Is “Luka-Ball” a winning strategy for the Dallas Mavericks?

Luka Doncic (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Luka Doncic (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The concept of “heliocentric” basketball has been a topic of debate for several years now. Before, tremendous stat-lines used to wow crowds and pundits alike. During this time, superstars would put up monster triple-doubles and receive MVPs, though today, after we as a basketball community have learned more about usage rates, their play styles are now critiqued.

Today, teams still use high usage rate superstars in the hopes that they will carry the rest of the roster to success. In the regular season, these teams see large win totals and secure high playoff seeds. Come playoff time, however, the strategy begins to backfire when defenses hone in on the over-relied upon player.

These players will often still be able to put up big numbers, though their teams will fall short in the postseason. The Dallas Mavericks face a similar conundrum today with Luka Doncic.

Is Luka different than the others?

Doncic is already a generational talent, an All-NBA first-team regular at age 23, and has put up spectacular numbers year after year. But the Dallas Mavericks are currently the leaders in heliocentric play, with Doncic being the head of the pack in usage rating for two of the last three years. Last season, he led all-stars with a 37.3% usage rating, quite high compared to the NBA average. In the playoffs, his usage rate picks up to more than 40%, along with his scoring production.

Despite his phenomenal play, the Dallas Mavericks have fallen short each year they have been in the playoffs. Some believe his style of play is not conducive to championship basketball, and much has been made of the Mavericks’ acquiring the near-mythical “second ball handler” to pair with Doncic.

With the Mavericks’ closest thing to that second star leaving this offseason for New York, the Mavericks will be looking to lean heavily on Doncic again this year and beyond. Though a wizard with the rock, “Luka-Ball” has become somewhat predictable for opponents to pick up, especially in a seven-game playoff series.

They have come close and made strides in the playoffs this year, but the Mavericks have always fallen short after heavily leaning on their franchise player. Some have pointed to James Harden’s fate in Houston. Though Dallas fans should find it a disrespectful comparison due to the massive difference in their playoff performances, the play style has lent itself to similar results.

The Dallas Mavericks should look to recent history.

The playing style itself is not at fault. When we look at some of the runs made by other superstars, they sported high usage rates and were able to bring the team along with them. LeBron James is the most infamous high-usage player, with much of his early career looking like Doncic. Part of the problem is this idea of rushing Doncic as well. At only 23 years old, the team is already blessed to have such a fantastic talent, but this does not mean the inability to put together a title team immediately falls on them.

Doncic’s play style has become established and understood after a few years and it is pertinent for the Mavericks now to surround him with the necessary style in order to win more games. The second star has been difficult to come by, with a huge swing and miss with Kristaps Porzingis, but the pursuit cannot slow down. The team must continue to acquire 3&D wings and a defensive-minded center who is also a lob threat.

The Cavaliers lost James because they were unable to surround him with adequate talent. Free agent acquisitions have similarly been difficult to come by for the Mavericks; it begs the question if people want to partake in such a play style. However, if the team can find a second star to help ease the burden and add some creativity to Jason Kidd’s offense, Doncic’s play style should be fine in the postseason.

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Making the conference finals and upsetting the number one seed in an embarrassing fashion is still the talk of the town, and shows progression in the Dallas Mavericks’ state as a competitor. It will be interesting to see how they can replicate it with some swapped pieces and a tougher Western Conference.