Now, without further ado: Luka Doncic.
In the most recent episode of the Dunc’d on Podcast, Nate Duncan
said this of Doncic: “[He] has an argument... to be the best
playoff offensive player in the NBA.”
When I heard that, I did the Tiger Woods fist pump to myself,
because I knew at that moment I had the introductory hook to my
In all seriousness, though, he’s got a point. This dude just
might be unstoppable.
In my last article of this series, I posited the idea of using
a balancing scale (between scoring and playmaking) when thinking
about star offensive players. Guys like Kevin Durant and Giannis
Antetokounmpo are naturally more inclined to score, while the
scales’ of Nikola Jokic and Chris Paul lean more towards the
No such imbalance exists with Doncic.
Over the last two seasons, not one player has finished in the
top-five in both points per possession and box creation (an estimate of open shots created for
teammates). This means teams can’t load up on his scoring attempts
or try to isolate him (90th percentile) to defang his
passing without suffering some harsh repercussions.
Although the sample is small (13 games), his achievement of the
perfect chemical equilibrium puts him in rarified air as far as
postseason scoring goes.
Career Changes in Scoring/Efficiency From Regular Season
Points Per 100 Possessions*
(Mobile users scroll right to
view the full table.)
*Data Provided by Basketball Reference
His offensive versatility (the key to postseason success) is
highlighted when you look at his counters in the pick-and-roll
Similar to the Phoenix Suns (who I spotlighted last month), the
Dallas Mavericks run a ton of pick-and-rolls (No.
8 in frequency). However, their attack isn’t pioneered by a
two-headed serpent. Instead, it's quarterbacked by the human
manifestation of the Old Testament’s Leviathan.
If you opt for
drop coverage against Doncic, he can hit you with his float
game (90th percentile in the short
midrange) or a lob over the top.
If you hedge/show against him, he’s too
big, too calm, too cool (Hand Luka) to not see over the top of you
and find the weak point in the defense.
Lastly, you can’t mitigate his impact with switches the way you
could with the frailer Chris Paul/Devin Booker tandem. It's all
thanks to his powerful frame (71st percentile or higher in post-ups
from 2019-21), trusty stepback and aforementioned isolation
Also, as if that wasn’t already enough, he’s improved his
efficiency on handoffs to give his game an
Watching him for this article reminded me of an old Antonio
Gramsci quote: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the
We are all smart enough to know that Doncic is probably going to
decimate any game plan we attempt to deploy against him, but we
can’t lose hope in our ability to slow him down. Here are three
ideas Optimistic Mat came up with:
1. A little luck never hurt anyone!
Poor shooting has plagued his worst performances of the season.
He’s shooting a combined 9 of 46 from three (19.6%) in the six
outings where he’s posted a sub-10 Game Score. But it’s not really
anything his opponents are doing that is slowing him down, as
according to NBA.com tracking data, he’s shooting 9 of 39 on
open/wide-open threes (23.1%) during those contests.
On the surface, banking on him having an off-shooting night
seems demoralizing, but when you account for the fact that he’s
fielded three months of sub-29% shooting this season,
there’s a decent chance you could catch him on a bad day.
2. Get yourself an Aaron Gordon.
I’m partially joking here, but man, does Gordon have Doncic’s number.
This season, Doncic is shooting a mere 7 of 24 (29.2%) from the
floor during the 97.5 partial possessions he’s being shadowed by AG
(per NBA.com). Widen those parameters a bit further, and for his
career, Doncic is shooting a slightly better but still pedestrian,
22 of 73 (30.1%) throughout 287.3 partial possessions.
Gordon is strong enough that Doncic can’t simply veer into him
on finishes, quick enough to reattach to him after screens and long
enough that, when he crowds him, he can blur his sightlines.
And while Gordon himself isn’t cloneable (yet), players stemming
from the same evolutionary branch have experienced some success of
their own against the Slovenian. In the playoffs last season, Paul
George and Kawhi Leonard were the only players who could hold
Doncic to under 48% shooting from the floor.
This year, De'Andre Hunter has held him to 4 of 17 shooting during
the two games their teams have squared off in.
The formula for (partial) success here is finding a lengthy wing
who can match Doncic’s unique blend of quickness and
3. Throw the kitchen sink at him.
Despite not having a Gordon-esque body type on the roster
(Jarred Vanderbilt is a little too lean), the Minnesota
Timberwolves held Doncic to his lowest Game Score output of the
season (4.5). And yes, some of it came from the shooting luck we talked about
earlier, but the group also did a good job of throwing a ton of
different matchups/coverages at Doncic.
During their March 21 showdown, I counted seven different Wolves
guarding Doncic for at least a possession during the game. This
revolving door of characters makes it so that Doncic can never
fully figure out the cadence of his defender.
For instance, a smaller Patrick Beverely would probably get
bullied if assigned to the larger
Doncic for the entire night. But his pest powers become far more
valuable when Doncic has just spent the past handful of possessions
getting acclimated to the longer dimensions of a Taurean
The same logic applies to coverages. The Timberwolves are
notorious for their aggressive approach to defending ball-screens.
However, in this game, they coordinated their traps and blitzes
with a steady diet of switches and drops, and this strategy
ultimately befuddled the Mavericks' star for large portions of the
Feel-based players like Doncic need to
be kept on their toes by throwing new problems at them to identify
and solve at all times.
Regardless of what option you choose to rely on, you better
bring your A-game when you stand by for battle, because anything
less will be the equivalent of playing with fire.
And when your dealing with quite possibly the best postseason
weapon in the world, you will most certainly get burned.