How Luka Doncic developed the most lethal isolated repertoire in the NBA

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Oct 19, 2022 With a wide grin on his face, God Shammgod stands up in front of the Dallas Mavericks bench and starts talking about one of his favorite topics: dribbling.

Particularly, Luka Doncic’s dribbling in this instance a few hours prior to a home preseason game on October 7.

Shammgod, a Mavericks player development coach who is so well-known for his ballhandling prowess that a popular move is named after him , starts to show how Doncic developed into the league’s top isolation scorer from a very basic foundation.

Shammgod drives to the hoop while imitating Luka Doncic by jabbing with his right foot, rocking back to his left as if he were about to attempt a jump shot, and darting back to his right. At these times, Doncic, who Mavs coach Jason Kidd likened to a young Picasso at the beginning of last season, uses the court as a blank canvas.

New York City icon Shammgod compares Doncic’s strategy to a graffiti artist who comes across a blank wall.
Shammgod claims that Luke’s imagination “is just on a whole other level.”

The doubters who questioned the ceiling for a draft prospect with such modest explosiveness now appear absurd. Yes, Doncic experienced unheard-of success as a youngster in Europe, winning the MVP award at the age of 16 in the second-best league in the world before entering the 2018 draft. However, a lot of scouts and business leaders questioned if he could develop into an NBA superstar.

Four seasons later, Doncic has already solidified himself as a consistent frontrunner for the NBA MVP, in part because he’s not just a one-on-one wonderkid but also probably the best isolation weapon in the league with one of the richest toolkits.

According to Second Spectrum statistics, Doncic isolated on 1,027 plays last season, which was a league-high number. Among the 43 players who had at least 300 isolations last season, the Mavericks averaged 1.098 points, which was second only to Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat (1.108).

Kidd, who has regularly surrounded Doncic with 3-point threats and used five-out offenses to give him space to move, admits that “sometimes as a coach you want to run all these things.” But ultimately, it comes down to providing him the ball with enough time to think of something original.

Doncic is a rare scorer who can create effective shots at all three levels: beyond the 3-point arc, in the middle, and around the rim, though rarely above, thanks to the combination of his creativity, skill, strength, finesse, and footwork, as well as the vision to analyze help defenses by passing out of traffic.

We’ll look at the iso arsenal that makes the 23-year-old superstar one of the hardest covers in the league as Doncic and the Mavs get ready to open their 2022–23 season on the road against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET on ESPN).

“THE FABRIC OF WHO HE IS,” SAYS THE STEPBACK When Doncic was a rookie, former Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle made an unsuccessful effort to persuade him to reduce his reliance on stepback 3-pointers.

Early in the 2018–19 season, ex–Dallas guard Devin Harris said, “He may shoot a 30-foot stepback and it may not go in; Coach: “I don’t want to watch it anymore!” And he may fire six more shots. And he’ll produce them.

Using the step-back 3, Doncic has gotten some of his greatest buckets in his career. In a comeback victory over the Houston Rockets as a rookie, he concluded a personal 11-0 clutch run with an a go-ahead step-back 3 over center Clint Capela, slamming the brakes and shifting direction so swiftly that the 6-foot-10 big man still had his foot in the paint as Doncic started his shooting motion.

Doncic’s Game 4 buzzer-beater in his first playoff series was a step-back three from his sweet spot on the left wing, setting it up by going between his legs to his right before crossing over and rising above LA Clippers guard Reggie Jackson. It was a rare Mike Breen “BANG! BANG!” moment that completed a 43-point triple-double. With step-back 3-pointers from the same place in the final seconds, Doncic has twice defeated the Boston Celtics.

Data from NBA Advanced Stats show that throughout his career, including the playoffs, Doncic has attempted 1,139 step-back threes. Compared to last season, he made 39.6% of those shots, meaning his catch-and-shoot efficiency is substantially higher at 37.2%.

Because it is his preferred shot, you want to make sure that each dribbling move he does is a part of the “step-back” package, according to Shammgod. He can exit any of those maneuvers to perform the stepback.

Doncic’s game is quite similar to that of Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden, who developed into one of the greatest isolation scorers in NBA history while playing for the Rockets and had possibly the most lethal offensive move in the league with his step-back 3. Both of them are powerfully built guards with exceptional ball handling skills and the agility to stop abruptly and dart backwards while remaining balanced.

Like Harden, Doncic looks for his stepback, particularly when he switches against a center who is concerned about being outmuscled on the offensive glass. A defender is practically inviting Doncic to drive if they focus on negating his stepback.

Doncic, who during the preseason watched Harden video footage supplied to him by Shammgod early in his career, stated, “It’s never the same decision.” “There are numerous factors.” To determine if the shot will go in or not, you must look at who is guarding you. There is a lot to consider before making a decision.

Doncic doesn’t have to worry about whether his head coach approves of the shots he chooses to take, not that that has ever been a big issue for him.

That setback is only natural, claims Kidd. Because it can pave the way for so many other things, “that’s part of the fabric of who he is.”

There is no escape and no countermove, says THE BABY DIRK. On the first possession in Game 7 of the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals against the Mavs, Deandre Ayton’s defense could not have been any better.

The Suns center blitzed a high pick-and-roll to help knock the ball out of Doncic’s hands. When Ayton recovered the ball on the left flank a few seconds later, he found himself up against Doncic alone.

Ayton was patient as Doncic repeatedly dribbled from left to right between his legs, remaining close enough to block the stepback each time. When there were only five seconds left in the shot clock, Doncic drove to his right to attack the middle, but Ayton stood in front and stopped him from getting to the restricted area.

It wasn’t important.
Doncic created enough room to swivel backward into a one-legged fadeaway from the free throw line by lowering his left shoulder to initiate contact.
Swish.

During the preseason, Doncic referred to his rookie season teammate Dirk Nowitzki, who made the jumper famous en route to the No. 6 slot on the all-time scoring list, and stated, “Dirk always did it.” Nowitzki made that shot memorable. It’s a fadeaway, therefore blocking and defending against it are difficult. It merely makes my solitude worse.

Between his rookie and sophomore seasons, Doncic perfected the move, effectively giving his isolation game a midrange escape route. Given that there are silhouettes of Nowitzki rising for the shot on both ends of the American Airlines Center court, it is especially poetic when Doncic makes the shot from the right side of the floor during home games.

Kidd refers to Doncic’s one-legged fadeaway as the “Baby Dirk,” and a number of other celebrities have taken the Mavericks legend’s move as their own. That includes LeBron James, another prominent and influential artist, whose videos Shammgod instructed Doncic to watch.

Because the one-legged fadeaway has grown to be such a respected move in Doncic’s repertoire, he occasionally makes defenders who are trying to stop him seem foolish. Doncic will catch them leaning and keep pivoting through, which occasionally results in a layup.

Doncic is definitely skilled, even if he needs to be more inventive to set up a shot.

Maxi Kleber, a Mavs power forward/center and a regular opponent in one-on-one situations during practice, says, “He’s just having fun with it, and it makes it hard to defend because you believe you take one move away and there’s no escape and no other move, no counter move, no nothing.” And then all of a sudden, he manages to whirl around and manages to shoot with his left hand over his head, making those shots.

THE DRIVER, LUKA: “HIS SLOW IS FAST” Sometimes during timeouts, Doncic will juggle the basketball with his foot, evoking memories of his youth spent playing soccer in Slovenia. With the way Doncic changes direction so effortlessly, he frequently demonstrates his background in that sport while dribbling the ball with his hands as well.

Steve Nash is a prime example of one of the many “basketball players” who play soccer, according to Shammgod, who has worked with Doncic to cover more ground with fewer dribbles. “Luka is that way.” He is cunning. He has effective brakes.

Many people fail to consider that since they become preoccupied with their hands. No offense is intended to And 1, but you see all these individuals who can dribble and other skills on And 1 “mix tapes” but when you put them in the game, they stand still. You’re now confined to one location.

Footwork is more important when dribbling. Just an illusion, hands.

Doncic is “quicker than you think,” according to Shammgod, and the danger of his stepback frequently enables Doncic to outdistance his defender by half a step. Once that occurs, a defender finds it very challenging to recover.

Kidd remarks, “He knows how to use his body, the angles.”

That’s how Harden was, too, Shammgod continues. Once you’ve chosen to support him, there is nothing you can do. Doncic makes scoring so simple. He is far too powerful.

Especially when he is chasing down his defender, Doncic can slither through traffic with his cunning or rumble down the lane like a bulldozer. He frequently makes contact, either off the dribble or as he rises to score, using his strength to open up spaces.

During the preseason, Doncic noted, “You’ve got to use the contact.” “If you use the contact properly, it’s definitely a tremendous benefit.”

The 6-foot-7, 240-plus-pound Doncic is an excellent finisher with his combination of power, a soft touch, and deception despite rarely playing above the basket. Last year, he only had seven dunks, which is a decrease from the previous seven seasons combined. But among the 43 guards with at least 150 baskets within five feet of the rim, Doncic finished second with a 69.7% success rate. (An explosive leaper with just 36 unassisted baskets all season, Gary Payton II, was top among them.)

Kidd remarks on how often Doncic changes gears to let traffic in the paint clear, saying, “It’s really incredible how he knows how to let someone go by when he’s going for a layup.”

Shammgod said, “When he plays, everything he hears is like the music playing in his head.” No matter how quickly the game is moving, he perceives it in slow motion. And because you’re moving so quickly, his slow is fast. You’re attempting to arrive before him, but since he hasn’t arrived yet, he can easily change course once he notices your arrival.

He never leaves his comfort zone.

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