For the second straight year, this pipe dream of Luka Dončić being NBA MVP seems to be going up in flames already. Dallas started the season well, but now they’re a game under .500 (11-12) and have lost eight of their last 10 games. It’s not so much Luka’s statistical production, although his shooting percentages are down slightly from last year, along with his rebound numbers. It’s that his style on the court rarely equals winning and playing deep into the postseason.
The Mavs played the Brooklyn Nets in Dallas Tuesday night and had control of that game for the first 45 minutes. Seeing how their season has gone the past couple of weeks, it’s no surprise the Mavs gave up a double-digit lead in a losing effort against Brooklyn. Dončić and Dallas squandered a 17-point lead and lost, 102-99.
As great as Dončić is, his style of game doesn’t win much in the NBA. And by win, I mean championships or at least contributing to long playoff runs. Dončić can’t get the Mavs out of the first round against the Clippers. He can be fun to watch, but the one-man act gimmick won’t get it done if he wants to be considered an all-time great eventually.
That’s why I’ve been against the Larry Bird comparisons with Luka, because he doesn’t make his teammates better on the court. Even with other Hall of Fame players beside him, Bird could have averaged 30ppg in his prime if he wanted to. But it wasn’t about stats and being flashy for Bird. He wanted to win, and win is what he did. Three NBA championships and three MVP awards in a row.
Everyone talks about more help for Dončić, but it doesn’t matter who is on the court with him; trust is the key. I know the Larry Legend comparison is easy to make, but I’ve never bought into that. The best comparison for Dončić might be James Harden. Luka doesn’t possess the long-range shooting ability of Harden, but Bird was also a great long-range shooter, and people still make that comparison. If you watch Dončić and Harden with the ball, their moves down to many mannerisms are pretty similar. Neither player relies on extreme athleticism, and both have that herky-jerky, almost slow-motion type game. And both players can get you buckets at a high clip. Well, Houston Harden did anyway.
Luka is getting closer and closer to Harden in this comparison and not just in their style of play. Dončić came into training camp weighing around 260 pounds, 30 over his listed weight on NBA.com. It’s actually kind of amazing to see him still dominate games being that out of shape. But that can’t last, and he shouldn’t want it to. It will become far more difficult to play his way into shape as he gets older. At age 22, he can do this and still be productive. By age 28, 29, and especially 30 and beyond, this tactic won’t be quite as successful, I can assure you.
The weight issue might be an easier hurdle to get over for Dončić. Mavs head coach Jason Kidd has been tasked with teaching Luka how to become more of a team player, and now they’ve got to teach him how to get into and stay in shape year-round. Teaching Luka how to become more of a team guy and make players better could prove to be much more challenging.
Luckily for Dončić and Dallas, he’s still very young, so they have some time. But the franchise shouldn’t take any of this lightly. It would be a shame to waste any of Luka’s prime years just because nobody wanted to speak up and risk pissing off their young star. Mark Cuban, this is your team, get it together and get this kid on track.