The two-time defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors appear as dominant as they have ever been. As of October 31st, they are tied for the league lead in wins with seven, and as expected, lead the league in offensive rating by a wide margin at 120.0. It is not just the wins that are impressive, but also the outright disrespectful manner in which they are racking up those wins. For all the talk that posterizations and thunderous rejections get on the “disrespect meter,” nothing is quite as demeaning as a team actively passing up wide-open layups in lieu of three pointers. If you are someone who enjoys watching utter dominance, then tune into Golden State and watch Stephen Curry drop 51 points on 11 of 16 shooting from three-point range – in three quarters. If Steph isn’t your taste, how about Kevin Durant putting up 41 points, including 25 in the 4th quarter, under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden? Still not impressed? If you don’t like watching Klay Thompson pour in a record-breaking 14 threes en route to 52 points in 27 minutes (while taking just five dribbles), you don’t like basketball. And oh yeah, their All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins, he of a 25.2/12.9/5.4 stat line last year, just got cleared to resume practice.
Okay, so the Warriors are going to cap off the three-peat next June. But with Durant and Thompson both potentially facing free agency next summer, it’s worthwhile to take a look around the rest of the Western Conference and see who might be able to dethrone the champs down the road. I point you to a number of rising stars around the league who can help make this season an entertaining one despite Golden State’s continued reign of terror. Young guns such as Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Ben Simmons, Nikola Jokic, and a glut of other burgeoning studs are filling box scores on a nightly basis. However, nipping on the heels of these established up-and-comers is the Slovenian wunderkind with one of the most unique skill sets in the league, Luka Doncic.
The 19-year-old Slovenian has been in the league for a mere seven games, but has already made his presence (and future dominance) known. Throughout the Dallas Mavericks’ first seven games, Doncic is averaging 20.4 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds and 4 assists (numbers that only six rookies have ever equaled over a full season), and yet it is the style in which he is doing it, not just the raw numbers, that is garnering the most attention. Doncic ranks near the top of the league in potential assists per game (according to nba.com/stats), sandwiched between Damian Lillard and Jimmy Butler – not bad company for a 19-year-old rookie.
While last year’s historic rookies each relied upon one aspect of their game to fuel their dominance, Doncic offers a unique combination of skills to impact the game in a number of ways. Doncic is most definitely on the low end of the NBA’s athleticism spectrum, but he utilizes his six-foot-seven, 220-pound frame to his advantage in other ways. Doncic overcomes his lack of explosiveness with more nuanced body movements. The rookie uses a vast array of floaters, scoops, ball fakes, and deception to slither around the court and get buckets from every level of the floor. Not only can he use this bag of tricks to get to his spots, Doncic boasts incredible vision that puts his teammates in positions to score. As someone who is not the fleetest of foot, it is always endearing to watch players succeed without racing by defenders in the open court or rising above helpless rim protectors for vicious dunks. Just this week, Doncic dropped 31 points on an efficient 11-18 performance from the field, showing that you don’t have to be designed in Dr. Bob Myers’ laboratory to succeed in the NBA.
If you are a basketball fan who feels trapped by the Warriors’ chokehold on the league, I urge you to take some time and observe the rest of the young talent spread throughout the NBA. Doncic may not be the most athletic player, but the 19-year-old’s ground-based game is already one of the most fun to watch. The rookie is not the only exciting player on the young Dallas Mavericks roster, as he plays alongside uber-athletic and explosive 20-year-old Dennis Smith Jr., both of whom enjoy making plays for one of the game’s elite rim-runners in DeAndre Jordan. With future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki playing in what could be his final season, Doncic will have an elite shooter to kick out to when he slices and dices his way through the lane once Nowitzki returns from injury. When the Mavericks put all their cards on the table and traded up to draft the 19-year-old with the number 3 overall pick, they took a risk. They bet on Doncic’s advanced feel and scoring repertoire to be a success in a league dominated by more athletic players. So far that risk looks like a win for both the Mavericks and NBA fans everywhere.
*all stats from www.basketballreference.com