Welcome to "One Possession!" Throughout the 2019-20 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 sophomore Luka Doncic takes the spotlight.
Context: On Friday, the Mavericks hosted the new-look Los Angeles Lakers. Why is it noteworthy? The Mavericks aren't expected to be on the same level as the Lakers this season, but it was another opportunity to see Luka Doncic face off against LeBron James. Doncic has been compared to James a number of times in his career. While it's not fair to compare any young prospect to arguably the greatest player of all-time, there's no denying that Doncic is capable of doing LeBron-like things on a basketball court.
The possession: Here is one particular pass Doncic made early last season that was straight out of LeBron's playbook:
Breakdown: After trying to take Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig off the dribble, Doncic reset the possession with roughly 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock, pulling the ball out to run a pick-and-roll with DeAndre Jordan.
Doncic was one of the league's leading scorers in pick-and-rolls last season. According to NBA.com, only nine players scored more total points than Doncic as the ball handler on those plays. He was rather efficient as well - particularly for a rookie - ranking in the 69th percentile with 0.90 points per possession.
On the court with Doncic and Jordan at the time were three capable outside shooters in J.J. 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 of 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.
Why it matters: 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 he 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.
That type of manipulation is what we've grown accustomed to seeing from James throughout his career. He always seems to be a step ahead of the defence, knowing what they are thinking and how he can beat them. His ability to read the entire court in that manner has helped him become one of the greatest passers the league has ever seen.
Does that mean Doncic is the second coming of LeBron? Not necessarily. But being able to make those sorts of passes while also being able to score in the manner he does puts him on a fast-track to being one of this generation's most unique talents.
Don't just take it from me. Doncic's passing last season caught the eye of someone who knows James better than most.
Dwyane Wade on Luka: "quote me right where I say this - it's LeBron James-like from the standpoint of how he's able to rope that pass to shooters in corners, getting blitzed. There's not many guys who can do that and put it right there. He does an amazing job of it."- Tim Cato (@tim_cato) February 14, 2019
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