The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic has been out for the past two games with the ankle injury he suffered in the team’s win over Denver this week, and despite game efforts in both showings against the Suns—who have looked like one of the two best teams in the NBA to this point—Dallas came away with losses.
The injury provides a moment to step back and see that Doncic has been very good here in the early going of the NBA season, but not up to his usual level of greatness. Doncic is averaging 24.9 points, his fewest since his rookie year, as well as 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists, but he has not looked to be in peak shape just yet.
It’s rare for an NBA analyst to call Doncic out on that—his less than inspiring conditioning—but that’s what Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer did this week in a podcast episode with Bill Simmons.
“He’s had a tough start,” Tjarks said. “I will say, Luka is definitely in the, ‘I play my way into shape’ school. He plays his way into shape and it doesn’t always look great. Gosh, talking about the Mavs, they’re still figuring out who they are.”
Doncic Has Been Posting Key Career-Lows
It should not be a surprise that Doncic’s scoring numbers are down, because coach Jason Kidd has been nudging him to get his teammates more involved, and we’ve seen some breakout performances from guard Jalen Brunson and a return to form of big man Kristaps Porzingis. But it is not as though Doncic’ dip in scoring has been because of any personal sacrifice.
Doncic is averaging 21.5 shots per game, which remains a career high. The problem is he is shooting 43.4% from the field, lowest since he was a rookie. He is getting to the free-throw line just 5.7 times per game and making 30.8% of his 3-pointers, both of which are career lows.
Doncic is shooting more long 2-pointers than ever before, as they represent 11.5% of his shots, according to Basketball-Reference.com, compared to 4.4% for the rest of his career. They’re not very good shots, either—Doncic is making 37.5% of them.
Doncic lamented his early struggles last month when he said, after making a 3-pointer from the halfcourt logo, “[I’m] more confident [from the logo] than all my 3s and my free throws. I don’t understand how that shot goes in and then all my normal shots can’t go in. I’ve got to work on those normal shots.”
Doncic Has Always Been a Slow Starter
The good news for the Mavericks is that Tjarks is right—Doncic is typically a slow starter who works his way into shape in the early part of the season. In 18 career October games, he has averaged 21.8 points on 44.6% shooting, the least productive month of his career.
His splits show that he usually bounces back nicely in November, averaging 25.9 points on 46.3% shooting, and he had been averaging 27.0 points, though on poor shooting (43.9%) in November before the ankle injury.
That’s one thing to monitor when Doncic comes back, which could be on Sunday against the Clippers. If, indeed, he works his way into shape at this time of year, the time off because of the ankle problem could cause a lingering problem.