Luka is coming – Jordan and Lebron better watch their thrones
LUKA FREAKING DONCIC
On Sunday, we saw the first of hopefully many big playoff moments from Dallas Mavericks mega star Luka Doncic. The Clippers hit a three pointer in overtime to put Los Angeles ahead by 1 with one foul to give. The Clippers eventually use the foul. With 3.7 seconds left on the clock, the ball gets fed to Doncic off a screen forcing an unfavorable match up for the Clippers with Reggie Jackson marking him as opposed to Kawhi Leonard. Doncic from deep range goes between the legs right, crosses left, step back and fires and finds the bottom of the net giving the Mavs a Game 4 win, evening the series at 2-2.
With his back against the wall, down by 1 and down in the series 2-1, Luka answered the call. It capped off a hell of a game for Doncic finishing with 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists, shooting 58% from the floor and 40% from deep. 15 of those points coming in the 4th quarter and OT.
This was easily my favorite match up prior to the start of the playoffs.
I love Doncic’s game. I love the Mavs because of Mark Cuban. They are facing off with a heavy favorite to win the title. From a basketball standpoint, I was initially excited to see how Doncic would perform. The series hasn’t disappointed and Luka hasn’t disappointed.
He is every bit as good as he is hyped up to be and we are seeing that unfold in the toughest stage of the season. I do think the Clippers end up winning the next two games after putting Kawhi on Luka duty. Win or lose, this series was a win for what is to come with Doncic.
Before going any further into Doncic, I will say this is completely and 100% premature. Obviously so much can happen as it is only 4 playoff games into his young career. But, I think he can be a real threat to the crown of GOAT status. As it stands now, that is a two horse race between LeBron and Jordan. With the former obviously still chasing the latter.
At 21 years old, he is putting up LeBron postseason numbers in year two of his NBA career. But, he possesses something LeBron didn’t have until his seventh year (2nd with Miami)…mental toughness.
He had a sprained ankle coming in to Game 4. He had been jawing with Montrezl Harrell. He has been taking a beating in this series in what has been a physical and chippy series thus far. None of it matters nor phases him. He is essentially the best of both worlds when it comes to those two icons. That’s why I think he is a dangerous threat to the NBA ladder of greatness.
We see him be great by getting others involved and we see him be great by taking over games as a scorer when it is needed.
Most importantly, Doncic is EFFICIENT. That is the most important attribute when it comes to postseason success. This is where the conversation about how to win in the NBA becomes so jaded and gray.
The Obsession with Meaningless Numbers
I love the NBA. I love basketball. I hate basketball fans especially the NBA fans because of the arbitrary things they are obsessed with when it comes to great players.
NBA fans are obsessed with two things that are essentially meaningless when it comes to postseason success, triple doubles and points per game.
Russell Westbrook became the second player to average a triple double throughout an entire season and went on to do it for three consecutive years. People were gushing over it the first time. Then the argument for why he didn’t win MVP back to back to back was efficiency. Ironically, James Harden won MVP for LeBron numbers in terms of efficiency.
Russell Westbrook still managed close to triple double in all three of those years for the postseason. In fact, the year he won MVP (2016-17), he averaged a triple double in the playoffs going for 37.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.8 assists per game.
Know what he didn’t do in the postseason? Win. Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder lost in the first round every single year of that run going 4-12 across the three series to the Houston Rockets (5 games), Utah Jazz (6 games) and Portland Trail Blazers (5 games).
Why? Westbrook’s inefficiency. He is the biggest conundrum in the NBA. He is great, but he isn’t playoff great. No matter what roster he is on, he will likely get you to 45-50 wins and a postseason appearance, but you’re getting knocked out quick.
The second obsession is scoring champions and being able to put up points in bunches. In 2018-19, 13 players scored 50 or more in a single game. That is the most all-time. At the time the season was suspended this year, that number was already to 11. While some of the league’s best players like James Harden, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and (barf) Kyrie Irving notched 50 point games. So did the likes of Khris Middleton, Bradley Beal and Chris LeVert. So my question is, who the fuck cares? Yes, it’s cool and it’s fun to watch a hot hand get fed. But, it’s like throwing for 350 yards in an NFL game now. It’s still a good feat, but it’s not THAT special anymore.
To be honest, being a scoring champion never really has been that special in terms of translating to wins in the postseason, at least not in the modern era. The exception to the rule is Michael Jordan and Shaq. More often than not, the team with the scoring champion loses early or gets blasted in the deeper part of the postseason.
Scoring Champions Since 1990, Regular Season Record, Final Result
- 1990-91 – Michael Jordan – 62-21 – Champions
- 1991-92 – Michael Jordan – 67-15 – Champions
- 1992-93 – Michael Jordan – 57-25 – Champions
- 1993-94 – David Robinson – 55-27 – Lost First Round (1-3)
- 1994-95 – Shaquille O’Neal – 57-25 – Lost Finals (0-4)
- 1995-96 – Michael Jordan – 72-10 – Champions
- 1996-97 – Michael Jordan – 69-13 – Champions
- 1997-98 – Michael Jordan – 62-20 – Champions
- 1998-99 – Allen Iverson – 28-22 – Lost Conference Semis (0-4)
- 1999-00 – Shaquille O’Neal – 67-15 – Champions
- 2000-01 – Allen Iverson – 56-26 – Lost NBA Finals (1-4)
- 2001-02 – Allen Iverson – 43-39 – Lost First Round (2-3)
- 2002-03 – Tracy McGrady – 42-40 – Lost First Round – (3-4)
- 2003-04 – Tracy McGrady – 23-61 – Missed Playoffs
- 2004-05 – Allen Iverson – 43-39 – Lost First Round (1-4)
- 2005-06 – Kobe Bryant – 45-37 – Lost First Round (3-4)
- 2006-07 – Kobe Bryant – 42-40 – Lost First Round (1-4)
- 2007-08 – LeBron James – 45-37 – Lost Conference Semis (3-4)
- 2008-09 – Dwyane Wade – 43-39 – Lost First Round (3-4)
- 2009-10 – Kevin Durant – 50-32 – Lost First Round (2-4)
- 2010-11 – Kevin Durant – 55-27 – Lost Conference Final (1-4)
- 2011-12 – Kevin Durant – 47-19 – Lost Finals (1-4)
- 2012-13 – Carmelo Anthony – 54-28 – Lost Conference Semis (2-4)
- 2013-14 – Kevin Durant – 59-23 – Lost Conference Finals (2-4)
- 2014-15 – Russell Westbrook – 45-37 – Missed Playoffs
- 2015-16 – Stephen Curry – 73-9 – Lost Finals (3-4)
- 2016-17 – Russell Westbrook – 47-35 – Lost First Round (1-4)
- 2017-18 – James Harden – 65-17 – Lost Conference Finals (3-4)
- 2018-19 – James Harden – 53-29 – Lost Conference Semis (2-4)
- 2019-20 – James Harden – 44-28 – TBD
Despite all of that, fans still have an obsession with the highlight reel scoring numbers and triple doubles even though it doesn’t necessarily lead to wins in the postseason. The reason is because defenses get inherently tighter and have 7 games to figure out how to beat or contain one player. You have the factor of not having to throw your last resort option out there until later in a series should a team choose to do so.
Now of course every rule has an exception. The same holds true for the NBA.
Jordan could shoot 22+ times per game and still win in the postseason during the 90s. LeBron can average a near triple double and get to final after final after final. If the Lakers end up reaching the Finals this season, that means LeBron’s teams will have reached 9 of the last 10 NBA Finals.
Why are those two the exceptions to the rules? EFFICIENCY.
Even Jordan nor LeBron have been a total exception to the rule though. Prior to winning his first championship, Jordan averaged 36.1 points on 25.8 shots per game for the playoffs and the Bulls were 24-29 and had been eliminated in the first or second round 4 of the 6 seasons. Keep in mind he averaged over 10 points per game on free throws, not attempts…freaking points. He was essentially ball hogging and trying to do it all himself.
During his run from 91-98, he averaged 24.9 shots and 32.3 points per game. He only averaged 10 or more free throw attempts twice. I loved that The Last Dance touched on this about him. He had to relinquish some of the ball dominance he did early in his career in order to win.
Even LeBron wasn’t totally immune to inefficiency. In his first playoff run, he was taking many shots and not getting his teammates involved with the second lowest assist total in his playoff history. In year two, he got his teammates involved more, but his shooting percentage went to shit at 41% / 28% / 75%. Barf. Somehow they still made the Finals. The numbers dipped even lower the next year. His last two seasons in Cleveland were a taste of what was to come in terms of efficiency. But, as a I alluded to, he lacked the mental fortitude. It all came crashing down in Miami in year one during the finals with Dallas. Since then, we have seen one hell of a run from LeBron even with the losses. Again, as I have said before, his team has only been favored in two finals. The King has averaged 28.8 points on 20.7 shots, 7.5 assists and has shot 51.1% from the field with 33.4% from deep.
If someone drops 50 points on 30 shots, who cares? The guys who go full SWAC and shoot without a conscience like Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony are getting the boot early because they are shooting 25-30 shots and managing 25-30 points most nights. That is not good enough to win in a series. This isn’t AAU or your local beer league. It is the NBA. You have to be EFFICIENT.
Cue Luka Doncic.
Again, I will state how premature this is given he has only played in 4 playoff games. But, Luka seems to be the best of both worlds in his first playoff appearance. He is a magician against one of the league’s most defensively loaded rosters. Here is how he stacks up against the league’s two greatest players right now.
Playoffs By the Numbers
Jordan v LeBron v Luka
- Points Per Game – 33.4 / 28.9 / 31.5
- Assists Per Game – 5.7 / 7.1 / 9.8
- Rebounds Per Game – 6.4 / 8.9 / 10.5
- Shot Attempts Per Game – 25.1 / 20.9 / 20.8
- Field Goal Percentage – .487 / .491 / .518
- Three Point Percentage – .332 / .331 / .379
- True Shooting Percentage – .568 / .579 / .621
- Usage Rate – 35.6 / 32.2 / 37.0
- Player Efficiency Rating – 28.6 / 28.2 / 29.5
When you look around the league at some of the other stars, there is of course Stephen Curry who has been remarkably great in the postseason. On his career, his shooting percentage across the board for the post season is 45/40/90 helping him to average 26.5 points per game. You can’t touch him as a shooter.
Then you have Kevin Durant, who has had a mix of real good postseason runs and some not so great. The biggest difference between him and the other guys I will talk about is he is not as much of a ball dominant player. Prior to joining Golden State, his OKC postseason career for shooting was 45/32/84. With him not being as ball dominant, he has to be better from 3.
Then there is Giannis who has come into his own the last 3 years as a star and looking for more postseason success. Last time was the first time we saw a deep run from him. The jury is more or less still out on him.
To a similar tune, it took Kawhi Leonard sometime to develop into the mega star he is today. The showdown between he and Luka can determine the winner of the West this year. The only team I could see potentially beating the Mavs or Clippers is the Lakers. Even then, I don’t know if they will be the favorite heading into the series. The reason Kawhi is so good in the postseason, his shooting percentages are 50/40/84 for his career.
As much as I enjoy Damian Lillard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, they all have the same problem. That is of course inefficiency in the postseason. They are volume shooters who have their hot nights and they have their cold nights. Here is a broad look at their efficiency in getting the ball in the hole in the playoffs…
- James Harden – 20.7 Shots – 28.4 Points, .414 FG%, .328 3PT% (Houston Only)
- Russell Westbrook – 21.4 Shots, 25.4 Points, .411 FG%, .302 3PT%
- Damian Lillard – 19.9 Shots, 25.0 Points, .406 FG%, .355 3PT%
Both Harden and Lillard are jacking up more than 8 three pointers per game in their post season careers. So it’s not a recipe for success given what we have seen in the postseason by those most successful.
The Final Thought
Maybe I am calling this what it is a little too soon. I will admit that. But, even compared to the two best players in NBA history, they had their flaws earlier in their careers when it came to the postseason. When you look across the league at other stars who we herald, none can hold a jock strap to what Luka is currently doing. Again, this is against THE team that was the odds on favorite to win the title prior to the start of the season.
I hope for the remainder of the series we get a showdown between Kawhi and Luka so we can see two heavyweights battle it out.
As someone who just loves the sport of basketball and specifically the product that is the NBA, Luka excites more than anyone has since LeBron. Keep in mind, Luka has been doing this without the second best player on the roster in Kristaps Porzingis for 6 of 16.5 quarters played.
In December, Jordan said himself, “Luka is a phenomenal player at such a young age. He’s demonstrating skill it takes many guys years to develop. It will be incredible to watch him continue to advance in the league.”