DALLAS — Where would the Dallas Mavericks be without Luka Dončić?
With only two games remaining in the regular season, Dončić has elevated his game dynamically from just a year ago, which is a tremendous statement in and of itself considering that he was selected to the All-NBA team in 2019-2020 after winning Rookie of the Year in 2018-2019.
Putting a bow on a tremendous third-season effort, the Slovenian sensation is averaging 27.9 points per contest, which puts him 3rd among point guards and 6th in the league overall.
He’s a near triple-double (8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists) on a nightly basis and has added a deadly mid-range game to his arsenal in his third season. His defense has improved in spades, as well. But most impressively, Dončić gets to the basket at will and can find the perfect pass seemingly through clairvoyance.
Dončić has also noticeably improved his 3-point shot as his 35.1 average is a career-best by multiple percentage points. Dončić was able to cap off his progress from beyond the arc with a stellar performance in Dallas’ 125-107 victory over New Orleans where he made seven 3-pointers.
In such a short timeframe, and at the young age of 22, Dončić has become one of the biggest stars in the league. The NBA’s top players have taken notice.
When the league’s biggest story – the star-studded Eastern Conference’s Brooklyn Nets – rolled into Dallas a week ago with the current active career points per game leader Kevin Durant returning to Texas, the Mavericks were expecting one of their toughest matchups to close the season. Add the fact that Kristaps Porziņģis was scratched due to injury, and Kyrie Irving and his 27.4 PPG scoring clip was in the lineup, and the chances of a Mavericks victory rested on the shoulders of Dallas’ All-Star guard.
Led by yet another near-Dončić triple-double (24 Points, 10 Rebounds, 8 Assists), the Mavericks absorbed a monster 45-point performance from Irving, and a 20-point effort from Durant, to outlast the Nets 113-109. After the game, Durant, who is well-known for speaking his mind whether it's positive or negative, had nothing but praise for Dončić.
Prior to the 2020-2021 season, LeBron James let it be known that he was a big fan of the young Mavs cornerstone.
"When Luka was going through his contract negotiations with Nike, I wanted to begin Team LeBron, and have Luka as my first signee.” Lebron James told former Maverick Richard Jefferson on his Road Trippin’ podcast in December of 2020.
James couldn’t land Luka for a shoe deal but Dončić eventually joined James’ company, becoming the 4th-youngest player (22y-67d) to reach 5,000 points in league history. The only players to ever do it at a younger age are generational icons James (21y-22d), Durant (21y-133d), and Carmelo Anthony (21y-292d).
James and his Lakers got the better of Dončić and the Mavericks 138-115 in a heavily hyped matchup on December 25 that the networks were billing as The Present vs The Future. Present won on Christmas Day but, by the time Dallas met Los Angeles for back-to-back matchups in April, the early season struggles for Dončić were in the past and the future was now. Dončić dropped 30 in the first game and had a double-double (18 points, 13 assists) in the second of back-to-back Mavericks victories.
The Mavericks have lost only three contests since toppling the Lakers in late April as they’ve caught fire at the best possible time even while missing their second-best player in Porziņģis. Dončić seems to crave the spotlight and the challenge of facing the league’s best, a trait that will serve him well as the bright lights of the playoffs return in the coming days.
Dončić has been the leading scorer in 47 of the Mavs 68 games played to date, he’s led the team in assists in all but ten contests, and he has completely changed the landscape for a team that has clinched their first Southwest Division championship in ten years after being on the brink of self-destruction just a few months prior.
The final week of the regular season leaves a myriad of possible playoff rivals, but with a player who continuously upends and outplays any perceived ceiling, the Mavericks can hedge on being able to hang with just about anyone.
As his third regular season comes to a conclusion, do you think Luka Dončić and the Mavs can make some noise in the playoffs? Share your thoughts with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.
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- A look at the Western Conference Standings and the Mavs playoff scenarios.