Rookie phenom Luka Dončić put the Dallas Mavericks on his back in the final 90 seconds of their matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. His first two clutch baskets came at the rim thanks to picks that DeAndre Jordan set. The first drive resulted in a heavily-contested layup, and the second resulted in a two-handed slam with Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson contesting the attempt. Dončić didn’t need Jordan on his third and final clutch shot, as he just picked a spot behind the line and sunk the late three.
Dončić, as he is wont to do, did more than just make those three baskets down the stretch. He finished the game with 29 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and two steals and, with this latest slate of performances, basically locked up NBA Rookie of the Year. But he’s not only putting up what would be considered impressive numbers for any rookie, he’s becoming one of the most clutch players in the league, and the stats back it up. Here’s how he stacks up in late-game scenarios against other players much more NBA experience than he has.
Specifically, in the final three minutes of games separated by one possession, Dončić is shooting 17-of-26 from the field, and 6-of-11 from three.
I could try and play the part of the uppity sports blogger and say that this surprise doesn’t come as a surprise when you stop to consider some of the other late performances he’s had this season—his two-minute run to bury the Rockets earlier this year comes to mind. But look at the other names on that list for Christ’s sake! He’s not just outperforming the other rookies in his class, his name is above established superstars and past MVP’s in the most important period of a game where rookies are often asked to back away and let the experienced players handle the pressure. How many teams in NBA history can honestly say that their best plan of attack in a late-game scenario is to give the ball to a 19-year-old and let him go to work? The only possible answers involve names that are brought up when discussing the greatest players of all time. Time will tell if he ever reaches that plane of NBA existence, but at least his most enthusiastic pre-draft supporters can enjoy the fact that his performances are exceeding well-beyond what many people thought they’d be.