An hour or so before his Spurs went out and beat the Dallas Mavericks, Gregg Popovich described rookie sensation Luka Dončić as “a beautiful basketball player” and “a consummate basketball player” who “does everything.” In repayment for these lovely compliments, Dončić went out and played what he will dearly hope is the very worst game of his NBA career. If there’s any good news here, it’s that it will be basically impossible for Dončić to ever play worse than he did Tuesday night.
The numbers are pretty hilarious. Dončić shot 5-for-18 from the floor, and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. Those numbers are pretty dismal, but not jarringly so. Unfortunately for our young hero, the horror doesn’t come close to stopping there: Dončić also missed—missed—eight of his nine free-throw attempts, and finished the night with nine turnovers. This was in a home game his Mavericks lost to a playoff-bound intrastate rival by just seven points.
It’s fun to place Dončić’s nightmare night in historical context. Only one other time in NBA history has an NBA player made two or fewer of nine free-throw attempts while also turning the ball over nine times. The silver lining for Luka, I suppose, is the other player on this terrible list is one Moses Malone, from November of 1983. Of course, Malone didn’t also attempt seven three-pointers and miss six of them. That combination—nine turnovers, 2-of-9 or worse on freebies, 1-of-7 or worse on threes—has never happened before. In fact, the list of players in NBA history who have had at least 7 turnovers, and made 15 percent or fewer of at least five three-point attempts, and made 15 percent or fewer of any number of free-throw attempts, is very small, and very grim. Let’s do it with bullets:
- J.R. Smith (of course)
- Stephen Jackson (of course)
- Chuck Person
- Luka Dončić
But it’s even worse! The other three players on that list attempted four combined free throws. Poor Dončić missed twice as many freebies as those other fellows even attempted. Tonight was also just the fifth time in NBA history that a player has made five or fewer of at least 18 shot attempts, while also turning the ball over at least nine times. That list includes Bernard King, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, and Victor Oladipo, but it’s still real bad! It would probably overstate the comprehensive hideousness of his performance to say that Dončić just had the worst single night in NBA regular-season history—looking at you, Mike Mitchell—but it was very, very ugly. Frustrating enough that Dončić may have punched the hell out of something metal while walking to the postgame locker room:
Not a good sign when your best player and the future of your franchise is distracted by the state of his punching hand while walking off the floor following an otherwise meaningless March basketball game. Assuming the hand isn’t hamburger, it will all be uphill from here, for the simple reason that it almost cannot get worse.