Believe the hype: Luka Doncic off to historic start for Mavericks
With every passing night Luka Doncic looks more and more like the answer to the question: Who will be this season’s NBA Rookie of the Year?
Yet the form of the Dallas Mavericks’ 19-year-old phenom also poses a conundrum of its own. Just 10 games into his career, do his superb numbers indicate a fast-track towards greatness, or are they a quirk thrown up by the scoring-heavy nature of the league?
The truth likely lies somewhere in between. Doncic is an outstanding player, no question about it, with huge upside. Over the first three weeks of his NBA career, with no prior American basketball experience, he has scored 19.8 points per game, while averaging 6.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists.
If these numbers are sustained, Doncic would be in an elite place in NBA history. Only eight other rookies have ever averaged at least 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, according to Basketball Reference.
But there is also little doubt that Doncic has a few more factors working in his favor than many of those who came before him when it comes to putting up big numbers.
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“The game is easier to adjust to now than it was 10 years ago,” the young Slovenian’s teammate Dirk Nowitzki told USA TODAY Sports. “It is less physical and more free flowing, so everything is set up for him to succeed and do well.
“He has confidence, he is taking big shots for us, the ball is in his hands a lot – it has been fun to watch. We haven’t seen it ever really, a rookie under 20 who averages 20 and six. The game is different now and that obviously helps (European players) succeed. Back when I came in it was tougher, more physical, there was hand checking, it is a lot more open now, the rules have changed.”
Doncic’s latest strong performance came in a 23-point outing on Tuesday, as the Mavs ended a six-game losing skid to beat the Washington Wizards, 119-100.
“Every game, you look at him and say, ‘Are you sure this guy is only 19?’” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “I don’t look at him as a young player. He’s a legitimate NBA player who is going to be a superstar.”
Time will tell how much the stats are a reflection of Doncic’s excellence and how much can be attributed to the permissive nature that the NBA has towards scoring. It may become increasingly difficult to compare one era against another if the glut of scoring continues, both as a result of tactical shifts and in the extra protection given to offensive players.
“You really just can’t touch anyone at all or you are going to get called for a foul,” LeBron James said recently. “That’s just how it is now.”
Before the end of the first week of November, teams had hit the 140-point barrier in regulation six times during the course of the season, compared to eight times each of the previous two years and only three total occasions between 2014 and 2016, per ESPN.
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