Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM
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Looking Luka's Way for MVP
LeBron James didn’t win an MVP until his sixth NBA season. Giannis Antetokounmpo put in a full five years before he was recognized too.
Luka Doncic may not win MVP for 2019-20 since the grind will likely catch up to a Mavs team currently performing among the NBA’s best ahead of schedule, but then again, maybe he will.
The reigning Rookie of the Year won’t turn 21 years old until February and won’t play his 90th game in this league until Friday’s visit to Phoenix, but to deny what you’re seeing from Doncic is like expressing doubt that Lamar Jackson can continue to do what he’s doing in the NFL this season simply because you haven’t seen it before.
If special showed up more often, it would start meaning something else and we’d need a new word to describe what it’s expected to convey.
Doncic is special.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Clippers, Doncic had averaged 34.8 points, 10.8 assists and 9.8 rebounds during Dallas’ five-game winning streak, an epic run that started with a home win over defending champion Toronto and continued with Sunday’s 137-123 rout of the Rockets in Houston. The Mavs beat the Warriors by 48 points and then took down the Cavs by 42, toying with fellow pros so handily that Doncic didn’t even have to put in a full 30 minutes of action on the floor.
We’ve seen guys get into grooves like this before. James Harden has done it regularly over the past few seasons. Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for three straight years in Oklahoma City. Kawhi Leonard just willed Toronto to its first title a few months ago. LeBron is leading in the league in assists.
That the run Doncic has embarked upon seems to be on the level with all those guys is what’s unique because he’s reached it before he can legally celebrate his latest triple-double with an adult beverage. Guys enter the league as teenagers all the time and will do so more often when the one-and-done rule is soon abolished. I don’t think we’ll see another Doncic go from Rookie of the Year to MVP candidate again this quickly. Kids are too raw.
Doncic is not raw. He’s a 20-year-old veteran.
While the quality of pro basketball in Spain and other European countries pales in comparison to the world’s premier league, the ferocity with which guys compete doesn’t take that back seat. Doncic has been competing against grown men before shaving and has brought a confidence to the NBA that can only be developed through experience. It took him a few months to adjust to more speed and new gyms but he emerged as the league’s top first-year player a season ago before taking his game to another level in year two.
He’s only going to get stronger. Things will always look like they come this easily to him because they do. Doncic, undeniably a savant, is 5-to-2 to win MVP per the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. Only Antetokounmpo (2/1) has better odds and scored 50 points to beat the Jazz on Monday in a dominant performance in which he added 14 rebounds and six assists. Harden is 3-to-1 despite leading the league in scoring and James is 6-to-1 after his fabulous start, but the point of it all is that no one should be questioning whether Doncic’s name belongs in that company.
Head coach Rick Carlisle played with Larry Bird and coached Paul George early in his career before spending a decade with Dirk Nowitzki, so he’s the perfect person to foster Doncic’s development as he continues. He’s put the ball in his hands and let him lead, so expect the Mavs to continue improving as he does. Getting Kristaps Porzingis comfortable playing off Doncic and finding more pick-and-roll partners and shooters to benefit from his heady decision making and all the attention he receives will be essential to turning Dallas into a title contender going forward, but if he stays healthy, we’re going to have to account for the Mavericks for as long as he’s at the controls.
We’ll have an opportunity to see Doncic make his climb and although he’ll likely take his lumps early the way all the other greats have, seeing how he fares in challenges like Tuesday’s where we could see George or Leonard line up against him. Patrick Beverley will undoubtedly get a turn to frustrate Doncic, who isn’t easily flustered by anyone but the refs and missed calls based on what we’ve seen to date.
Beating the Rockets meant the Mavs got to open the week as leaders of the Southwest Division. With the Spurs, Pelicans and Grizzlies all struggling, Dallas looks like Houston’s primary competition in the conference and appears to be in excellent shape as far as finishing top-eight and reaching the playoffs is concerned. We’re less than a quarter of the way in, but don’t let anyone try and tell you what you’re seeing from Doncic is a fluke or that regression to the mean is coming. He may have some inefficient nights – Joel Embiid just went scoreless in Monday’s loss to Toronto – but Doncic is going to dominate more often than not, giving the Mavericks a chance to win every time he steps out there.
There’s not another 20-year-old on the planet you can say that about in team sports at the highest levels.
What's going on with?
The Brooklyn Nets
Spencer Dinwiddie joined Doncic in being named one of the NBA’s players of the week, claiming Eastern Conference honors after filling in wonderfully for Kyrie Irving. He then went out and celebrated by knocking down a cold jumper with just over a second left to turn back the Cavs in Cleveland.
Brooklyn takes a four-game winning streak into Wednesday’s visit to Boston and is above .500 despite Irving’s absence, improving to 5-1 without him after Monday night’s triumph. Irving is out with a shoulder injury and wasn’t playing much defense despite his offensive brilliance, so seeing the Nets excel without him by taking care of business against the Hornets, Kings, Knicks and Cavs isn’t terribly surprising. It’s a nice stretch for the Dinwiddie-led supporting cast auditioning to fill out a roster that will inevitably be led by Kevin Durant and Irving next season, but it’s more important that this group finds success alongside Irving.
Make no mistake, seeing center Jarrett Allen step up with a 21-rebound game like he managed to Monday is tremendous for the franchise. Having Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Joe Harris and Garrett Temple step up and play as well as they have with Caris LeVert also out tells you the franchise is headed in the right direction, but making sure Irving got his tenure with the team off to a seamless start was the primary objective for these first few months and hasn’t been met yet.
Whether you believe Irving ducked his return to Boston on Wednesday by “planning” his shoulder injury as Kendrick Perkins accused him of or believe he’s genuinely hurt and just want to see him get healthy to watch him work, there’s no denying that hearing the noise about him being moody this early in his Brooklyn stint isn’t ideal. Watching his team win without him as Dinwiddie racks up awards he’s supposed to be winning creates an interesting dynamic and makes his potential return Friday at home against his former Celtics teammates one of the week’s must-watch matchups.
Although the Blazers got beat in Cleveland in the first game ‘Melo played with Damian Lillard upon the point guard’s return from injury, it’s clear that he’s got the All-Star’s support.
Anthony, looking to impress after signing a non-guaranteed make-good deal in which he doesn’t cash in on a veteran’s minimum deal of just over $2M unless he’s still on the roster on Jan. 7, got off to a mediocre start shooting the ball but played his best game yet in Monday’s rout of Chicago, scoring a team-high 25 points and racking up eight rebounds.
Anthony took 20 shots in 31 minutes and has physically held up. He’s putting in some effort on defense, which has never been a strong suit, but he’s off to a better start than many expected he’d find after missing over a calendar year due to fears he wouldn’t embrace a lesser role than he’s enjoyed throughout the career. Ironically, that still hasn’t come in Portland, where Lillard has made sure to get him going as head coach Terry Stotts paid him the ultimate respect by immediately placing him in the starting lineup.
After snapping a four-game losing streak, we’ll see how the Blazers progress over a crucial stretch in which they’ll play six of the next seven games at Moda Center. Only two teams among those seven opponents, the Clippers and Lakers, currently have winning records, so Portland has to make inroads in order to overcome its awful start. An increased sense of urgency could make them worth backing, but you’ll want to see this experiment succeed against someone other than the Bulls. I won’t waste much space on it, but if you’re ever fading a team strictly based on coaching, Chicago’s Jim Boylan is your guy. He got a contract extension in April, too, so he should be around despite the Bulls being such a dumpster fire that they took solace in rooting on Melo and reveling in his success on Monday.
Injuries to Monitor
Boston won without Kemba Walker in the mix, holding off the Kings despite Buddy Hield’s 11 3-pointers, but should have him back from a scary neck injury as early as Wednesday. Brad Wanamaker and rookie Tremont Waters filled in for the already short-handed Celtics, who won’t get Gordon Hayward back until next month. Center Daniel Theis was sick but should also return by week’s end. Enes Kanter got extended run with him out but seems better-suited for a reserve role with this group since Theis is a better defender... Hornets center Cody Zeller injured his hip in a loss to Miami, so Bismack Biyombo could be in for more minutes... Miami is likely to hold out wing Justise Winslow the remainder of the month due to concussion protocol. He’s been out since Nov. 5... Raptors PG Kyle Lowry is getting closer to a return from his thumb injury and big man Serge Ibaka will be traveling with the team this season, so a Toronto team that has overcome losing Leonard and these injuries should continue making noise... Zion Williamson is hoping to debut around mid-December if he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, while fellow rookie Ja Morant should play despite being hurt after a nasty fall and a collision with a camera man on Monday. He returned in the third quarter… Golden State F Draymond Green will probably return to action this week, potentially as early as Wednesday’s game against the Bulls… Jazz C Rudy Gobert will likely remain a game-time decision against the Pacers on Wednesday after sitting out a loss to the Bucks, but his ankle injury isn’t expected to linger… Suns point guard Ricky Rubio (back) and center Aron Baynes (hip) have missed multiple games due to injuries and have been greatly missed since their team misses their poise, defense and the structure they provide. Phoenix is worth fading until they return.
Games to Watch
Tuesday – Clippers at Mavs
After cleaning up at Staples Center to start the season, the Clippers have to start proving they deserve to be the NBA favorite as they hit the road for nine of the next 11 starting here.
Wednesday – Lakers at Pelicans
LeBron James and Anthony Davis will see plenty of familiar faces. Here’s hoping Brandon Ingram continues to play as well as he has in order for this one to remain spicy throughout.
Thursday – No games
Happy Thanksgiving, turkeys!
Friday – Jazz at Grizzlies
Mike Conley returns to Memphis! Wait, didn’t we just do this? He’d like to win this time after Morant denied him in his return two weeks ago. Gobert should play.
Saturday - Pacers at 76ers
With Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner back, the Pacers are better off for their injuries since a young bench was able to generate confidence through success while filling in for them throughout the month. The Holiday brothers have really stood out.
Sunday - Mavericks at Lakers
Doncic-led Dallas lost 119-110 at home to open November and gets another crack at the Lakers with a little more experience and success fueling the team as they play the second of a three-game road swing.
Friday – Celtics at Nets
They’re tipping this one off at noon – breakfast-time in Vegas, so grab some coffee before digging into leftovers and serve up some sloppy basketball as we root on an ‘under’ here. Look for the number to be placed around 210.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA