Luka Doncic seemed to be a lock for rookie of the year at the All-Star break, but his airtight case is taking on water as illustrated by a lackluster game Tuesday in a 112-105 loss to the Spurs.
Doncic had only 12 points, missed eight of nine attempts from the free-throw line and committed a season-high nine turnovers in just under 34 minutes. He admitted after the game he “wasn’t 100 percent,” and coach Rick Carlisle shouldered some of the blame for keeping his electric rookie on the floor too long.
“He had a rough night,” Carlisle said (via the Dallas Morning News). “I probably played him too many minutes.”
Dirk Nowitzki seemed to agree Doncic seems worn down, adding: “The ball is in his hand basically at all times when he’s out there, and it’s a load. It’s a lot for him to shoulder right now.”
Luka Doncic was 1-9 from the free throw line in Tuesday’s loss. His 11.1 FT% is the worst in a game with 9+ FTA in Dallas team history.
— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 13, 2019
Doncic, 20, leads rookies this season averaging 32.2 minutes per game and is second in field goals attempted (1,015) behind only Atlanta’s Trae Young (1,018).
However, that 32.2 number doesn’t set a new precedent in the league as it’s the seventh-highest average among rookies in the last five years and 14th since the 2010-11 season.
Lonzo Ball (34.2), Ben Simmons (33.7) and Donovan Mitchell (33.4) each averaged more minutes last season than Doncic in 2018-19.
It’s fair to say Doncic has slightly more mileage on his 20-year-old body at this point than those three did a season ago as he played 171 combined EuroLeague games in three seasons prior to joining the NBA.
For a bit of perspective, Villanova played 40 games in 2017-18 last season on its run to a national title. At that pace, Doncic would have to play every game on four consecutive national championship teams (and find 11 extra contests in there somewhere) before being drafted to have that type of wear on his body before turning pro.
Obviously you don’t like the boatload of turnovers and missed free throws. But #Mavs fans have to be encouraged by the raw fire in Doncic right now, in a largely meaningless game in mid-March of his rookie year. Extrapolate that to a playoff game. Dude is gonna be a killer.
— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) March 13, 2019
Dallas is 14th in the Western Conference with a 27-40 record, and watching Doncic with the ball is about all Mavericks fans have to look forward to each night, so it’s understandable why Carlisle would keep Doncic on the floor. And Doncic isn’t fighting him.
“I want to play always,” Doncic said Tuesday. “Even though we’re not playing for that much right now I just want to play every game.”
Doncic is a special case in more ways than one, and it seems the Mavericks are still learning how to manage his talent and his body.