Luka Doncic Is Doing What No NBA Rookie Has Ever Done Before

Fun fact: Since 2000-01, there has been, on average, one player per season who has averaged more than 19 points per game, four assists per game, shot better than 35 percent from three, and had an effective field goal percentage of greater than 0.55. While these may seem like a random set of statistics and statistical cut-offs, they provide a good sample size for what success looks like in the modern NBA. Achieving these high marks indicates that these players can set up their teammates, they can score, they can stretch the floor, and perhaps most importantly, they can score efficiently. 

If you don’t believe that these set of statistics are generally indicative of success, over the past 18 seasons, there have only been seven players that have averaged these numbers over the course of an entire season: LeBron James (five times), Kevin Durant (five times), Stephen Curry (four), Ray Allen (one), Kyrie Irving (one), Kyle Lowry (one), and Goran Dragic (one). Each of these players was selected as an all-star that season, except for Goran Dragic, who was selected as an all-star a couple years later. The average age of each of these players when they accomplished this feat was 27.5 years old. The youngest player to do so was Kevin Durant at 24. 

Which brings us to this season. 

Luka Doncic is currently averaging 19.1 points per game, 4.6 assists per game, shooting 39.1 percent from three, and has an effective field goal percentage of 0.551. He is 19 years old. 

While it’s still early in the season, what Doncic is doing is unprecedented for a player so young — especially during their rookie year. Playing for Rick Carlisle, a coach who has been notoriously allergic to trusting younger players, Doncic has become the focal point for a Dallas offense that, without getting a single game from Dirk Nowitzki so far this season, is sitting at just one game behind the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans in a very tough Western conference. Carlisle has clearly turned over the keys to the offense to Luka. His 33.6 minutes per game not only lead the Mavericks but all rookies this season. 

Perhaps most interestingly, Doncic is being trusted to run the offense in crunch time as well. He is one of only three rookies to play in seven “clutch” games so far this season (defined as the game being within five points at any time under five minutes left); the other two are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the Clippers and Wendell Carter Jr. on the Bulls. Doncic is averaging slightly more “clutch” minutes than either of the other two rookies (3.3 compared to 3.2 and 3.1), but he appears to be far more effective, scoring 3.6 points per clutch game compared to 1.7 for SGA and 0.8 for Carter Jr. 

While the expectations were coming into this season for the Slovenian, his performance so far stands alone among not only this impressive rookie class, but, at least so far, among all rookies historically.

Fri Lavey is a writer and consultant who studied economics and statistics at Harvard University. He has previously worked as a data analyst for the NBA, the MLB, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

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