What does the return of Luka Doncic mean for the Dallas Mavericks?

Dallas Mavericks, Luka Doncic
Dallas Mavericks, Luka Doncic / Tom Pennington/GettyImages

The Dallas Mavericks split the first two games of their first round playoff series against the Utah Jazz without superstar guard Luka Doncic, but he may be able to play in Game 3 or 4. The impact will be immediate whenever he makes his 2022 NBA Playoff debut. His return means more than just his on-court offensive impact as other aspects of his presence will be more important.

Throughout the first two games, Utah has dominated the boards 103 to 65. The Mavs demonstrated in Game 2 that winning the rebounding battle is not necessary to win a game, but neither is it something to be ignored. Luka averaged nine rebounds per game this year, and those boards will be crucial for the Mavs to win the series.

The Jazz have grabbed 24 offensive rebounds in two games, and if Luka can grab six or seven defensive rebounds, he helps prevent Utah's second-chance points. Dallas is unlikely to win the rebounding battle, but Luka grabbing some rebounds that might have been offensive rebounds for the Jazz will be very important.

What does the return of Luka Doncic mean for the Dallas Mavericks

During Game 1, the Maverick’s bench managed a meager 14 points, ten of which came from Maxi Kleber, and Game 2 had a similar story. The bench scored 30 points, but 25 were from Kleber. Outside of Maxi, Mavs reserves have scored nine points in two games. Luka’s return means that Spencer Dinwiddie can move back to the bench where he can offer 18 to 20 points per game.

If Kleber’s 3-point shot has indeed returned, he was 8-11 from three in Game 2, then the Mavs have a 3-and-D threat and a playmaker who can drive to the rim coming off the bench. Playoff rotations typically use only seven or eight players, so the Mavs have a solid bench with Kleber, Dinwiddie, and Davis Bertans.

Another vital area in which Luka’s potential return helps is with minutes. Jalen Brunson (41.5), Dorian Finney-Smith (43.0), and Reggie Bullock (44.5) are all averaging over 40 minutes per game, while Dinwiddie is at 38. Four of the five starters are over or around 40 minutes per game. Luka’s return means the other starters should be able to get a little more in-game rest, meaning less fatigue for a potentially deep playoff run.

One last area that people may not associate with Luka but will undoubtedly help the team is defense. Luka struggled with it early in his career, but he has dramatically improved this season. Defense is somewhat difficult to quantify, but there are several metrics we can look at for improvement and regression.

One standard metric is defensive rating, which determines how many points a player allows per 100 possessions. This season Luka was at 107, which was a career-low, meaning he allowed the fewest points per 100 possessions in his career.

Defensive Win Share estimates the number of wins a player contributed to with his defense. This season Luka was at 3.8, an entire point above his previous career-high. In other words, his improved D will be much better than what Bertans offered in the first two games and will improve the overall unit.

Luka Doncic is heading in the right direction, and signs point to a return in the next few games. Despite the Dallas Mavericks winning Game 2, Luka brings multiple improvements in critical areas. It is not just scoring or passing either. His rebounding, defense, and several intangibles will be essential for the Mavs to win this series.

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