Luka Doncic has proven just about every critique of his game wrong during the start of his NBA career. Doncic’s draft day doubters said he wasn’t athletic enough to thrive in the NBA. They said he would be a liability on defense. They questioned his outside shooting ability.
One by one, Doncic has answered every question on his way to becoming a legitimate MVP candidate in his third season at just 21 years old. Doncic isn’t without his flaws, but at this point it seems foolish to question the long-term viability of any area of his game when he has consistently risen to every challenge.
Doncic has proven you don’t need to be able to run a 4.3 40-yard-dash or have a 40-inch vertical to be a functional NBA athlete. He’s made major strides as a defender this season. He’s also one of the game’s most dangerous shooters even if his percentages don’t necessarily suggest that.
The Boston Celtics found out just how good of a shooter Doncic is on Tuesday night. The Dallas Mavericks won a thriller, 110-107, over Boston because Doncic hit some of the most difficult shots you’ll ever see down the stretch.
With Dallas down one with about 30 seconds left, Doncic took the ball for a long possession, juked multiple Celtics defenders, and hit a pull-up three-pointer to give the Mavs the lead.
The Celtics would tie the game on the next possession on a driving layup by Jaylen Brown. Dallas inbounded the ball to Doncic, and let him cook without a timeout.
Doncic again went into a step-back three over multiple Boston defenders and drained it for the win as time expired.
Look at how dejected Brown looks when the shot goes in. There’s simply nothing a defender can do to stop Luka when he’s hitting shots like that.
Doncic finished the game 6-of-8 from three-point range. He’s been on fire from deep in February, hitting nearly 45 percent of his threes. His season-long three-point percentage is now up to 34.9 percent.
The baseline for being an excellent three-point shooter in the NBA is a 40 percent mark from deep, but not all shooters are created equal. Doncic is a significantly better shooter than his percentages suggest because of the types of shots he’s taking and making.
Doncic has to create almost every look for himself on a Mavericks team that doesn’t have many other playmakers or knockdown shooters to space the floor for him. He routinely takes some of the most difficult looks in the league, and still knocks them down at an impressive rate.
Per NBA.com, Doncic is taking 5.7 three-pointers per game that are classified as pull-ups. He’s making 36.3 percent of those shots. He’s also often forced to create at the end of the shot clock. Doncic takes 1.1 three-pointers per game with the shot clock at or below four seconds. He’s making 30 percent of those looks which doesn’t seem great, but is likely much more efficient offense than whatever his teammates could create in those situations. With between 7-4 seconds left on the shot clock, Doncic is shooting 41 percent from three.
After Doncic dribbles the ball seven or more times, he’s taking 3.3 three-pointers per game and is making 38.5 percent of those attempts. That’s ridiculous efficiency on some of the toughest looks in the game.
Where Doncic struggles is as a catch-and-shoot threat. It should be easier to hit spot-ups than shots off the dribble, but Doncic has never been a knockdown shooter off the catch. This season, he’s taking 1.4 catch-and-shoot threes per game, and is making only 32.5 percent of them.
Doncic’s struggles as a spot-up shooter can be attributed to the fact that he’s played with the ball in his hands his entire life. While it would be great for Doncic to develop into a knockdown threat off the ball, the reality is his pull-up ability gives him far more gravity as a scorer. Even when Doncic is missing tough pull-ups, defenses have to account for the fact that he can take and make those shots. That opens up the rest of his game for himself and his teammates.
We saw how clutch Doncic could be in the biggest moments when he drilled a buzzer-beater against the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA playoffs in the bubble. That moment leads this compilation of Doncic’s clutch shots. The game-winner against the Celtics can be added to the list as one of his greatest makes yet.
It’s important to remember Doncic is still just 21 years old. It feels like he’s already a finished product, but in reality he keeps getting better and better every year. His shooting percentages are going to improve — it’s already happening — but that number hardly tells the full story of Doncic as a three-point threat.
Doubt Doncic’s outside shot if you must. There aren’t many players in the league who can hit the shots he hits with regularity.