit. Doncic heaved a 25-foot bank shot with 26 seconds left to break a tie and help the Mavericks topple the Brooklyn Nets 125-120. The near hook shot marked Doncic’s ninth 3-pointer of the night.

— Michael C. Wright

2. Stats that tell the story

Go beyond Doncic’s regular season averages — 33.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 9.8 assists — to understand how good he’s been this season:

  • Doncic’s 33.9 points per game would be the seventh-highest scoring average (for a qualified player) in the last 50 seasons. He would be the first player in NBA history to average at least 32 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
  • He leads the league with 7.3 isolation possessions per game, according to Synergy tracking. He’s been assisted on just 22% of his buckets, the lowest rate among 293 players with at least 100 total field goals, but his highest rate since his rookie season.
  • He’s the only player with at least 150 assists on dunks (164) and at least 150 assists on 3-pointers (261).

3. Film room famous

With his over-the-head passes, wraparound dimes and trick shots, Doncic is a highlight machine. But he’ll also dissect defenses methodically.

His patience and footwork: Doncic ranks third with 17.9 drives per game. Plus, the 61.7% he’s shot when he’s driven to the basket is the best mark among 90 players with at least 200 field goal attempts on drives.

Doncic’s drives are not quick, but they’re strong and purposeful. And the defender’s work is not done when the initial drive has been stopped, because Doncic will keep working to get a shot off or draw a foul.

He’ll also slow down and patiently Eurostep around defenders trying to contest him at the rim …

Luka Doncic drive vs. Warriors

His ability to create space … and knock down shots: The biggest difference in Doncic’s game this season has been his 3-point shooting. He’s shot a career-best 38.4% from beyond the arc, up from 34.2% last season.

He’s seen an increase in the percentage of his 3-point attempts that have come off the catch, but more than 80% of his attempts are still coming off the dribble. And while his success rate on off-the-dribble 3s isn’t as efficient as a great shooter off the catch, Doncic’s ability to create space and get to his shot at any point in the clock is a weapon, and it’s even more of a weapon when he’s shooting 38% instead of 34%.

Most of Doncic’s step-backs are in iso situations, but he can also use a screen to get his defender’s momentum going toward the basket, and then quickly find a spot from which to launch …

Luka Doncic step-back 3-pointer vs. Kings

His ability to stay ahead of the defense: When you can’t guard a guy one-on-one, you need to send a second defender to the ball. Doncic almost always makes the right play, getting off the ball when he draws an extra defender.

He’s the best in the league at the behind-the-back, pick-and-pop pass, getting the ball to his shooter before a hedging defender can recover or a third defender can rotate over. Sometimes, he’ll make a sharp pass before the double-team even arrives, catching the defense in mid-rotation …

Luka Doncic assist to P.J. Washington

His manipulation of the defense: There’s nobody in the league better at using his eyes to make a defender move. Layups and dunks are the best shots on the floor, but Doncic can get opponents to abandon their help position in the paint by just eyeing a shooter on the perimeter.

Sometimes, he’ll get two defenders in the paint to think he’s going elsewhere … before threading the needle to the man who’s in the best position to score …

Luka Doncic assist to Daniel Gafford

His touch on long passes: The Mavs have seen the league’s second biggest jump in transition points per game. Kyrie Irving is largely responsible for that, but Doncic has also been more willing to give up the ball early, averaging 5.9 pass-ahead passes per game (sixth in the league), up from 3.7 (23rd) last season, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

With that willingness comes great touch on long-distance passes …

Luka Doncic assist to Kyrie Irving

4. Closing Kia MVP case

The Mavs are very likely to finish fifth in the Western Conference, which has been much better than the East this season. Doncic’s candidacy wouldn’t be as strong if his team was in the SoFi Play-In Tournament, but it’s less about the wins and losses and more about his unprecedented numbers and how much the league’s sixth-ranked offense relies on his skills.

Those skills will be on display in Miami on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with Doncic having recorded one of his 16 30-point triple-doubles against the Heat last month.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X. 

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