Luka Doncic Has Quietly Crept His Way Into the NBA MVP Conversation

Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic faced a reckoning early in the 2021-22 NBA season. But after a summer full of exhausting international play and an early-season slump that resulted in admissions about his lack of conditioning, Doncic has since played his way back into shape. He’s also playing his way into the NBA MVP conversation.

The Mavericks are 7-3 in their last 10 games. Doncic has played a massive role in their success, as his offensive explosions continue to propel a team that desperately needed the added scoring and playmaking.

Questions abound regarding the strange deadline-day trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Washington Wizards. It also remains to be seen how Dallas now plans to build around Luka.

Regardless, Doncic’s recent stretch is an emphatic reminder that he belongs in MVP conversations.

Luka Doncic shot the ball pretty poorly at the start of the 2021-22 season

Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic reacts to a three-point basket during an NBA game against the Los Angeles Clippers in February 2022
Luka Doncic reacts after scoring a three-point basket during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers on February 10, 2022 | Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Doncic’s brilliance so early in his career prompted former NBA point guard and ESPN commentator Mark Jackson to lobby for Luka’s spot on the NBA 75 team. The Slovenian sensation didn’t resemble his megastar self in the slightest early in the season.

In his first six games, Doncic had a true shooting percentage below 50% and an offensive rating of just 96. He shot the ball better from beyond the arc in November, but his free-throw percentage dropped to 63.9%. The 22-year-old found his groove at the charity stripe, only to lose his touch from beyond the arc.

Doncic shot 27.5% from deep in December and 28.2% from the three-point line in January. There’s something to be said for the degree of difficulty, considering how often Doncic attempts step-back jumpers and fires off the dribble. Still, the inefficiency jumped off the page.

However, between the conditioning problems and missing time in December due to injury and in health and safety protocols, Luka never had a chance to find a rhythm. He now appears to have found his groove.

Doncic has been fantastic in February while gradually climbing back into the NBA MVP conversations.

Dominant Doncic resurfaces

Luka Doncic is in the midst of perhaps the best stretch of his career.

In his first six February games, Doncic averaged 36.7 points, 10.2 assists, and 10.0 rebounds. He shot 49% from the field and 43.1% from beyond the arc. The numbers don’t even do his performances justice.

Doncic posted a phenomenal triple-double in a win over NBA MVP candidate Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 4. He showed brilliant patience in pick-and-roll, carefully assessing blitzes from the Sixers defense and finding open shooters moving off the ball or feeding Dwight Powell and Dallas’ other bigs for easy buckets on short rolls.

More recently, Doncic showed off his explosive scoring capabilities in back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Clippers. Luka scored a combined 96 points in those two contests, including a career-high 51-point outburst in a Feb. 10 win over LA.

Dallas must eventually figure out how to adapt and plan for the future after bringing the Kristaps Porzingis experiment to an end. For now, the Mavericks will likely hope Doncic can keep playing MVP-caliber basketball.

Assessing Luka’s NBA MVP credentials

Much of the NBA MVP discourse tends to surround Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That said, Doncic is building a decent case.

The Mavs sensation is averaging close to a triple-double at 27.2 points, 9.1 assists, and 9.0 rebounds. He ranks sixth in the NBA in both value over replacement player and total box plus-minus. Additionally, Doncic leads the NBA in generating the most high-quality looks for his teammates, per SIS Hoops.

Those are all impressive numbers, ones made better by the fact that Luka’s team could reach the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference when all is said and done. Not to mention, like Jokic and Embiid, Doncic is the lone All-Star on his team, though that’s since changed for Embiid with James Harden heading to Philadelphia.

In any case, Doncic found his stride. His stellar play has helped the Mavs build momentum, and it should garner him more NBA MVP consideration.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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