Here's how Luka Doncic can get even better

Mike Mazzeo

Dallas Mavericks second-year point guard Luka Doncic is already doing it all.

Doncic, averaging 30.1 points, 10 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game, may end up having the best NBA season ever for a 20-year-old.

And he’s running one of the most efficient offenses in league history (116 points per 100 possessions), carrying the Mavericks to a surprising 11-6 record.

Tuesday night was a bit of a reality check for Dallas, which lost 114-99 at home to the Los Angeles Clippers. Doncic struggled, shooting 4-of-14 from the floor and 0-for-8 from 3-point range, but still posted 22 points (14 free throws), eight rebounds and six assists with seven turnovers.

“He’s got this innate sense of where everyone is on the floor. It’s a gift,” an Eastern Conference executive told Yahoo Sports. “The way he plays reminds me of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.”

But where can a transcendent star like Doncic get even better?

Yahoo Sports decided to ask around.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George, left, and Patrick Beverley (21) defend as Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Clippers forward Paul George, left, and Patrick Beverley (21) defend the Mavericks' Luka Doncic on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)


Doncic’s numbers speak for themselves. His shooting percentages are up across the board (48.5 FG, 32.9 3-PT, 82.3 FT).

And despite not having the quickness or sheer athleticism of LeBron James, Doncic still dominates defenses with his size (6-foot-7, 218 pounds), ability to get to the rim, shooting from deep and knack for finding open teammates. His between-the-legs dribble move is something special. And he’s still in the early stages of developing chemistry with co-star Kristaps Porzingis.

“Offensively, it’s all really nitpicks. He’s obviously very talented,” one former NBA assistant coach told Yahoo Sports. “There are times when he swings for the home-run play or he’ll predetermine his move or that he’s shooting, which is odd because he’s good at reading defenses and making the right play. Sometimes, it’s rejecting a pick-and-roll if the defense is ready for it or putting his head down to get a floater.

“He’s a great player and great players do that, but there’s got to be a balance. I’m also interested in seeing how he handles a team deciding they aren’t going to let him get going.”

Doncic is a slightly below-league average shooter from beyond the arc — though he’s firing at a high volume and taking a lot of good shots.

“I’m not sure that he’s ever going to be an elite shooter,” one Western Conference scout told Yahoo Sports. “But I don’t know if that matters because he’s already doing so much on the court. He’s also the type of guy that you can’t leave open, and that’s important.”

Two scouts would like to see the Mavericks try to get Doncic more involved out of the post as a way to score or facilitate because of his ability to create instant mismatches.

“It’s something Dallas hardly utilizes,” one scout said. “But he’d be such a dynamic playmaker there. He’s pretty f---ing strong and can hold his own.”

Perhaps most impressive, Doncic is making things happen with a lesser supporting cast. As many evaluators pointed out, he’d benefit from playing next to more skilled guys on both sides of the ball.

But with Doncic and Porzingis, Dallas certainly has a strong foundation in place.

“He’s kind of reaching this point where I don’t think he thought the NBA would be this easy for him,” one Eastern Conference scout said. “He probably thought there would be growing pains. So midway through the third quarter sometimes he goes into ‘f--k it’ mode where he tries things he shouldn’t, like no-look, crosscourt passes and wild dribbling moves.

“He’s so good at the easy stuff that he can get sloppy trying to experiment. But it’s natural that as he matures he’ll be more protective of the ball and value possessions more.”


Doncic is far from elite on D.

In fact, he ranks 111th among guards who have played at least 10 games in’s version of defensive win shares.

“He’s got to continue to work on his effort and his closeouts and his rotations on the weakside,” the ex-NBA assistant said. “Putting in the work to avoid becoming a liability — and I don’t necessarily mean in every one-on-one setting but someone a team decides, ‘We’re going to use whoever he is guarding as the screener.’”

Another former assistant told Yahoo Sports: “He’s pretty damn phenomenal. His on-ball defense needs a lot of work. Otherwise, he’s set.”

Those opinions aren’t necessarily shared by everyone, though.

“He’s not a bad defender,” the East scout said. “He’s smart. He knows where to be. I wouldn’t call him a liability. You can’t ruthlessly attack him. His defense is good in a team setting. It’s just a matter of if he can get to the point where he’s a little more switchable and a little more able to guard in isolated scenarios one-on-one.”

And given how much of a positive Doncic is on offense, he can get away with being a lesser defender.

“I think he’s smart enough to do well on defense,” the West scout said. “He’s such an elite rebounder for a player at his position. And when you think about it, James Harden isn’t a good defensive player. How many of the best players in today’s NBA are elite defenders? If Luka was an elite defensive player, he’d arguably be the best player in the league.”

“Does it even matter?” the East executive wondered. “He’s so young and he’s going to keep getting better with experience as he continues to learn the league.”


Doncic got in better shape this summer, which has played a significant role in his sophomore surge. He’s currently averaging 34 minutes per game while posting an incredibly high usage rate of 35.6 percent.

Now, he’s got to sustain that. Doncic played in 72 games as a rookie.

“He had to get his body right and he did,” the West scout said, noting that the Mavericks urged Doncic to improve in this area. “He’s never been known as the hardest worker, but he put in a ton of work on his body this summer and it’s showed on the court.

“I’m not sure how much he needs to get better. He’s already got God-given talent in terms of his tremendous basketball IQ, court vision and passing skills. But the key will be staying healthy, continuing to eat a proper diet and stay in shape to avoid injuries.”

Added another West scout: “I think the only area where he can improve even more is his body. He’s already done that, but it can be better.”

Luka Doncic is capable of getting better. Think about that.

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