It’s been widely repeated through generation after generation that players in their second NBA season frequently suffer from what is commonly known as the sophomore jinx. However, that long-standing hex didn’t apply to Luka Doncic.
Not only did Doncic totally destroy that theory this season, the Dallas Mavericks’ second-year point guard ripped the notion into pieces and scattered the debris onto various NBA courts across America.
Doncic, at various times, was right in the thick of the league’s Most Valuable Player conversation. The native of Slovenia is currently sixth in the NBA in scoring (28.7), 19th in rebounds (9.3) and fourth in assists (8.7). He also had collected a league-high 14 triple-doubles when the NBA was suspended on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Because Doncic brings a plethora of offensive weapons to the table, he puts an enormous amount of pressure on defenders.
“He’s had a helluva career in this year-and-a-half,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I was joking that when they’re really good like that, they seem like they’ve been around for five years already.
“Him and probably six other guys are having MVP years, and that’s impressive when you think about how young he is and what he’s doing for this franchise.”
Not only did the 21-year old Doncic snap the Mavs’ single-season record of nine triple-doubles owned by Jason Kidd, the 6-7, 230-pounder also has 22 career triple-doubles, which is one more than the franchise record of 21 that Kidd also owned.
“He’s a stud,” Kidd said. “He knows how to play the game at a high level.”
After winning last year’s Rookie of the Year award, Doncic busted out of the gate this season and started terrorizing foes right away. In 18 games during the months of October and November, he posted whopping averages of 30.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 9.6 assists.
Also, of the 14 games the Mavs played in November, Doncic was so dominant that he averaged a triple-double – 32.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.4 assists – during the month. He was named Western Conference player of the month for December.
“He’s been great really from the start of the entire season,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy is fun to watch and he’s a great competitor.”
The competitor in Doncic was also on full display on Nov. 1 when he finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists during a 119-110 loss in overtime to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Exactly a month later on Dec. 1, Doncic registered 27 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists as the Mavs broke the Lakers’ 10-game winning streak with a 114-100 victory in Los Angeles.
Incidently, James is Doncic’s childhood idol. So one can only imagine the thoughts dancing through his head during those headline-grabbing matchups.
“I enjoy every game I play,” Doncic said. “It’s special to play against (James), but I enjoy every game. In Madrid (the attention) was the same thing, so I’m used to it. The game is 48 minutes and I’m ready to play 48 minutes.”
What Doncic wasn’t ready for was the constant physical pounded opposing players resorted to in an effort to slow him down and throw him off his game.
“Teams are taking liberties on him, but we saw it with Dirk (Nowitzki) for 20 years – my 11 years – all the time,” Carlisle said near the midway point of the season. “He’s handling it very well, but it’s happening every game.
“Look, he’s a great player, so people are going to go after him. It doesn’t mean that a lot of this stuff is right or in the spirit of what the game should look like.”
Doncic shrugged off the physical attacks and wound up becoming the first Mavs’ player since Kidd in 1996 to be voted as a starter in the All-Star game.
“It’s surprising because it’s his second year, but I don’t think it’s very surprising when you just watch his play,” Rivers said. “If you just go by his play it’s no doubt that he deserves to start (in the All-Star game). He’s been great.”
During a 117-110 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 18, Doncic became the second-youngest player in NBA history with a triple-double that included at least 40 points. At the time, Doncic was a mere 20 years old and he finished that memorable contest with a career-high 42 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists.
Doncic also produced 41 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists during a 122-111 triumph over Detroit in Mexico City on Dec. 12.
When the NBA season was suspended, the Mavs had a 40-27 record and were in seventh place in the Western Conference and all but a lock to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. They also went 23 games with Doncic leading them in points, rebounds and assists in the same game, which is a franchise single-season record.
Along the way, Doncic manufactured a streak where he went 20 consecutive games with at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. That’s the longest such streak by any player since the 1975-’76 ABA/NBA merger.
“He’s a great player and a special talent,” said Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, the favorite to win this season’s Rookie of the Year honors. “He does a lot on the floor.
“He can score from all three levels, and get his teammates involved. He’s just an overall good player.”
An overall good player who defies such things as a sophomore jinx.
“It’s just like the same thing that they say with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and James Harden,” Rivers said. “Those guys are different. If it was easy to stop them they wouldn’t be Luka, they wouldn’t be Kawhi. I know one look doesn’t work. I know that as a fact. And that’s probably true with all the great ones.”
“They’re smarter than most,” Rivers said. “They always seem like they’re ahead of the coverage that you’re throwing at them.”
In just his second season, no matter what teams threw at him, Doncic always seemed like he was ahead of everything.
So much for that sophomore jinx.