Remember when Luka Dončić was overweight, complaining to officials too much, and the Dallas Mavericks’ record was under .500? That was the story of Dončić and the Mavericks in December. Four months — and a Kristaps Porziņģis trade— later, the Mavericks are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They are 19 games over .500 with three more to play and earned one of their best wins of the season against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks had won 11 games in March, including consecutive road victories against the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, last week. At home against the Mavericks they ended up losing, 118-112. Dončić led the way with 32 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists. His percentages from the field and the 3-point line were below his usual standards, but he took over the game in the fourth quarter.
In just over two minutes of game action, he scored or assisted on every Mavs basket once he reentered the game early in the fourth quarter. That stretch took the Mavs from being down one to up eight. The Bucks were not able to reduce the deficit any lower than six points for the rest of the game.
Dončić only made one field goal in the fourth quarter, but still was able to control the game. He got to the free throw line, set up his teammates, grabbed rebounds, and showed that not all 9-22 shooting performances should be viewed equally. His fingerprints were all over that game, and most of the Mavs’ in the second half of this season. They are currently the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, and only one game behind the Golden State Warriors for the No. 3 seed. Dončić’s early season woes have to be held against him in the MVP race, so Nikola Jokić and Antetokounmpo should finish the season ahead of him in the voting. However, while Dončić won’t win the MVP, he is gaining ground on becoming the best player in the NBA.
On the season, Dončić is averaging 28.3 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting. Since the Mavericks started rolling in January, he’s averaging 29.7 points per game on 46.2 percent from the field. In February he averaged 34.7 points per game while shooting 41.2 percent from the 3-point line. Last month Dončić averaged a shade under 30 points per game, 29.9, while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three.
He has been unstoppable and been doing whatever he wants on the court. Look at this clip from yesterday of him isolated one-on-one against Giannis. This is a 7-foot player who is bigger, faster, stronger, and longer than him, along with being one of the best defensive players of his generation. Dončić basically did to Antetokounmpo what Allen Iverson did to Michael Jordan, except he buried a 3-pointer. Look at the bench reaction. If this happened during an episode of Streetball everyone would’ve rushed the court.
Also, his assists are getting ridiculous. He had a season-high 15 yesterday, and threw just about every pass in the book. Dončić was going behind the back, across the court, beating Antetokounmpo on lobs, and throwing it way down court on the break. The passing display that he put on against the Bucks was spectacular and it’s becoming more and more commonplace for him. Check out this no-look pass that he threw to Maxi Kleber last week. Dončić was almost at the rim and not only did he flip it back to the three-point line, he threw the pass over his opposite shoulder.
However, as great as he has been, it’s not fair to the players who have been on their game all season to give him that reward. Jokić has been on an advanced analytic rampage all season, while holding the Denver Nuggets together without Michael Porter Jr, and Jamal Murray, and keeping the team out of the play-in. Antetokounmpo kept the Bucks afloat while they dealt with injuries throughout the season, including one that resulted in Brook Lopez being out for most of the season, and almost got them the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference — they could still technically get it but they’re 2.5 games out with only four left to play. Also, even though the Philadelphia 76ers are struggling as of late, do not forget that Joel Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 30.2 points on 49.3 percent from the field and has played in the most games in a season of his career, all while holding the 76ers together during the Ben Simmons drama.
None of those players should have their performances overlooked for Dončić’s half of a season, but these four and Kevin Durant are the top five players in the NBA. Yesterday, Luka Dončić put on the type of performance on national television that is befitting of the best player in the league. So while he doesn’t deserve a place in the MVP conversation, not only does he deserve a place in the one about best player, he might need to be the person that conversation revolves around.