12 Players – Heroic Labors: Luka Doncic

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, the challenge that the players will face in their quest for a championship becomes clearer. While it’s foolish to argue that this restart will decide the legacy of an NBA player or organization, it certainly can help to build up one should they go the distance.

Just as Hercules had to overcome 12 challenges or labors in order to prove himself to be worthy, NBA superstars will be taxed in a way they never have before. Superstars will be responsible for carrying their teams on the court like usual but they will also have to keep their groups focused, engaged, and united in their quests for a championship. Here are the biggest challenges that 12 NBA superstars will face as they seek to win the title. Now batting…Luka Doncic.

With the Dallas Mavericks fighting for their playoff lives this afternoon against the LA Clippers the burden undoubtedly falls on Luka Doncic. The young phenom has been even better than advertised. In only his second NBA season Luka averaged 29 / 9 / 9 and established himself as a borderline MVP candidate. The sign of a truly great player is having the ability to up your game in the playoffs. Luka has done just that — despite the fact Kristaps Porzingis has only played 1 full game in the series. All of his counting stats (points, rebounds, assists, steals) are up. What’s an even better sign is that his percentages are up as well. Per Cleaning the Glass, effective field goal percentage (adjusts for the extra point of a three pointer) up 53.9% to 55.6%; Mid-range up 41% to 49%. And most importantly for Luka going forward…the three ball up from 33% to 35%.

Now granted the playoff numbers are an extremely small sample size but it’s incredible what he’s been able to do at his age, in just his second season. His ability to “predict” what defenders will do in real time is otherworldly as Zach Lowe and Tim MacMahon describe below…

There has been so much conversation on what player Luka compares best to. Is he Larry Bird? Magic Johnson? Lebron? Harden? Truthfully he’s all of these and then some. He’s stated himself that he studies Harden, particularly on foul drawing. He’s absolutely got the court vision and passing ability of Lebron and Magic. He’s got the court savvy and basketball intelligence of Larry Bird. But at the risk of doing the white guy to white guy comparison, I see a lot of Pistol Pete and his Slovenian teammate, Goran Dragic. The trickery and nuanced below the rim offensive attack to me resemble Pistol, while when he attacks the basket — particularly downhill — he uses his body to ward off defenders much like Goran does. They both are above average rim finishers for guys that don’t elevate well and utilize similar body control once in the paint.

With all that being said, Luka is far from a finished product. Defensively he has a long way to go, though his elite rebounding is an asset. And most importantly for his offensive game is his three ball, especially off the bounce. He’s already got the signature right-to-left crossover step-back. What he needs to do is improve its reliability. If he can get it into the high 30’s or to the low 40’s (teams everywhere silently screaming) he’ll be virtually unguardable.

Luka has carried the Mavs to two playoff victories. One spectacular fashion to the tune of 43 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists and this legendary game winner…

For the Mavs to win Game 6 and Game 7 to emerge from this series it will take a herculean (Game 4 style) effort from Luka. He has the ultra-rare ability to dominate the game offensively and on the boards. He may only be in his sophomore NBA season but Luka is no stranger to pressure as he led Real Madrid to the 2018 championship and was named MVP. He also — along with Goran Dragic — carried the Slovenian national team to a EuroBasket title in 2017. If Luka, now with a well rested ankle, can channel two more Game 4 style games it might be the greatest playoff series performance for a player in their debut playoffs since Magic Johnson’s rookie effort in the NBA Finals of 1980.

by Frank Greco (@fgreco12)

James HardenDamian LillardJoel EmbiidJimmy ButlerDonovan MitchellJayson Tatum — Pascal Siakam — Nikola Jokic — Giannis Antetokounmpo — Kahwi Leonard — Lebron James

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