In the early games of the young season, we are witnessing something that will be confirmed in retrospect – the dawn of the first Luka Doncic. You may have seen the social media posts and talk show segments focused on Luka’s goal streak of 30 or more points in the first eight games. Only Wilt Chamberlain has started a season this way – with rarefied air, of course.
While impressive, this level of scoring is far from the only reason to believe Doncic is unfolding a new level of greatness before our eyes. This change is beyond statistics. Luka elevates his intangibles to match his basketball prowess. When a player is heralded as having near limitless potential and begins to fully realize it, a level of past greatness emerges. Like a wild animal taking its place at the top of the evolutionary food chain, Luka has become the NBA’s apex predator on the court.
Efficiency in attacks
Luka scores near the basket at a rate usually reserved for the best frontcourt players. In the first seven games, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player with at least 8 attempts per game from inside 8 feet with a better percentage (75.0) than Luka at 69.1. Extend that same question from the 8- to 16-foot range and Giannis’ FG percentage drops to a paltry 27.3 on just 3.1 attempts. Luka from 8 to 16 in 3.6 attempts? An ultra-efficient 64 percent.
Let it sink in. So far this season, Luka is better inside 16 feet than any other qualified NBA player, regardless of position. That’s a big part of why Luka (37.06) sits at the top of player efficiency ratings. With a slow start from behind the arc occurring alongside this short-range supremacy, a key question is whether Luka will continue to attack the basket with this volume and efficiency even after outside shots start to fall. If Doncic just adds his long-term career average percentage to keep his reign of terror within 16 feet, he can start writing the MVP acceptance speech now.
Relentlessly stalking its prey
Focusing on inferior defenders to create lags is no longer enough. Luka is keen on targeting opposing superstars on a regular basis. In this interview clip, Luka told JJ Redick that his reasons for continuing with players like LeBron and Giannis are that they will have to expend energy and won’t be able to use their expertise as as first aid advocates. Yet it is clearly more than that. Luka makes a statement in these matchups as if to tell the world that even the biggest names in the game can’t protect him man-to-man.
No sharing with other tribes
Go make your own kills. No presents here, said the apex predator. In the first seven games, Doncic was stingy with the ball. After turnover rates in the mid-4s for the past three seasons, Luka is averaging 3.4 turnovers per game while averaging 9 assists per game. Luka feeds his village with minimal waste.
Leading the pack
The loudest and clearest voice belongs to the apex predator. Ignore the scrubbed “aww shucks” answers he gives in media interviews, Luka knows he’s a really bad guy.
This season, Luka is using his voice to do more than just complain to the referees. Head coach Jason Kidd told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne: “You hear more about Luka as the leader of this team, and it started coming out last year when they went to the final of the Western Conference, but it’s really happening this year. If you want to be the MVP favorite, you can’t just be a good player. You must be a great leader.
Luka also leads by example. He has admitted in several interviews that his conditioning to start last season was – in his view – unacceptable. He arrived this year in great shape, which fueled his historic start.
Apex predators never hesitate to take on another. Luka reaches the passing lanes and generates interceptions at a considerably higher rate. In eight games, Luka is in the NBA’s top 10 steals per game with 1.9 after finishing last season with 1.2. If he maintains that throughout the season, that needs to factor into the MVP conversation. Defense is much more than pure lateral quickness, never a Doncic force. The anticipation and sheer trickery needed to mess up passing lanes can end an opposing team’s run or support one of your own.
Apex Predator vs. Champion
Remember how downtrodden Dirk looked accepting the 2007 MVP award after being rejected in the first round? Remember the elation he felt in the moments following the buzzer of Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals. These two images, side by side, tell us everything we need to know about what Luka is really looking for. .
Is Luka producing at this level because the team needs him? Is he just aiming for the MVP? An apex predator sits at the top of the food chain out of dominance – not out of desperation or simple pursuit of rewards.
There will only be so many bites to the apple of the championship for the Luka-led Mavericks. These early years are numbered by fate. A player can influence the length of their apex window based on their dedication and lifestyle choices, but uncertainty and cruel chance can interfere quite cruelly. Which is why every Mavericks fan should savor Luka’s incredible year as it unfolds. Every time that lion stalks another proverbial gazelle, realize you’re looking at something incredibly rare.