While the Mavericks have been one of the league’s hottest teams in the new year, superstar guard Luka Doncic has been rather cold. It’s the continuation of a season-long balance of ups and downs for the 22-year-old.
We can start with the ups, as Doncic has gone off in two of his last three outings, scoring 37 points on 13-of-25 shooting in a win over the Grizzlies on Jan. 23 and a season-high 41 points on 13- of-24 shooting in a win over the Raptors on Jan. 19, but those two standout performances did very little in altering the bigger picture of Doncic’s confounding shooting numbers this season.
— NBA (@NBA) January 20, 2023
Even when factoring in the above two games, Doncic is having a wildly inefficient season from beyond the arc, shooting 15-of-73, or 20.5 percent, from 3-point range in his last 10 games — four of those 3-point makes came against the Raptors.
Take away that 4-for-10 shooting night — which is a bit of an anomaly this season — and you’ve got a nine-game stretch of 9-of-63 (14.3 percent) 3-point shooting, which is out of character considering Doncic shot a career-best 35.0 percent from 3 last season on 8.3 attempts per game.
His shot chart through his first 11 games in January paints the picture:
To be clear, Doncic’s shooting struggles don’t take away from his standing as one of the league’s top 10 talents. Despite shooting just 29.7 percent from 3-point range this season, Doncic is averaging 25.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game this season and is well on his way to a third All-Star selection before turning 23.
To put it plainly, the Mavericks wouldn’t be one of the West’s top six teams without Doncic’s scoring, rebounding and playmaking but in order for them to have a serious chance at advancing this postseason, the team will need Doncic to break out of this season-long shooting slump.
What’s been the cause?
In early December, Doncic’s weight became the topic of discussion among the TNT broadcast crew on a night in which he shot 9-of-21 from the field and 3-of-11 from deep.
When asked about his conditioning, Doncic admitted that a long summer that included Olympic Qualifying and the Olympic Games in Tokyo wore him down, causing him to take time off in order to relax, which he admits he may have done too much of.
Luka Doncic addressed the ongoing talk about his weight and conditioning with reporters after the Mavs loss to the Nets saying:
— Kevin Gray Jr. (@KevinGraySports) December 8, 2023
Further complicating things were lingering ankle and knee injuries compounded with a recent bout with COVID-19 that placed Doncic in the league’s health and safety protocols while still rehabbing.
Luka Doncic on returning from a career-long 10 game absence: “My chest was burning… It was a weird feeling, but happy. Very happy.”
Said he had “low energy, very tired all the time” for several days with COVID.
— Callie Caplan (@CallieCaplan) January 3, 2023
When factoring in the long summer, injuries and COVID issues, it begins to add up that Doncic hasn’t exactly looked like the best version of himself this season. The issue is that a player of Doncic’s magnitude can’t be eased back into things because of his importance, meaning his usage will be high and his efficiency will dip until he can get back to his true form but is that possible?
The Mavericks should be encouraged by the fact that their recent hot streak has come while Doncic is still working back into form. It’s just his fourth NBA season but if history is any indicator, he’ll find his way and improve upon his efficiency as the season goes on.
With the back-to-back first-round exits over the past two seasons looming large, Doncic figuring things out will play a big role in this franchise taking the next step.