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Dallas Mavericks

The key to Luka Doncic unlocking his full potential as a scorer

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Luka Doncic (NBA Getty Images)

Luka Doncic is only 20 years old.

Outside of Dallas, there is not a scarier sentence in the NBA right now. Doncic's star potential was crystal clear within the first month of his rookie season, but he's already making the leap from being a borderline All-Star into being one of the league's premier players.

That's not hyperbole either. Not only is Doncic basically averaging a 30-point triple-double - numbers we've only seen three times before in NBA history - he has the Dallas Mavericks in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. His early play has him in the No. 1 spot of Basketball-Reference's MVP tracker, a model that uses previous voting results to project which players are most likely to win the award.

Whether or not Doncic actually ends up being a finalist for the award this season is immaterial. What is important is that the Slovenian has taken his game to another level following a standout rookie season and there are still things he can add to make him a more complete player.

One of those things? A post-up game.

MORE: Is Doncic the best 20-year-old ever?

It's not that Doncic doesn't already have a post-up game. It's that he creates less offence with his back to the basket than he probably should. According to NBA.com, Doncic is averaging only 1.0 post-up possessions per game this season, putting him on the same page as players like Frank Kaminsky, Mason Plumlee and Tristan Thompson. He averaged an almost identical amount of post-up possessions per game (1.2) last season, so it's not exactly an area he's prioritized as of yet.

And yet, Doncic ranks among the five most efficient post players in the entire league this season. He was once again in similar territory last season, ranking in the 71st percentile with 1.01 points per post-up possession.

There's only so much you can take away from a sample size that's based on fewer than 100 possessions, but there's reason to think those gaudy efficiency numbers are no fluke.

First and foremost, Doncic has the size to bully smaller players on the low block. At 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, teams know better than to put their point guards on Doncic even though he is basically the Mavs' point guard, but there are still times when he's matched up with a smaller defender. In addition to having the strength to bulldoze his way to the basket in those situations, he has the footwork to create a variety of shots for himself - fadeaways, turnarounds, up-and-unders, you name it - as well as the length and touch to shoot over most defenders.

He's also incredibly smart, knowing how to use his body to create space and draw fouls. Again, it's a small sample size, but there's only one player who is drawing shooting fouls on a higher percentage of their post-ups than Doncic so far this season. He wasn't at the top of the league in that regard last season, but he wasn't far off, ranking 28th out of 195 players in shooting foul frequency on post-ups.

Plus, there are ways Doncic and the Mavericks can hunt those mismatches more aggressively, the simplest being have someone like Seth Curry, Delon Wright or Jalen Brunson set a screen on his defender in an effort to force a switch, like so:

That's something Doncic's idol, LeBron James, mastered during his second go-around in Cleveland. The Cavaliers would often have Kyrie Irving set a screen for James at the top of the perimeter, paving the way for one of them to attack a mismatch in isolation when the defence switched. James is far too big and far too strong for point guards to keep him out of the paint and Irving is far too fast and far too shifty for big men to stay in front of him on an island. Between the two of them, they had pretty much an answer to whatever opponents could throw at them.

Other than Doncic, the Mavericks obviously don't have a guard who can come close to doing the things Irving can in isolation. Teams are therefore more likely to double him rather than switch when he's involved in a small-small pick-and-roll, both as a means to prevent him from getting a mismatch and to dare someone else to beat them. Switching pick-and-rolls involving James and Irving wasn't exactly bulletproof, but it at least ensured one of them wouldn't be left unguarded for a split second. For obvious reasons, teams don't treat Curry, Wright or Brunson in the same way they treat Irving.

Even so, that often leads to good shots for the Mavericks, as Doncic is more than capable of finding the open man when teams double him.

Doncic is already making a name for himself as one of the best passers in the league. The numbers speak for themselves: Doncic is averaging 9.4 assists and 18.4 potential assists per game this season, up from 6.0 assists and 11.7 potential assists per game last season. The only player averaging more assists and more potential assists? Doncic's idol, LeBron James.

That's another reason why the Mavericks could benefit from running more of their offence through Doncic in the post - he can make plays for himself and others, making doubling him almost as risky as hoping one player can slow him down. It helps that the Mavericks can simplify his options by surrounding him with at least three shooters at all times, from Curry, Wright, Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt to Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber in the frontcourt.

MORE: Doncic is already making LeBron-like passes

Doncic has proven that he doesn't need a post game to establish himself as All-Star and MVP candidate, of course. He's among the league leaders in pick-and-roll and isolation scoring, doing both at an incredibly efficient rate. That alone gives him the tools to pick apart most teams because he's a legit three level scorer who can take whatever shot the defence gives him in pick-and-rolls and punish teams for switching bigs onto him in isolation.

And yet, becoming a more dominant scorer in the post would give Doncic another way he can assert himself on offence and make him an even more difficult player for teams to game plan for.

There's no question that he can do it. It's just a matter of him and the Mavericks making it a bigger part of his game.

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

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