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Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are forming a fearsome duo

If you base one's rise to superstardom on MVP hype alone, you may be inclined to believe that Luka Doncic's ascension into the game's elite bracket had been halted over the past few months.

After receiving plenty of MVP buzz through the first six weeks of the regular season, Doncic has fallen back in the race, despite the All-Star guard anchoring the Mavericks' return to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Don't be fooled by the lack of recent hype. Holding season averages of 28.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.7 assists, Doncic is absolutely piecing together one of the All-Time great regular seasons.

If those averages were to hold, the Mavericks star would join Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only players in NBA history to record season averages of at least 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

Robertson rattled off those numbers in four straight seasons from 1961-64, while Westbrook topped those marks in his MVP season back in 2017 ... and, oh yeah, just a reminder that Doncic turned 21 just last week.

With a usage percentage of 35.9 percent, only the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has their team's offence run through them more. Whether he is knifing to the basket for an eye-popping finish or a dazzling dish, or crossing up his opponent before going to his now patented step back, Doncic is constantly putting pressure on the defence.

According to Cleaning the Glass, Doncic is in the 94th percentile for his position as a finisher at the rim, while also being in the 100th percentile for assist percentage - simply put, he is a problem when moving to the basket.

The Mavericks' reliance on the Slovenian is evident in their record, as they hold a 33-20 mark when he plays and are 6-7, below .500, when he has been sidelined.

Outside of the individual brilliance, perhaps the biggest reason for optimism when watching Dallas play is the emergence of Kristaps Porzingis, who has seemingly continued to grow in confidence each month in his return season from ACL surgery.

Last week at home, the duo put together arguably their most dominant outing, combining for 64 points, 29 rebounds and 13 assists in the Mavericks' 127-123 overtime win over Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Porzingis is averaging a more than respectable 1.22 points per possession as a roll man in pick-and-roll situations, with the key to unlocking the duo's full potential possibly coming in these situations.

The gravity of Doncic as the ball handler likely to bend the opposition defence and force them into a decision between helping on the 7-foot-3 Porzingis or staying put on shooters like Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the corners.

To this point, Porzingis holds a 15.4 percent frequency as the roll man, which places him 44th for players that have appeared in at least 45 games this season. For comparison, Porzingis was averaging just 1.01 points per possession as the roll man with a frequency of 16.9 percent in 2017-18 before the knee injury.

It's easy to forget the mental battle this season has undoubtedly brought with it for Porzingis, who initially suffered the devastating knee injury on a powerful move to the basket for a dunk against the Milwaukee Bucks. Now paired with one of the more dynamic pick-and-roll guards in the league, expect Porzingis to continue to improve as a weapon in these scenarios.

While the 24-year-old has missed 15 games thus far, including a significant 10-game stretch through January with knee soreness, he has generally appeared to increase his willingness to attack the rim as the season has wore on, while still producing his always present rim protection, swatting 2.1 shots per game.

Make no mistake, the young duo in just their first season together on court have the makings of one of the league's dominant pairings, with only good health standing in their way of making a run at a playoff upset in the first round.

If the season were to end today, the Mavericks would find themselves in an ominous position, with a No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup against Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers on tap, though they are just 3.0 games behind the Utah Jazz in the fourth seed, meaning there are numerous potential matchups still in play.

Skeptics of the Mavericks will point to their 11-17 record against teams with an above .500 record, though with Doncic having what would normally be considered an MVP caliber season and Porzingis on the road back to his All-Star level play, there is no team in the West that would objectively want to see the Mavericks in the postseason.

Ultimately, this season may not be the one for Rick Carlisle to collect another championship ring, but make no mistake, better days are ahead for Dallas, and that in itself is a scary thought.

The views in this story do not reflect those of the NBA or its clubs.

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