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Since Luka Dončić’s rookie season, he has been the part conductor, part soloist figurehead for a Dallas Mavericks offense that has consistently blitzed the entire league. It’s a simple formula: 1) Give Dončić the ball; 2) Provide him with a rim-running big man to run pick-and-rolls; 3) Put shooters around him; 4) Score at will.
In his second season, the Mavericks’ Dončić-led offense set what was then an all-time league record for points scored per 100 possessions. While that record was subsequently broken by other teams, Dončić’s offenses have remained deadly efficient even in the seasons where he’s spent long stretches not looking his best. Often, it’s the bench lineups without him that drag Dallas down beneath record-setting levels. While that’s true for every team with star players, it was especially noticeable last season.
The Dončić offense
As you can see, the Mavericks’ offensive dominance thus far this season is no different than others. But the manner in which the team has accomplished these scoring feats in their 6-1 start does have some differences from past years.
Most notably, Dončić hasn’t been solely responsible for the team’s success like in past seasons. His usage rate (34.2 percent) is the lowest since his rookie season, and the team has actually scored more efficiently thus far with Dončić off the court than on it. While the latter trend isn’t likely to continue, Dallas has already shown it has a deeper team more capable of holding its own in its non-Dončić lineups, rather than simply surviving.
One reason is that the team has been playing quicker. Dončić is cerebral within the half court; even when he isn’t struggling with his conditioning, his athleticism is more suited to those slower paces. Up until this season, Dallas’ playing rotations have largely mirrored Dončić’s tendency to not push for fast breaks. But when the Dallas front office almost entirely rebuilt its roster this summer, the team prioritized faster, more athletic players.
Dončić's offensive tempo
While every team talks about playing faster in the preseason, Dallas has actually done so through the team’s first seven games. Derrick Jones Jr., a minimum signing in August that has surprisingly emerged as the team’s fifth starter, has had the most significant effect. In his 146 minutes thus far, the Mavericks have played at a rate of 105.2 possessions, the team’s quickest tempo for any individual Maverick’s time on the court. Kyrie Irving, who has replaced the methodical Jalen Brunson, has also helped speed up the offense. Dallas averages about one-and-a-half more possessions in his minutes than when Dončić plays.
But to Dončić’s credit, the half-court maestro has made a noticeable effort to play faster, too. Against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday, Dončić iced the team’s win with a transition catch-and-shoot 3 from an Irving pass. In the team’s third game against the Memphis Grizzlies, he even ran the court’s entire length for a layup, something that longtime Dončić watchers know isn’t typical of him.
It’s remarkable Dallas has had such offensive success in the Dončić era without relying on efficiency hacks like fast breaks.
Another cheat code is second chance points. Dallas has typically finished in the league’s bottom-five in offensive rebounding percentage since Dončić’s arrival. This season, the team ranks 24th in the league, but rookie center Dereck Lively II, who has grabbed the starting center role with force, is on pace to have the highest individual offensive rebounding percentage (13.4) of any of Dončić’s Mavericks teammates ever.
Of course, these additions to this season’s Dončić-led offense are useful wrinkles. The fundamental success has always been what Dončić does with a pick-and-roll, which typically leads teams to masochistic decisions of strategy: do you let him score, do you double him or do you have your help defenders leave shooters? Because Dončić is the league’s best 3-point shot creator, any option inevitably leads to open jump shots, where Dallas once again leads the league with 43.1 3-point attempts per game and is currently second in 3-point conversion rate (39.4 percent).
But while no team has taken more 3s than Dallas this season, this Dončić offense is only — “only” — fifth in catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. This speaks partially to the manner in which Dončić has altered his own approach this season, one which involves far more 3-pointers for himself than any season so far. More than half of Dončić’s shot attempts come from behind the arc, his highest rate since his rookie season, possibly because he’s made them at a 41.3 percent clip through seven games. If there’s any curious trend, it’s that Dončić has taken far fewer shots near the rim than any prior season.
Dončić's shot attempts near the rim
What this shows is the percentage of shots that Dončić has taken within three feet of the rim and within the floater zone (three-to-10 feet). It could just be that Dončić’s jumper has gone in so often that there’s no need for him to labor and work to get any closer to the basket. After all, even though it’s only seven games, Dončić is on pace to have by far the most efficient scoring season (64 percent True Shooting) of his career. Dallas’ offense hasn’t suffered, and that means there’s no cause for concern. It’s just one trend among many which is worth watching as this Dončić-led offense once again resumes its unstoppable campaign against opposing defenses.
What Dallas has done differently so far this season has resulted in a healthier, less Dončić-reliant approach. Where those trends go from here remains to be seen, but Dončić’s preeminence as an offensive maestro is certain to continue.
(Top photo: Bart Young / NBAE via Getty Images)