Dallas, Texas — It’s becoming so routine that it is almost not shocking.
For the third consecutive season, Luka Doncic ranked as the No. 1 player in ESPN’s annual NBA 25 under 25 rankings. And after averaging 28 points, 9.1 assists and 8.7 assists, Doncic landing at the top of ESPN’s insiders’ lists is a no-brainer.
“At 23, Luka still has another season of eligibility here before aging out,” Kevin Pelton wrote. “He has taken another step in his precocious development during Year 4 in the NBA, leading the Mavericks to 50-plus wins for the first time since 2014-15 behind a career-high 37% usage rate.”
He added: “Next for Doncic: translating his dominant performance in first-round losses to the Clippers the past two years into a deeper playoff run with home-court advantage this time around.”
Pelton’s analysis of Doncic is spot on. There is little he hasn’t done when it comes to regular season domination. However, the Dallas Mavericks are still waiting to see when that regular-season success will translate to postseason contention.
Luka Doncic’s great season is in jeopardy
If any season was set up for Doncic to take that leap, it was — and still could be — this one. The Mavericks won the most games in the regular season since the 2010-11 championship season (52-30). And since Dec. 31, Dallas has won 75 percent of its game, with the reason for the improvement in play being Doncic.
The 23-year-old superstar took his play to the next level after the calendar turned to Jan. 1. And since that point in the season, he has averaged 29 points on 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range.
His command and control forced Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd to say that he believes Doncic could be the face of the league and one of the best to ever play when it’s all said and done. That isn’t hyperbole, and ESPN’s list backs it up.
“I think his stats speak for themselves,” Kidd said. “What he’s done… that’s pretty special.”
Yet, Doncic’s spectacular season now stands in jeopardy. In the third quarter, against the San Antonio Spurs — in what was the final game of the regular season — Doncic left the game with what was diagnosed on Tuesday as a calf strain.
An injury update and who steps up
The injury typically keeps athletes away from basketball for 16 days. And depending on the severity of the injury, Doncic could be out much longer. Dallas hasn’t released much information. The organization is clearly holding its cards close to its chest, hoping not to tip off the Utah Jazz, who they play in a round-one series starting Saturday.
If Doncic can’t play, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie have to step up in his absence for Dallas to have a chance at stealing one game without its star.
The good news is that both guards average over 20 points when Doncic isn’t in the lineup.
Brunson, in 17 games without Doncic, averages 20.4 points per game (49.5 FG% 35.0 3PT%), 7.5 assists and 3.9 rebounds.
Dinwiddie, in two games without Doncic, averages 31 points per game (54.3 FG% 46.2 3PT%), 6.5 assists and 3 rebounds.
Making up for Doncic’s scoring, if he is unavailable come Saturday, is going to be a team affair. And still, it might not be enough. But, if there is ever any silver lining, it’s that Doncic is finally getting the recognition from some of the leading insiders in sports.
He’s No.1 on ESPN’s under 25 lists for a simple reason. He’s irreplaceable to Dallas.
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Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.