DALLAS — There has been a buzz surrounding Luka Dončić since his days winning MVP Awards in Europe as a teenager. Once the Dallas Mavericks traded the No. 5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to the Atlanta Hawks to move up to get him, the excitement reached a fever pitch.
It seemed almost impossible that Dončić could reach the heights expected of him, especially since he was tasked with making the transition from the Dirk Nowitzki-era seem less dismal in North Texas.
In just two years, he’s more than succeeded. This is not to discredit the German legend, but Dončić has already become one of the young stars in the league.
Last season, in a forgettable year for the team, Dončić was the bright spot. The Mavericks didn’t compete for the postseason in Nowitzki’s last hurrah, but Dončić didn’t allow that to get in the way of announcing with authority that he would not be an over-hyped bust.
Indeed, the Slovenian sensation put on a show for the Mavs faithful where he gave a glimpse at a future that seemed far closer than Dallas was expecting after the Mavericks had missed the playoffs every season since the 2015-2016 campaign.
From corner prayers that beat the buzzer to some crazy passes, Dončić spent his rookie year proving to America what many in Europe already knew: Luka Dončić was in fact as special as advertised. With that out of the way, Dončić ran away with the Rookie of the Year award.
Veteran NBA superstars such as LeBron James marveled over what he could do his first year. He became a mismatch and a nightmare for defenders.
Just ask former Rockets center Clint Capella how much fun it was trying to guard him on a step back three.
As the Rookie of the Year last season, Dončić averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. Those are great numbers for any rookie, and they showed just how far advanced he was after playing overseas at such a young age.
Dončić was putting up NBA All-Star caliber numbers before he had turned 20 years old.
Fast forward to his sophomore campaign and Dončić is doing even better. Remarkably so, in fact. The counting statistics display the jump from surging rookie to a place among the elite in the league as much as his leading the Mavericks back to the playoffs does.
He is averaging 29.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game. That is almost a triple-double night in and night out. In fact, Dončić leads the league in triple-doubles this year with 17. He is also in the top 10 in double-doubles with 38.
Given all of those accomplishments this year, Dončić wasn’t even named by the NBA as an MVP finalist.
That is mind-boggling.
Instead of being in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player, the NBA voters are talking about him as the “Most Improved Player.” I get the sentiment.
In fact, by the letter of the law, Dončić probably has enhanced his game more than anyone else in the league. After all, he has increased his points per game by almost 8, rebounds by 1.5. and assists by almost 3 per night, all while playing improved defense and taking on the burden of being the focal point as a superstar.
However, considering him as most improved and not most valuable feels like a consolation prize for Dončić at best and a slap in the face at worst. Dončić's prove-it and improvement year was last season after he spent his teens cutting his teeth in a professional league overseas where he left as the reigning MVP.
The 2019-2020 season Luka Dončić is improved, sure, but that improvement comes across more as a player who adjusted to the league in his first year and dominated it in his second. If he actually starts showing even more improvement in the coming seasons, the league isn’t going to be able to keep the MVP trophy out of his hands.
Do you think calling Luka most improved is beneath the Rookie of the Year turned top-tier talent? Share your opinion with Patrick on Twitter @PatSportsGuy.