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Luka’s historic start…and whether it can last
After 10 games, Luka Doncic is first in my Offensive Box Plus-Minus model. He’s second in Basketball-Reference’s version. He’s fourth in Offensive PIPM — Jacob Goldstein’s stat that combines the box score with luck-adjusted plus-minus data.
And Luka’s just 20 years old.
Let’s put into perspective just how incredible Doncic’s start is. The best offensive season by a 20 or 21-year old in the 3-point era was authored by LeBron James in 2006. He posted an offensive BPM (OBPM) mark of +4.3 that year. Luka’s OBPM is currently +5.1. That would be a top-25 offensive season since the merger in 1977.
But there’s more.
No 22-year-old has ever topped +5 in this metric. The only 23-year-old to top Luka’s current mark is Tracy McGrady in 2003, who posted a +5.2. The only 24-year-old season is LeBron James’ first MVP rodeo in 2009 (+5.3). Are you seeing how crazy this is?
The only other 23-year-old in the ballpark was Chris Paul, in 2008 (+4.6), in his near-MVP campaign. In total, there have been a mere eight seasons above +4 in my OBPM for player’s 23 or younger. In addition to the aforementioned trio, the only other players to do it were Nikola Jokic (2017), Michael Jordan (1987) and Magic Johnson (1983).
That is offensive royalty.
Can it last?
Luka’s only played 348 minutes. It’s a small sample, and there’s certainly no guarantee he can maintain this pace. But this is where different levels of analysis come in handy. If we zoom down a touch and examine his scoring and playmaking value, we can start to see whether this is all just a big fluke. (Fluka Doncic?) Luka’s a +1.7 in ScoreVal right now and a +2.1 in the playmaking version of that stat, good enough to place in the top-10 in both metrics this year. So how sustainable is each?
Let’s start with his passing because I recently broke it down on film.
He can’t quite muster up that level of artistry every night yet, but his playmaking has been phenomenal thus far. Given his pedigree as a passer, I don’t see any reason for this to cool off considerably as the season unfolds. Teams can attempt to scheme for some of Dallas’ screening action, but Luka has counters to these, and the Mavs have some versatility (if they remain healthy) between lob-threat bigs (Powell), popping bigs (Kleber and Porzingis) and outside shooters (Curry, Wright).
His scoring also provides counters to any defensive adjustments, which is why he’s on this John Wick tear. As noted in the above video, when defenses pull toward the lane or send extra help, he sets up teammates for open looks. If they don’t send extra help, Luka uses size to carve out space near the hoop or shuffles into his step back.
He’s shooting only 32 percent from downtown, which I don’t think will be far off from where he finishes the season. Given his difficult shot selection, I imagine 30-35 percent is likely. His 84 percent mark at the line is encouraging too, because he’s slithering to the rim a lot and converting 72 percent of his attempts there, thanks to some upgraded athleticism in the offseason. I don’t know if he can maintain that mark, but his touch and instincts near the hoop, along with those foul-drawing habits, should keep these premium looks flowing. (About 40 percent of Luka’s offense comes at the rim or from the line.)
Finally, his midrange game — i.e. his floater game — is producing a blazing 53% shooting between the restricted area and the 3-point lane. That’s a likely candidate for regression, and when it cools off, he’ll lose some of his scoring value. But, that won’t dent his incredible numbers too badly — Doncic is sixth in the league in scoring rate right now (29 points per 75 possessions) and among the top-10 scorers by volume, only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Diamian Lillard have a higher true shooting percentage. (Luka is about six percent ahead of league average right now.)
And so…most of this seems sustainable, particularly his playmaking. So, even with some natural regression, Luka Doncic is on track to have one of the best young offensive seasons in league history.
Keep an eye on this as these stats stabilize after more games played. I know I will.
Our own opinion:
Luka has eventually been a product of European homegrown talent and with so much turmoil going on in how talent development around Europe it managed, it is our opinion as a company that certain talent such as Doncic should be more tailored and brought up and than allowed to take the next step of their career once they are fully prepared to adjust to the NBA or the style of play in the U.S.
Take into account that Luka came into the league as the MVP of the Euroleague, a Euroleague Champion, a Slovenian NMT player that had won it in the European Championship all the while being groomed for the next step which was the NBA and his ultimate dream.
That should not necessarily mean that personnel decisions by teams should mean that sending over youth development talent should go to explore their educational options in the U.S. if they want to but in terms of pure game development, a clear definition of a player fitting into a style of play or development means that coaches, executives at a federation level and club level need to think carefully on where as well as how players can best fit in.
If you like out insights and breakdowns feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more insight.