Dallas Mavericks

One Play: Uh-oh, Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic is starting to bully teams in the post

Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic takes the spotlight.

Context: By his standards, Luka Doncic had a ho-hum showing against the San Antonio Spurs on April 11.

In the two-point loss, Doncic scored 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the field to go along with seven assists, three rebounds and - here's the bad part - a game-high five turnovers. Based on Game Score, which gives "a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game," he's had 21 better performances this season.

So why bring it up? The way Doncic got many of those points and assists is notable for a couple of reasons.

Before we get into those reasons, let's take a closer look at one play in particular.

The play: Dorian Finney-Smith scores a layup out of a post-up from Doncic.

Breakdown: Doncic brings the ball up the court following a missed shot from DeMar DeRozan.

With the right side completely clear, Doncic quickly turns his back to the basket to post up the 6-foot-4 and 190-pound Derrick White.

The Mavericks space the floor for Doncic by having Jalen Brunson, Josh Richardson, Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis spot-up along the 3-point line.

As the play develops, White turns his feet so that they're facing the sideline. The plan? Cut off the middle of the court and send Doncic towards the baseline, where DeRozan is coming over to double him.

Doncic takes the bait, spinning into DeRozan's help and picking up his dribble.

What Doncic does next is straight up mean.

With Rudy Gay sticking to Porzingis one pass away, Keldon Johnson and Dejounte Murray are left covering three players - Brunson, Richardson and Finney-Smith - on the opposite side of the court. Johnson parks himself at the elbow so that he's between Brunson and Richardson while Murray drops to prevent Finney-Smith from getting a layup.

Where the "straight up mean" part comes into play is Doncic makes Murray hesitate for a split-second by bringing the ball up, making it seem as though he's going to skip a pass to Brunson or Richardson.

That fake paves the way for Finney-Smith to get inside position on Murray.

Spotting the opening, Doncic wraps a pass around DeRozan to Finney-Smith underneath the basket. Murray gets a hand on the ball but is unable to prevent Finney-Smith from getting a layup.

The funny part? Doncic wasn't actually credited with an assist, presumably because Murray got a deflection. Still, a preposterous pass by Doncic that leads to a layup.

Why it matters: As already mentioned, there's a couple of reasons.

First, Doncic was relentless attacking the Spurs in the post in the second half of this game. He basically put on a post-up masterclass.

He used his 6-foot-7 and 230-pound frame to bully San Antonio's smaller guards.

He used his length to shoot over them.

He punished them for being overly aggressive by drawing fouls.

And he used his next-level vision to set up his teammates for wide open looks when the Spurs loaded up on him.

It wasn't quite enough for the Mavericks to come away with the win - DeRozan got the last laugh with a last-second jumper over Finney-Smith - but the Spurs didn't have an answer for Doncic out of the post. They threw a number of different coverages at him and he had an answer for every single one.

That brings us to the second reason the above post-up matters: Doncic is posting up a lot more this season.

According to NBA.com, Doncic has generated 6.7 percent of his offence out of the post to this point of the season. That might not sound like much, but it's almost double the frequency with which he scored in the post last season.

It's been an incredibly efficient source of offence for Doncic, with him ranking in the 86th percentile with 1.16 points per post-up possession.

MORE: Has Doncic turned the corner as a 3-point shooter?

Post-ups tend to get a bad wrap nowadays - we're not far removed from Doncic's head coach calling it "not a good play anymore" - but it's a valuable weapon for a player like Doncic to have in their arsenal. He's already an elite pick-and-roll and isolation scorer, the combination of which gives him the tools to dissect almost any defence in the league. Being able to create efficient shots for himself and his teammates out of the post adds another wrinkle to his game, because it gives him the ability to punish guards when they switch onto him. (Click here if you're interested in reading more about how it's the key to unlocking his full potential as a scorer).

Not to compare Doncic to one of the greatest players of all-time, but it gives him a similar skill set as his idol, LeBron James.

As I wrote last season, LeBron tends to become a bully in the playoffs, picking on the opposing team's weakest defender relentlessly and attacking them in whichever way he has the advantage, whether it's with his speed from the top of the perimeter or with his size out of the post. If the defence doesn't provide help, he's going to score more often than not. And if they do provide help, arguably the league's best passer will pick them apart by throwing dimes all over the court.

Again, not to compare him to one of the all-time greats, but Doncic is becoming a similar sort of bully, the type who can and will pick apart teams by seeking out his most favourable matchup, no matter how big or small they are.

It's an encouraging development for the Mavericks and a scary one for the rest of the league.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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