It’s only year four, but so far, Luka Doncic seems destined for greatness.
Before Luka’s phenomenal season even tipped off, the three-time All-Star received the highest of compliments from a veteran who’s unwilling to toss many around. His words, combined with Doncic’s all-around play, should give the Mavericks confidence that their title window is far from closing.
Patrick Beverley says Luka Doncic is the toughest player he’s ever had to guard
While Patrick Beverley is known more for running his mouth, the surly 33-year-old is also a three-time All-Defensive selection. So not only does he have experience against many of today’s stars, but he also knows a thing or two about playing tough defense.
Before the season started, the Minnesota Timberwolves guard was asked by Overtime about the toughest player he’s ever had to defend. Keep in mind, Beverley is now in his 10th season.
His answer, without hesitation, is one that Mavs fans should enjoy (h/t: Landon Thomas on Twitter).
“So far, it’s been Luka. Easy.”Patrick Beverley
Beverley, who spent the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, has a history with the 6-foot-7 Doncic. Both of Luka’s playoff appearances have come against LA, with the 23-year-old averaging 33.5 points, 9.5 assists, and 8.8 rebounds in 13 games. Doncic was also caught on a hot mic saying Beverley is “too f****** small” to guard him after Dallas’ Game 1 victory last season.
The Mavericks should feel great about their future with Doncic as their star
Last offseason was a turbulent one for Dallas. There was the departure of head coach Rick Carlisle. There was talk of a shadow GM pulling the strings in the front office. And there was a potentially unhappy Luka who was dissatisfied with two first-round exits.
Now, the 45-28 Mavs have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA, going 28-10 since New Year’s Day. Head coach Jason Kidd appears to be the right man leading the ship from the bench. And Luka, unquestionably, is the superstar Dallas needs to take the next step.
Doncic hasn’t faced much of a learning curve since entering the league in 2018. But he continues to find ways to improve his game with each passing year. In 2021-22, Luka is up to 27.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. He’s also become a much better defender for a Dallas squad that ranks fourth in defensive rating heading into the weekend.
Not only is Doncic putting up massive numbers, but he’s commanding the respect of his peers. A guy like Beverley has guarded a lot of All-Stars over the years. Yet Luka has made enough of an impression for Pat to unequivocally name him as the top player he’s had the displeasure of facing.
If Luka can wreak havoc against vets, imagine how he’ll be viewed when he hits his prime. Much like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Doncic is on the verge of becoming one of the NBA’s signature superstars.
Can Luka Doncic capture an MVP and a championship this season?
Thanks to an incredible 40 or so games, Doncic and the Mavericks are in the thick of the title race. Entering Friday, Dallas is tied with the Utah Jazz for the four-seed, meaning Dallas is ever so close to clinching home-court for the opening round of the playoffs.
The Mavs wouldn’t even be in this position if it wasn’t for Luka, who missed 14 games before the new year. But his play has catapulted Dallas up the standings and himself up the MVP ladder.
So is it possible that Doncic could hoist an MVP award and the Larry O’Brien Trophy by the end of his fourth season? Nothing is impossible, but one seems more likely than the other.
As great as Doncic has been, there are too many other players putting up ridiculously good seasons. Nikola Jokic, last year’s MVP, is stringing together one of the NBA’s all-time greatest seasons based on several advanced metrics. Yet he’s not even the frontrunner, as Joel Embiid is doing incredible things for the Philadelphia 76ers. And that’s not counting Giannis, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, or anyone else worth discussing.
If Luka was playing at his current level from the beginning of the season, his case would have more merit. But that doesn’t mean he can’t achieve the postseason success he’s currently lacking.
Despite unreal performances in 2020 and 2021, Doncic has failed to escape the first round. But that might change thanks to Dallas’ elite defense and solid depth. If Luka’s supporting cast can up its game while he does his thing, the Mavericks can take anybody on over the course of a seven-game series.
Regardless, the 23-year-old has ample time to add to his growing list of accolades. It would be surprising if he failed to add at least one MVP and title over what’s sure to be a Hall of Fame career.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.