Welcome to morning target practice, where every day of the week you will receive an up-to-date and current column from one of the SI.comNBA writers: Howard Beck on Mondays, Chris Mannix on Tuesdays, Michael Pina on Wednesdays, Chris Herring on Thursdays and Rohan Nadkarni on Fridays.
The closest part of Luka Dončić’s offensive repertoire that is even in the stadium of being referred to as a defect is his three-point shot. He did 32.7% of them as a rookie and 31.6% during his second season. Remove trash attempts from the equation and Dončić ends at the 36th and 24th percentile in your position, respectively, in both categories.
Not only has it been inaccurate, but only five players have taken more triples in total since entering the league, and only a handful of players have averaged at least four attempts per game while shooting below 33%. In 2019, only James Harden and Kemba Walker averaged more pull-ups than Luka’s 5.3 per game; 31.4% of them participated. In 2020, he got 7.2 per game (only Harden, Trae Young and Damian Lillard were above him)and made 31.6%.
Given the high volume and the absurd degree of difficulty, there has been enough reason to believe that it would eventually correct course and become a reliable option from the outside. Dončić, who turned 22 a few weeks ago, has shown that he can still be a supernatural MVP candidate without even a league average long ball; the Mavericks still finished last season with the most efficient offense in NBA history, and Luka had second highest usage rate in the league. At the same time, even in today’s long-range feeding frenzy, very few, if any, gamers have had a brighter green light with such a low conversion rate.
Then it happened February 2021. Dončić made 43.5% of his three (40 by 92) for the month, increasing his overall accuracy to a respectable 35.7% for the season. He shot 41.7% off dribbling and 52.6% unconscious in sightings. Not including his 5-for-10 performance against the Magic on March 1, this was the most impressive and promising stretch of long shots of Luka’s career; almost his entire season has been a steady trend in the right direction.
Of course, a month of hot shots is not enough to declare that this is a watershed moment. Dončić missed eight 3-pointers in his first game after the break and is 9 of 31 since then. You could easily find yourself on a cold streak very soon. But still February happened. And heading into the second half of this season it’s a reminder of the different ways Dončić’s direct relationship with the three-ball, in a league where offensive depth is increasingly dictated by the number of three-point attempts he makes. each team / player is willing to pitch. it may bend its already steep trajectory in the long run. In the present, he can help make the Mavs the team every home-advantage club will strive to avoid before the playoffs.
The NBA’s stylistic zeitgeist revolves around players taking and making a ton of 3s, especially after the rebound. In just his third season, Luka is already one of the most persistent and daring practitioners of shooting. However, it is not clear what his apotheosis will be like. The relationship between volume and efficiency here is complicated.
Dončić’s three-point rate is down about 7% this season compared to his first two, with more floats and two lengths than we’ve seen before. It is an intriguing change given that it is now more accurate in pull-ups. Than Lillard, Jayson Tatum, Kemba and Devin Booker. But quantity and precision are almost beside the point when speaking of a player who is still able to take advantage of outside shots in a way that accentuates other parts of his attack, rather than relying on him as an independent resource.
Luka’s three-point attempts are his own rhythm-shifting mic drop, but they also feel purposeful as a complementary weapon, specifically when tapped to take him downhill. As a rookie, Luka averaged 7.5 points per game handling the ball. This season has 13.6, shooting 58.4% unreal.
This is the essence of “Luka Magic”, a player who regularly convinces the best defenders in the universe to chase him around a screen (especially when going left) instead of crouching down, fearful of a deep jerk even though there’s plenty of evidence to suggest there are worse shots to allow. Opponents huddle him over the arch, not entirely convincing him to inspect the paint, but increasing the likelihood of it happening. And when instead they plan a strategy to keep him on the perimeter, Dončić won’t hesitate to let him fly from long range. He’s very confident anywhere on the court, and when shots like this fall, all the other team’s plans are instantly destroyed.
They don’t all seem so easy though, which naturally brings us back to his relentlessly charming and somewhat infuriating step back. If Dončić’s game were a song, his impulses towards the cup would be the inescapable chorus. The DNA. Spinal column. However, step back three is that impulsive, adventurous verse that makes you rewind multiple times on the first listen, not sure if it works or even makes sense before you realize that nothing else does a better job of raising the pitch. uniqueness of the melody. Weeks, months, years later, you can’t imagine music to exist without it.
When the correct amount is deployed (although who can say what exactly that means), it is unstoppable. When it explodes too often, it is like watching someone eat a bowl of sugar for lunch; eliminating some of the more spontaneous and early attempts at the Dončić diet would not be the worst idea.
We’ve seen a bit of that this season, where about 17% of all Luka’s shots have been three at a time, from 21.5% who published last year. He’s taking down a tight 36% of them, and drilled 42.9% in February.
Luka’s acceptance of the step back can also be attributed to Dallas’ tepid pace. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to scroll through a menu of options before it’s time to attack. His frequency of transition with Dončić on the court is only 11.3%. (lower than any other team), and just 19.7% after the Mavs hit a defensive rebound (the league average is 27.8%). These are outdated numbers in an NBA that is getting faster and faster. But Dončić’s general omniscience in the midfield makes them feel appropriate, even when forced to hit a relatively difficult shot.
This season, he is one of three players (Harden and Lillard are the others) who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers after doing at least seven dribbles. Dončić has gained 39.7% of them, 6% more than last season. At much higher volume, it is also nearly 10% more accurate than Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, and Jamal Murray.
Measuring Luka’s progress with analytics has its obvious value, but different points of view are encouraged in this type of conversation. At least one, in the face of all the criticism, reasonably asks viewers not to shame the basketball prodigy for doing some of the prettiest footwork someone his age has ever had. There is something fascinating about a shot that cannot be defended. It’s a stat-churning sun, never clearer than the two it pierced at the end of a recent Mavericks win over Boston.
Sometimes the step back is more art than science, and there is a world where Luka’s threat is even more devastating than the shooting itself. As his career unfolds, it will be fascinating how Dončić uses the bow. Will you ever calm down and choose your spots more carefully, perhaps saving the boldest efforts for when there are four seconds left on the clock and needs to create space? Will he quietly get over it, pack his game in, get in better shape, and take the same offensive approach as LeBron? Or, five years from now, did Dončić take the baton away from Harden and push the limits of the three-point discipline into a different stratosphere? Expand or collapse?
Until those issues are resolved, defenses choose to respect what happens when Dončić attacks from 30 feet instead of four. The day may very soon come when they have no other choice.
Don’t sleep with the Pacers
Caris LeVert’s debut over the weekend was a blanket reminder that for the past two months, or since switching to Harden, if that makes it easier to process, the Pacers have been playing games without a salve for Victor Oladipo, who, like your usage leader, had been an integral part of his success. It hasn’t gone well: Since they sent Oladipo to the Rockets, the Pacers are 11-17 and ranked 22nd in net rating. Eight different starting lineups have started.
Several teams have changed this year. Health and safety protocols for the pandemic were combined with a shorter offseason and compressed schedule to make injury prevention / recovery twice as difficult as normal. The Heat, Raptors, Celtics and Mavericks are among several teams that have struggled to find solid ground, but can still be dangerous in the playoffs. With LeVert now on the court, most looking rusty but with a glimpse or two of his All-Star roof, the Pacers belong on that list.
Imagine this starting five: a healthy and comfortable LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and TJ Warren (who is currently set to return from his foot injury before the playoffs). Now add Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb and Aaron Holiday or TJ McConnell (the Pacers should consider moving one, probably McConnell, given his expiring contract, before the deadline) and that’s a formidable rotation!
There is no promise that LeVert will blend in seamlessly with his new teammates, in a different role and defensive system over the next few weeks, or that Warren will rekindle the fire he had in the bubble. There are half a million other things that could go wrong before the season ends. But if the Pacers make the playoffs, which they ultimately should, and are capable of brewing beforehand, a first-round upset should come as no surprise.
More morning shootings
Mannix: 10 stories to watch before the trade deadline
Beck: Analyzing the case for Webber’s Hall of Fame
Nadkarni: Butler has put Heat on his back
Herring: What’s at stake for the Hawks?
Pina: Exploring the Booker / Paul Dynamics
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.