May 25, 2024

The Dallas Mavericks are in the midst of an extraordinarily difficult playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the Mavericks were blown out in Game 1 on the road despite some significant contributions from Dallas’ bench players. The Thunder broke the game up in the second half with their 3-point shooting, but the Mavericks had opportunities to stay in it, especially if Luka Doncic could get anything going offensively at all.

Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Doncic appeared severely hampered by a knee injury acquired in Game 3 of the first round against the Clippers, as he finished with 19 points on 6-19 shooting from the field.

Doncic’s problems in the postseason are incredibly worrying, and he or the Mavericks will need to find a solution to his reduced offensive output if his injury is to remain a concern in this playoff series.

10 Reasons Luka Doncic was wrongfully robbed of the 2024 NBA MVP

However, Doncic’s failures in the playoffs do not diminish the fact that he was perhaps the best player in the league throughout the regular season this year.

While Nikola Jokic was named MVP for the 2023-24 season on Wednesday evening, many fans and pundits believe Doncic has a much stronger case for the honor overall.

With that said, here are ten reasons Luka Doncic was robbed of the 2023-24 MVP trophy.

10. Highest scoring average in the NBA since prime James Harden

While it appeared to be an impossible task for Luka Doncic to improve his scoring average from 32.4 points per game during the 2023-24 season, the Slovenian wonder was able to achieve so this year for the Mavs.

Even more impressive was Doncic’s ability to improve his free throw and 3-point shooting efficiency despite his usage percentage of 35.9 percent, the lowest since the 2020-21 season. All of this culminated in Doncic averaging virtually the most points per game in the modern era, with an average of 33.9 points per game this season, the highest since James Harden averaged 34.3 and 35.0 points per game in the 2019-20 and 2018-19 seasons, respectively.

Doncic’s scoring production this season was nothing short of incredible, as he proceeded to add new tricks to his already extensive repertoire. Doncic exemplified what it means to be a hyper-efficient three-level scorer for the Mavericks this season, as he became increasingly dynamic with his ability to hit tough shots and draw fouls in the mid-range, resulting in him setting the Mavericks’ single-season point record.

Doncic can already get to the rim against most defenders one-on-one, and his stepback 3-pointer is nearly impossible to stop when his legs are underneath him. Doncic has been a superb scorer throughout his career, so it’s quite impressive that he was able to increase his points per game at this point, even if only little.

9. Led Mavericks to fifth seed in the Western Conference

Just months ago, it appeared that the Mavericks would have no chance of securing home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, but because to a substantially better defense, they were able to climb all the way to the fifth seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs.

While Dallas’ defensive improvements can be credited with helping the Mavericks rise from play-in territory to nearly the fourth seed in the West, Luka Doncic was the steady tide that kept this Mavericks team afloat all season, especially when Kyrie Irving missed a significant number of games early on.

The Mavericks suffered injuries not just to Irving early in the season, but also to several secondary players such as Josh Green and Maxi Kleber. The Mavericks had yet to acquire P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford, and Dallas was league-average defensively until the trade deadline.

This put Luka Doncic in a difficult position to try and will the Mavericks to some wins during Dallas’ December-January stretch, and while Dallas didn’t have the cleanest slate during that time period, Doncic was critical in carrying the Mavericks’ offense enough to maintain an above-.500 record at 16-15 through those two months.

Doncic was putting in some incredible performances during this time period, most notably scoring an NBA season-high 73 points against the Atlanta Hawks on January 26. While the Mavericks’ playstyle has since shifted from a heliocentric style that required Doncic to carry a heavy burden with Irving missing significant time early on to a more balanced attack, it is undeniable that the Mavericks would not have had a chance at the fifth seed if Doncic had not performed so admirably this season.

8. Had best defensive season of his career

Luka Doncic’s defensive progress has been obvious for parts of the last three seasons, but he has played the most consistent defense of his career this season for the Dallas Mavericks.

Doncic has improved his footwork in space this season, allowing him to take advantage of his weight advantage over opposing ballhandlers in dribble-drive situations significantly more frequently. This is yet another example of how Doncic’s summer training has helped him develop on the margins, as he has been able to withstand a significantly higher defensive effort this season.

Doncic has an individual defensive rating of 112.6 this season, which backs up his claim. For comparison, Boston’s Jaylen Brown concluded the season with a defensive rating of 112.2, and most experts and commentators believe Brown is a far superior defender than Doncic.

Doncic is not an exceptional defender, and he probably never will be, since he would have to devote too much energy given the weight of duties he bears for Dallas’ offense. However, after an outstanding defensive performance against the Clippers in Game 2 of the first round, the national media has taken notice that Doncic is no pushover on the opposing end of the court.

Doncic projects as an above-average defender by other criteria, demonstrating that he can develop into a complete player to help his team win games, even if his defensive performance is occasionally sluggish. With Doncic defending at an above-average rate, it’s astonishing that he didn’t receive more first-place MVP votes from media members.

7. Blended seamlessly with co-star Kyrie Irving despite doubters

The Dallas Mavericks offense has long revolved around Luka Doncic as the sole initiator of most offensive actions in recent seasons, but when the Mavericks added Kyrie Irving at last season’s trade deadline, many basketball talking heads and analysts questioned whether two ball-dominant superstars could play together.

Many observers also criticized Irving for some of the troubles he dealt with off the court, claiming that Irving would bring negative feelings to the Mavericks locker room. However, Irving has been a polished professional both on and off the court since his arrival in Dallas, utterly debunking such notions. Doncic has also done an excellent job of dispelling these myths, having built a close bond with Irving off the court and discovered even more chemistry with him on the court.

Doncic and Irving have engaged in significantly more aggressive offensive moves against each other this season, and both have a keen awareness of when the other player has an opportunity to exploit a mismatch and one of them may need to change. Many expected the heliocentric style of the Mavericks offense, spearheaded by Doncic, to wreak havoc with Irving’s addition, but it has only paid tremendous benefits for the Mavericks because of how ready and adaptive Doncic and Irving are to making their pairing work offensively.

Doncic has thoroughly debunked stereotypes that he can’t play with another top player or that he’s selfish and incapable of accepting responsibility, which should have weighed heavier on some voters who chastised him for the same myth before the season began.

6. Absurd efficiency from 3-point land

Doncic has thoroughly debunked stereotypes that he can’t play with another top player or that he’s selfish and incapable of accepting responsibility, which should have weighed heavier on some voters who chastised him for the same myth before the season began.

Doncic also takes a far higher volume of 3-pointers than most top players, but perhaps most impressively, he has increased the number of 3-pointers he is taking this season while also increasing his %. Doncic hit an incredible 38.2 percent from distance this season, with an average of 10.6 attempted 3-pointers per game, the majority of which were contested step-backs.

Doncic’s improved conditioning this season also boded well for his 3-point shooting in late-game situations, as he shot 40.9 percent from downtown in what NBA.com considers clutch situations. As we all know, Doncic’s 3-point shooting percentage has dropped substantially since the playoffs began, as the lift on his shot appears to have regressed from when he was healthier throughout the regular season.

Fortunately for Doncic, the playoffs do not count against regular season statistics, despite the fact that the Mavericks desperately need Doncic to improve his shooting rate if they are to win their series against the Thunder.

Hopefully, Doncic’s 3-point shooting improvement can be replicated in the playoffs and beyond this season, but even if it isn’t, Doncic had one of the best 3-point shooting seasons in league history when you consider the volume of shots he took and the difficulty of the majority of them.

5. Ability to play through pain and injuries

If you don’t follow the Dallas Mavericks on a regular basis, you might not realize that Luka Doncic is one of the NBA’s hardest players. Doncic played in 70 of Dallas’ 82 regular-season games, despite the fact that he had received virtually no rest over the summer, given that Mavericks training camp began shortly after Slovenia’s 2023 World Cup run.

Getting into better playing form to handle his demanding workload was a major focus for Doncic last summer, and it has undoubtedly contributed to his continued success on the court this season for the Mavericks.

Doncic has been mentioned on the Mavericks’ injury report several times throughout the regular season, but he usually plays while putting up incredible stats. According to the eye test, Doncic has played in some noticeable pain and discomfort throughout much of the regular season, and his current knee sprain in the playoffs is a microcosm of the toughness that Doncic has demonstrated for the Mavericks all season.

Doncic did all of this while nearly leading the league in minutes this season, averaging 37.5 minutes per game. While no fans want to see Doncic get hurt in a meaningless regular season game due to over-exertion, it’s difficult to argue that any player in the league has shown as much toughness and willpower to stay on the court while still performing at an extremely high level as Doncic has this season.

4. Was extremely close to averaging a triple-double

While Luka Doncic did not quite reach the same heights as Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook in terms of averaging a triple-double for an entire season, he came awfully close with averages of 33.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 9.8 assists per game to cap off the Dallas Mavericks’ regular season.

Doncic’s assists average was by far the highest of his career this season, and he only had a higher rebounds average once in his career, in the 2019-20 season, when he averaged 9.4 per game. Doncic being able to raise his assist total may undoubtedly be credited to having better teammates this season on offense, but it’s still quite astounding when one takes into consideration that Doncic increased his productivity in nearly every other facet of the game as well.

Doncic has had a lot of time with the ball, as he has been the Mavericks’ main source of offense at times this season. However, with Doncic upping his overall offensive productivity and shooting efficiency, his ability to become an even more spectacular passer is nothing short of incredible.

Doncic may not have averaged a triple double, but he did average a few more points than Robertson and Westbrook did in the seasons when they averaged triple-doubles, demonstrating that Doncic’s season was a statistical outlier. Doncic’s unequaled game management explains how he was able to almost complete an impossible accomplishment, and it wouldn’t be surprised if Doncic averaged a triple-double in a season at some time in his NBA career.

Voters could have been more gracious to Doncic for nearly accomplishing this accomplishment, as Russell Westbrook won MVP for averaging a triple-double in the 2016-17 season despite the Thunder’s sixth-place finish.

3. Played at a far better pace this year

As previously discussed in this piece, Luka Doncic’s approach to strength and conditioning last summer allowed him to improve marginally in many different aspects of the game. While Doncic’s better playing shape has benefited his defense the most, the Mavericks’ pace this season has also accentuated this.

This season, the Mavericks finished with the seventh best pace in the NBA, at 100.6, thanks in large part to Doncic’s ability to run more in transition situations and his increased propensity to find quick outlet passes to jumpstart a Mavericks fast-break. Doncic has also done a better job of starting offensive actions in the half-court earlier in the shot clock this season, as his increased conditioning has reduced the number of possessions in which he nearly wastes eight seconds dribbling past half-court compared to prior years.

Doncic has even played off-ball more frequently to begin Mavericks offensive possessions this season, particularly after the trade deadline, demonstrating how committed Doncic is to boosting the tempo of the Mavericks attack. The Mavericks may never lead the league in pace with Doncic on the roster, since Dallas lacks the athletic profile of a youthful Oklahoma City Thunder or Orlando Magic squad, for example.

However, Doncic’s conditioning and willingness to boost pace have resulted in Dallas becoming one of the league’s top ten fastest teams, which should not be overlooked when discussing Doncic’s MVP candidacy.

2. Toned down complaining to refs throughout the season

Since putting on a Dallas Mavericks uniform, it’s been clear that Luka Doncic isn’t the most easygoing person when it comes to dealing with NBA referees. Throughout his career, Doncic has repeatedly fought no-calls and calls against him, which hasn’t helped his relationship with referees.

It’s undeniable that Doncic has a strong case for being accurate most of the time when arguing with officials, as his playstyle inevitably results in a lot of fouls from opposing players. However, this cannot justify that Doncic complains to referees as often as he has in the past, as it frequently disturbs the flow of the game and constantly leads  to Doncic being slow to get back on defense.

However, Doncic has taken steps in the right way, as seen by recent events. Doncic sat on 13 technical fouls for more than a month to end the regular season, indicating that he has matured in terms of recognizing how his complaints to officials negatively impact the Mavericks on the court. While Doncic was still whining too much to referees early on in the season, his improvement toward being more even-keeled with officials was one of many changes that he made in an MVP-caliber season.

1. Stepped up as a vocal leader in the Dallas locker room

Luka Doncic, a 25-year-old who does not speak English as his first language, has done an exceptional job as a vocal leader for the Dallas Mavericks this season. This evolution is visible in the number of Mavericks players and coaches who have praised Doncic’s leadership this season, as Doncic has emerged as the Mavericks’ genuine figurehead in all aspects.

Doncic’s ability to step up in this capacity has been critical in establishing trust in his teammates and developing synergy off the court, which is a far cry from when Doncic and former colleague Kristaps Porzingis were experiencing relationship issues a few years back. This speaks to Doncic’s maturity, as he has a lighthearted demeanor while still demonstrating his ability to be an authoritative vocal leader for the Mavericks.

Doncic is clearly attempting to gain recognition for his teammates, as he has attributed much of his success this season to them, and it appears that he has never been happier leading a club than he is this season in Dallas.

Doncic’s rise to prominence as a leader both on and off the court for the Mavericks this season will only make them a more appealing destination for potential free agents and trade targets in the future, as Doncic’s leadership this season dispels myths that players dislike playing with him.

Stay tuned for more on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks as the team progresses through the playoffs.

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