Luka Doncic is only 28 games into his first NBA season, but the 19-year-old is already making passes you'd expect to see from some of the best playmakers in the league.
The Rookie of the Year favourite had one pass in particular in the Dallas Mavericks' 126-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 18 that was straight out of LeBron James' playbook.
It came following a Nuggets turnover at the midpoint of the second quarter. After trying to take Torrey Craig off the dribble, Doncic reset the possession with roughly 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock by pulling the ball out to the perimeter to run a pick-and-roll with DeAndre Jordan.
Those pick-and-rolls have become a staple in the Dallas offence this season, resulting in Doncic setting Jordan for more scoring opportunities than anyone else on the Mavericks.
On the court with Doncic and Jordan at the time were three capable outside shooters in Jose Barea, Dorian Finney-Smith and Harrison Barnes. To maximize spacing, Barea hovered around the opposite wing while Finney-Smith and Barnes spotted up in either corner.
Doncic, however, never actually ran a pick-and-roll with Jordan. He wasn't even looking at Jordan or Denver's Nikola Jokic as the two big men made their way towards him.
Doncic was instead focused entirely on Trey Lyles, the furthest defender away from him.
For most ball handlers in this situation, Lyles can roam without any real repercussions. For someone like Doncic, Lyles is in no man's land and about to fall victim to a true puppet master.
The reason why? Doncic saw Lyles helping further off of Barnes the closer Jordan got to him.
It was the right decision - Lyles was the last line of defence with Jokic chasing Jordan out to the 3-point line - but he made the mistake of assuming what was coming next.
As soon as Lyles committed to helping out on Doncic's drive and Jordan's roll by turning his back to Barnes, Doncic made the one pass the Canadian wasn't expecting.
Lyles closed out in time to prevent Barnes from getting a clean look at a 3, but he was so out on control that he gave a direct driving lane to the basket. Barnes got all the way to the hoop to score two of his team-high 30 points on the night.
Here's the sequence from start to finish:
The pass itself is impressive - there aren't many players, especially at Doncic's size, who can throw it that accurately- but it's the timing that shows how smart of a player the Slovenian already is.
Had Doncic made it slightly sooner, Lyles would've likely been able to close out on Barnes with more control because he wouldn't have had to cover nearly as much ground as he did. Had Doncic made is slightly later, Jokic would've likely dropped back to the paint, freeing Lyles to return to Barnes in the corner.
Doncic even showed that he can make that pass under duress later in the same game when the Nuggets doubled him, this time leading to a wide open catch-and-shoot 3-pointer for Barnes.
When watching Doncic make those passes, it's hard not to see a future All-Star and MVP candidate.
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