The 2021-22 NBA season marks Year 4 of the Luka Doncic era in Dallas.
Time flies, doesn't it? Three years in, the Mavericks' 22-year-old superstar is just getting started.
After turning in the second All-NBA First Team campaign of his young career, Doncic had another legendary postseason showing against the LA Clippers. Despite Doncic's averages of 35.7 points, 10.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds, the Mavs would come up short in seven games
From there, Doncic would then return to Europe, where he made history by leading the Slovenian Men's National Team to its first-ever Olympics. In Tokyo, he almost single-handedly willed his country to its first-ever Olympic medal, posting averages of 23.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists, resulting in a fourth-place finish.
To wrap up the offseason, Doncic graced the cover of the latest installment of "NBA 2K" and inked a historic five-year, $207 million supermax contract extension, ensuring he will be a mainstay in Dallas through at least the 2025-26 season.
With all of the above fresh on our minds, Doncic landed right outside of the top five of NBA.com's most recent player rankings, making him the youngest player ranked in the top 10 by far. It might be minor, but it is yet another reminder that what we've seen from Doncic up to this point in his career is far from the norm.
With a penchant for history-making, a reality that Doncic must face throughout his career is that he will be subject to expectations that for most, would not seem remotely fair. I say that to preface the fact that before Doncic even takes the floor for his fourth NBA season, the focus now shifts to the next leap he could make.
Given all that he has accomplished up to this point, that next leap is moving into the realm of consideration of being the league's best player. Not outright, but the realm of consideration.
It's early, but with respect to the path to all-time greatness that Doncic has already begun to forge, it's not outrageous to think that he could stake his claim as the league's best by the end of his fourth NBA campaign. A few recent examples come to mind.
- LeBron James' fourth NBA season culminated with a historic run to the NBA Finals, something many still consider to be his greatest NBA feat
- Kevin Durant ended Year 4 as a back-to-back scoring champion and in the playoffs, helped lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Western Conference Finals
For most, it wouldn't seem fair, but Durant and James represent the type of company Doncic has earned the right to be mentioned with at this point of his career.
Looking forward to the upcoming season, there is a lot of change around Doncic. The Mavericks organization has undergone a front office overhaul, the team's offseason moves admittedly left more to be desired, and for the first time in his NBA career, Doncic will play for someone other than Rick Carlisle, as the franchise appointed Jason Kidd as its new head coach.
Again, for most, this would seem like the recipe for a setback or a down year, but for Doncic, it feels like another layer to the next chapter of a story that sees him take another leap. Similar to LeBron, Luka has earned the expect-the-unexpected level of respect, from his peers, fans and pundits alike.
I believe they call it "Luka Magic."
In order to truly leap into consideration as the league's best player, Doncic will be looked upon to get the Mavericks team over the hump, despite the organizational changes and the ways in which their roster fails to measure up against the Western Conference's elite. He's done it on an international level and in spurts in the NBA, but what's next is a top-four finish and the sustained postseason run that his cervical injury in 2021 very well may have robbed him of.
As good as Doncic is, the scary part is that he has room to become so much better, as he continues to learn to pick his spots, improve as a shooter and, more than anything, master the NBA game. As a 6-foot-7 ball-dominant guard with all the offensive skill in the world, Doncic is very close to entering the rarefied air of being able to consistently dictate all 48 minutes of a basketball game.
It's an invaluable skill come playoff time; it ensures that the team with the best player can win a series, even when the team itself is outmatched.
The biggest question, of course, is whether or not Doncic could truly be considered the best player in the NBA given his defensive limitations. Given the complexities surrounding the measurements of defensive efficiency, the answer could get quite complicated, but the short answer is simple: Luka Doncic is so good at everything else, some limitations can be overlooked.
Don't get me wrong, defence is very important, and it's understandable to put a player like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Durant or James ahead of Doncic for that reason, but Doncic being in the conversation despite such limitations should say something about where he is at this point in his career, and there's plenty of room to grow.
To say the best is yet to come for Doncic would be grossly understating what the superstar has up his sleeve as the next act of his magical career, but the momentum from this offseason places him in a position to make another leap in just his fourth NBA campaign.
By season's end, he could rightfully have a claim at the top spot on our player rankings.
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