Luka Doncic has enjoyed virtually unprecedented success during his young NBA career. He has made three first team All NBAs in four seasons. (Dirk Nowitzki made four first team All NBAs in his storied 21 year career for reference) But Doncic has not made fitness a priority yet.
He has come into each of the last two seasons noticeably out of shape which has led to slow starts particularly with his shooting. Despite these early season struggles, Doncic still has career averages of 26.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is the only player in the history of basketball to average at least 26 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game throughout his career per stathead.
Those numbers are amazing, but they could improve. Nikola Jokic was dogged by similar complaints regarding his fitness early in his career. He averaged 17.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game through the first five seasons of his career. These numbers include the final eight games of the 2020 regular season which occurred after Jokic had begun his physical transformation. Doncic appears to have followed Jokic’s footsteps towards better fitness.
During the two seasons since Jokic made fitness a priority his game and his numbers have skyrocketed. Jokic has averaged 26.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game. These represent increases of 57 percent in scoring, 28 percent in rebounding, 47 percent in assists and 27 percent in steals. Applying those same increases to Doncic’s numbers would result in averages of 41.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 11.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Jokic’s raw numbers were not the only thing that improved. During the first five seasons of his career he shot 52.4 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from three and 82.6 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers improved to 57.5 percent from the floor, 36.0 percent from three and 83.6 percent from the free throw line. These improvements moved Jokic’s true shooting percentage from 60.4 percent to 65.4 percent.
Doncic’s percentages have reflected his incredibly high scoring burden. Despite his talent he has managed only 45.7 percentage from the floor, 33.7 percent from three and 73.7 percent from the free throw line. The same increases Jokic saw, would improve Doncic’s percentages to 50.3 percent from the floor, 35.9 percent from three and 74.6 percent from the free throw line.
In addition to the counting statistics, Jokic’s game has become even more fun to watch. Without the glass ceiling of poor conditioning, Jokic has completed 76 dunks over the last two seasons after stuffing only 68 over his first five seasons combined. Doncic’s dunks are incredibly fun but unfortunately they have become increasingly rare, falling to only seven this season.
More dunks from Doncic equals more fun for Dallas Mavericks fans. More importantly than the fun of extra dunks, Jokic has used his improved fitness to be more aggressive. That aggression has led to him nearly doubling his free throw attempts per game from 3.6 free throw attempts per game to 5.9 free throw attempts per game. Doncic has fallen to 7.5 free throw attempts per game from a career high of 9.2 in his second season.
Many (myself chief among them) have complained that Doncic gets an extremely disadvantageous whistle, but more aggressive players get more calls. Players that are in better shape are able to be more aggressive and thus generate more free throw attempts.
Does all of this mean that Doncic is likely to average 41.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 11.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor, 35.9 percent from three and 74.6 percent from the free throw line? No. The younger Jokic deferred more than the young Doncic but these numbers do show that Doncic is in line for a large potential jump statistically. Jokic’s statistical jumps resulted in him winning back to back MVPs. Doncic has come into each of the last two seasons as the favorite MVP. Doncic getting into fantastic shape means that it is very possible that this is the season he makes good on those MVP odds.