In just a couple of games, 1/3 of the 2019-20 NBA season will be done. At this stage, fans have already been treated to some amazing performances. So far, the Milwaukee Bucks are leading the Eastern Conference with a 21-3 record. Mirroring them in the Western Conference, are the Los Angeles Lakers, also at 21-3.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on a tear to start the season with averages of 30.8 points, 13.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game to lead his herd to their current spot in the standings.
For the Lakers, the pairing of living legend LeBron James and phenomenal big man Anthony Davis has been nothing short of spectacular. James is clocking in with a league-best 10.8 assists per game and has defied Father Time with astonishing averages of 25.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Meanwhile, Davis is making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year as he averages 27.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.7 blocks per game.
Overall, there is a consensus that this season, the West is far more competitive than the East. A lot of teams, like the Lakers, Clippers and Rockets are widely considered to be strong contenders for the title this year. As expected the two franchises from L.A. are the top-2 teams in the West.
One team, more than any other in the West has been an eye-opening surprise so far. They are the Dallas Mavericks, who sit in third place with a 16-7 record (same as the Clippers). They finished 2018-19 with the second-worst record in the West at 33-49. Now, they’re on pace to make the playoffs and challenge the Big Dogs or heavy favorites.
What’s been the secret to their success? There are two core reasons. First, is that they have a now-healthy Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia) active and playing at a steady pace on his way back to his pre-injury (ACL) form. Second, is the leap in production from second-year player and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic (Slovenia).
Doncic is taking the league by storm with amazing games. On November 19th, against the San Antonio Spurs, Luka recorded a crazy triple-double with 42 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists – the youngest player in the league to accomplish such a feat. Season-to-date, Doncic has already seven triple-doubles under his belt. Which means that he’s roughly on track to produce a triple-double once every three games. Amazing!
When Luka won the Rookie of the Year award, everyone knew he was something special, a once-in-a-generation type of player. What people did not figure though, was how quickly and how drastically he would improve on his rookie campaign.
In 2018-19 Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.3 3-pointers per game. However, he shot poorly from the field, making just 42.7 percent of his shots there. Also, for a guard, he did not shoot too well from the free-throw line, hitting just 71.3 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.
In 2019-20, Doncic has improved dramatically across the board and is now averaging 30.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.2 assists 3.0 3-pointers per game at 47.6% shooting from the field and 81.4% shooting from the line. He improved on his PER, from 19.61 in 2018-19 to 31.60 in 2019-20 These averages are crazy, especially if you consider the context that he’s only 20 years old.
Just recently, Doncic tied Michael Jordan for most consecutive games with at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists at 18 games. He is still on track to not only surpass his Airness but to possibly smash the record and take it to a level that won’t be beaten in decades.
Considering how good Luka is now and how much impact he’s had on the success of the Mavericks, can he be considered a Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidate? Or at the very least, be considered and be part of the discussion? The short answer is “Yes,” and rightfully so. He can and should be compared to the likes of Antetokounmpo, LeBron, and Anthony Davis.
However, all of these four gentlemen will need to get in line, because at the moment the player widely considered to be the frontrunner is Houston Rockets guard James Harden. He’s averaging a league-high 38.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.0 steals and 4.7 3-pointers per game. On December 1st, Harden dropped 60 points in a 158-111 win over the Atlanta Hawks. In his next game, on December 4th, Harden scored 50 points in a 133-135 2OT loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Simply put, he’s been balling outta his mind.
While Luka is not doing James Harden things, at least not yet, he is providing the Mavericks with a go-to scorer and facilitator who makes everyone on the team better. Luka Doncic may not win the MVP this season, but he sure as heck should be talked about with the same level of awe and profound admiration as everyone discussed here in the article. He will win that award, it’s a matter of time.