For the last two years, Luka Doncic has entered the season as the MVP favorite. In 2021-22, that didn’t come to fruition. Doncic came into the season out of shape and failed to put together a complete MVP campaign. He cooked in the second half, but his slow start put an MVP award out of reach.
It looks like Doncic learned his lesson. So far this year, he’s off to a scorching hot start. Doncic is carrying the Dallas Mavericks, often to a concerning extent. His usage rate is 37.7%, which is actually down a bit in recent games. But it’s close enough to Russell Westbrook’s record 41.7% usage rate in 2016-17 to raise some eyebrows.
There’s good reason the Mavericks are letting Doncic cook, though. He’s putting up some eye-popping numbers through the first 15 games of the season. Doncic is averaging 34.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 8.1 assists this year. He’s shooting 50% from the floor and 29% from deep.
Here’s Doncic’s numbers compared with the first 15 games of the last five MVPs:
Last five MVP’s first 15 games compared to Doncic’s this season
|Luka Doncic 22-23||0.497||0.291||9.1||8.1||2||0.6||34.3|
|Nikola Jokic 21-22||0.595||0.413||13.7||6.4||1.2||0.9||26.2|
|Nikola Jokic 20-21||0.571||0.353||11.3||9.9||1.9||0.5||25.5|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo 19-20||0.566||0.29||14.1||6.6||1.5||1.4||30.1|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo 18-19||0.555||0.105||12.7||5.5||1.3||1.4||25.9|
|James Harden 17-18||0.443||0.388||4.9||10.3||1.6||0.5||30.7|
As you can see, he’s crushing the field in points per game, a full four points per game ahead of James Harden in 2017-18 and Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019-20. His assists per game are comparable to Harden and Nikola Jokic’s numbers, and he’s got almost double the amount of rebounds of Harden, the only other guard on the list.
There’s no question that this year Doncic is proving the MVP prognostication correct. The only thing up in the air is whether he’ll be able to sustain this type of production while having to do so much for the Mavericks.
Jokic had a usage rating of 31.9% and 29.6% in his two MVP seasons. Antetokounmpo approached Doncic’s usage rate in his second MVP season, finishing 37.5% of his team’s possessions. Antetokounmpo notched only a 32.3% usage rate in his first MVP season, however. Harden put up a 36.1% usage rate in his MVP season.
Some have wondered if Doncic can continue to produce at this level with the load he’s carrying for the Mavericks. There’s concerns about how well this heliocentric offense works. But Harden did, for two seasons, and he was never the paragon of athletic conditioning. If Doncic can stay healthy, he’ll continue to put up MVP numbers.
Perhaps the most frightening thing for the NBA should be that Doncic isn’t even shooting that well so far. He’s currently only shooting 29% from deep, below his career average of 33%. Last season he shot 35% on 3-pointers. If Doncic can get his shooting behind the arc straightened out, he might start averaging close to 40 per game.
The NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint, so there’s still so much time left. So many games remain. But Doncic finally got off the starting blocks without a stumble, and for the first time in his young career might be able bring home the MVP so many have predicted.
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