Does Luka Doncic Need Another Co-Star? That's Up to Kristaps Porzingis

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 3: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans on December 3, 2019 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

We are running out of adjectives to describe Luka Doncic.

Almost nothing can be said about him that hasn't already been exhausted, ad nauseam, to the umpteenth power. His detonation in the Dallas Mavericks' 118-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday was equal parts brilliant and routine. He needed only three quarters to grab 33 points, a career-high 18 rebounds, five assists and yet another slab of history: 

Normalizing the unprecedented is Doncic's default mode. And while we aren't yet numb to his dominance, we've nearly depleted all the angles in which it can be framed. 

So let's try a different one: Doncic's meteoric ascent has accelerated the Mavericks' timeline, even more so than last season, when it became clear he was the immediate kind of special.

They're no longer just playoff hopefuls. Nor is making the postseason merely the expectation. They're something more, a genuine problem in the Western Conference—not ready to win a title, but on the fringes of, if only one player away from, entering that discussion.

This is not an exaggeration.

The Mavericks are fourth in the West with the league's best offense and a top-three net rating. Their schedule has tilted toward the easier end of the spectrum, but they own the Association's second-best point differential on the road and have rattled off victories against the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors. They're 4-3 versus teams with winning records overall.

That doesn't happen by accident. The regular season is right around its quarter-pole. Sample size is no longer the colossal caveat it was out of the gate. A lot can still change between now and year's end, but the current landscape carries a certain authenticity.

It is even fair to wonder whether the Mavericks are one player away. From championship contention? Most definitely. The tier below? Eh. They may not need another player, because they have the player.

Doncic's performances are a distortion of reality. His cross-court passes are habitual and on point, and he threads needles in his sleep:

His step-back threes and fadeaways come on a high degree of difficulty yet somehow seem so effortless:

Defenses don't have any answers for him in the lane. Overplaying his step-back invites parades at the rim, and he knows how to use his body to split defenders.

Most bigs don't stand a chance when he's coming off ball screens. Even when they get good position, he traffics in difficult finishes. He's shooting 47.9 percent on floaters and 66.9 percent on drives—tops among 140-something players churning through four or more downhill attacks per game.

Glitzy game lines are easier to come by in this era, but any 20-year-old on the verge of breaking a Michael Jordan-owned record is a special brand of absurd:

Doncic alone renders the Mavs an irritant in the ultra-brutal West. One-star teams have a finite ceiling, but theirs is higher than most when he's staking a legitimate claim in the MVP race.

Oh, it also helps that Dallas has a level beyond "All Doncic Everything." Its bench is first in point differential per 100 possessions. That depth was on full display Tuesday night.

Seth Curry pitched in 19 points. Maxi Kleber hit some threes and made a few nice plays inside the arc. Dorian Finney-Smith, while not necessarily equipped to guard the Kawhi Leonards of the world, was his usual unrelenting self on defense. Tim Hardaway Jr. went a little cold, but he's been straight fire in spot-up situations this year, particularly off Doncic's passes.

In the event the Mavericks are one player away, they might already have him. Their success has come amid rampant inconsistency from Kristaps Porzingis.

He's still going through the motions after his 20-month hiatus. He is settling against defensive mismatches and, at times, functioning as a borderline bystander. His shooting slashes aren't great to begin with, but he's knocking down just 36.4 percent of his two-point looks and 29.3 percent of his treys off passes from Doncic.

Dallas immediately gets much scarier if Porzingis ever rounds into form.
Dallas immediately gets much scarier if Porzingis ever rounds into form.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

That won't hold. Porzingis probably won't be a top-25 player by the end of the season, but he needs time to get his bearings after spending so much time away from the court rehabbing his torn left ACL. Dallas might get treated to a renaissance after the All-Star break.

Even if Porzingis doesn't recapture his form this year, the Mavericks are already proving they can navigate that deficit. They're now outscoring opponents by five points per 100 possessions when he plays without Doncic, and they're a plus-10.2 overall in their Luka-less minutes.

Picture what this team becomes with another impact player—not next season, but right now. Another wing, specifically, could change everything. Dallas is a pleasantly surprising 15th in defensive efficiency but could use another perimeter stopper, if not now then certainly in the postseason.

Acquiring that player isn't going to be easy. The Mavericks owe two first-rounders to the New York Knicks and aren't teeming with attractive prospects or expiring salary filler. That's not to say they have no cards to play.

Courtney Lee's $12.8 million salary comes off the books after this season, and they own the Golden State Warriors' 2020 second-round pick, which is shaping up to be a borderline first-rounder. Jalen Brunson and Justin Jackson give them two young(ish) sweeteners to peddle in more ambitious packages.

Andre Iguodala is the name most keep revisiting. Rival executives have told ESPN's Brian Windhorst they believe the Mavericks could potentially make a serious run at him. It makes sense. They have the incentive to chase that midseason swing piece. They aren't the Lakers or the Los Angeles Clippers, but they're a heartbeat away from contention.

Dallas, like Doncic, is ready now.

             

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders, Early Bird Rights and Spotrac.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

B/R senior writer, FS1 analyst, and host of the Bucher & Friends pod, Ric Bucher returns to “The Full 48 with Howard Beck” to play another round of “It’s way too early but…” involving the Toronto Raptors, LeBron vs Kawhi, the Bucks, Ja Morant, Carmelo Anthony, the Chicago Bulls, and the James Harden Russell Westbrook experiment.

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