We're less than two months into the NBA season, but there is already a clear front-runner for Rookie of the Year.
With averages of 19.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, Luka Doncic wasted no time in proving that the Dallas Mavericks made a smart decision in trading up for him in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Slovenian currently leads all rookies in scoring, ranks behind only Deandre Ayton, Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III in rebounding and trails only Trae Young in assists through 19 games.
While it wasn't enough to prevent the Mavericks from getting off to a slow start, Doncic has led Dallas to seven wins in their last eight games, putting them in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
To get a better idea of how Doncic has gotten off to such a hot start, let's take a closer look at his game.
A lethal shooter
It hasn't taken Doncic long to adjust to the NBA's extended 3-point line. Close to half of his attempts in a Mavericks uniform have come from the perimeter and he's knocked down 39.8 percent of those opportunities.
The combination puts him ahead of all rookies in 3-pointers made and behind only three first-year players in 3-point accuracy.
What's most impressive about Doncic's success from deep is he's getting it done from a standstill and on the move. According to NBA.com, he's made 39.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts and 40.8 percent of his pull-up 3-point attempts through 19 games.
The reason that matters? Being a legitimate threat on spot-ups means opponents can't help off of him when one of his teammates have the ball in their hands and being able to shoot off the dribble makes him a tough cover when he's the one running the show.
It helps that Doncic has proven he can score inside the perimeter with smooth pull-ups from midrange and floaters in the paint. Whether or not he can continue to make those shots at a high rate for the remainder of his rookie season remains to be seen, but he is already showing signs of being a legitimate three-level scorer.
That versatility gives Doncic the tools to be a dominant pick-and-roll scorer in the years to come because he can make teams pay for dropping underneath screens and take what the defence gives him when they run him off the 3-point line.
He's shown more poise in those situations than you'd expect from a 19-year-old, doing things like snaking pick-and-rolls to force the help defender to make a decision and using nifty fakes when he gets into the paint to carve out extra space for himself.
If he's already reading defences like a veteran as a rookie, imagine what he's going to be like when he's in his prime.
The only real concern for Doncic coming into the NBA was his athleticism, and it's shown in a couple of ways this season, mainly when he ties to finish over shot blockers in the paint or shake quicker defenders on the perimeter.
Doncic has, however, quietened some of those concerns with his step back jump shot. He has a tendency to fall in love with it - it's his go-to when he has a defender on an island - but the early results have been encouraging, with Doncic making 12 of his 36 step back attempts from long range.
If he can turn that into a legitimate weapon, it'll go a long way in helping him overcome some of his physical limitations.
Doncic has also flashed some skill as a post scorer on a few occasions. If he becomes more comfortable scoring with his back to the basket, it would give him another weapon he could go to in isolation.
Many teams around the league now use big-small pick-and-rolls in an effort to create mismatches, and Doncic has both the size and touch to punish smaller defenders on switches on the low block.
A special passer
Doncic isn't going to be the next LeBron James, but the main reason many compared him to the 14-time All-Star in the lead-up to the 2018 NBA Draft is because he's a 6-foot-7 forward who has the vision of a guard.
That much became clear within minutes of his NBA debut when he threw this gorgeous pass:
Doncic hasn't slowed down since then. The only rookie currently dishing out more assists per game is Trae Young (6.3) and Doncic is one of 46 players in the entire league creating at least 10.0 points per game for their teammates with their passing.
Where Doncic begins to separate himself from most of the players ahead of him on that list is with the types of shots he's creating for his teammates on a nightly basis. According to PBP Stats, all but five of Doncic's assists this season have led to a 3-pointer or a shot at the rim.
As of Nov. 15, only Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe had a higher percentage their assists lead to those "Moreyball" shots.
The Bucks sure are moving the ball for high-value shots this season. pic.twitter.com/SPIQvcn7H5- The Nylon Calculus (@NylonCalculus) November 15, 2018
The player who has been on the receiving end of most of Doncic's assists is DeAndre Jordan. The two form a natural one-two punch, with Doncic being a dynamic playmaker and Jordan being one of the league's best finishers around the basket.
If Jordan's defender provides any sort of help, Doncic knows exactly where to put the ball to set him up for layups and dunks.
That opens up opportunities for Doncic to set up Dallas' shooters with cross-court passes when defenses collapse to take away those high percentage shots away.
Doncic's playmaking will only become more valuable as the Mavericks improve. He's the type of player who should always have at least three 3-point shooters surrounding him to make the most of his scoring ability and court vision.
It's why those pre-draft comparisons to LeBron sort of make sense.
What to watch next
Efficiency is going to be something to watch for Doncic the rest of this season, particularly when it comes to his playmaking.
As much promise as he's shown as a passer, Doncic finds himself among the league-leaders in turnovers with 3.8 per contest, giving him an uninspiring assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.11.
Doncic has been slightly better as of late, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. According to NBA.com, a large portion of Doncic's turnovers have come on bad passes - as opposed to travels or offensive fouls - like this:
If Doncic can tidy that part of his game up in the coming months while maintaining his scoring numbers, he'll only separate himself further from his fellow rookies.