How's that for an encore? Luka Doncic's sophomore leap ranks among the statistical best in NBA history.March 28, 2020 9:46am

March 26-- DALLAS-The 2019-20 NBA season is suspended in time, like a photo of a player in midair-with no indication whether he's on his way up, or down.

Will this coronavirus-halted season resume in a matter of weeks? Or months? Will regular-season games be lost? Will playoff series be shortened?

Or will the night of March 11, when games were suspended following Rudy Gobert's positive test for COVID-19, be the season's final snapshot, frozen in perpetuity?

If the season doesn't resume, there would be a sense of loss for all 30 NBA teams, but especially those in playoff contention, including a 40-27 Mavericks franchise that hasn't made the postseason since 2016.

Then there's the individual honors. Would there still be a Most Valuable Player vote? Would James Harden be considered the 2019-20 scoring champion, even though teams played only 63 to 67 games?

"We'll figure it out," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, when asked those questions by ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "I hope I'm not just in denial, but I'm just not there yet."

If in fact this becomes the first unfinished season in the NBA's 74-year history, guard Luka Doncic will be among the players who earns an asterisk next to his name because he's virtually assured of joining Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash as the only Mavericks named All-NBA first, second or third team.

No Maverick has made the first team since Nowitzki in 2008-09; or second team since Nowitzki in 2010-11; or third team since Nowitzki in 2011-12.

Rather quietly, 21-year-old Doncic is a strong candidate for another award, an honor no Maverick in the franchise's 40-season history has won-a category that most exemplifies how superlative his sophomore NBA season has been: Most Improved Player.

This is not a misprint or hyperbole. At least one betting service, Draftkings, has Doncic with the fourth-best MIP odds, behind Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo and Jayson Tatum and ahead of Devonte Graham.

Let that sink in. After achieving arguably the best statistical debut NBA season since Oscar Robertson in 1960-61, Doncic somehow has outdone himself by attaining the largest numerical improvements by a reigning Rookie of the Year since Bob McAdoo in 1973-74.

Of the 69 players who have won or shared the ROY award, Doncic's second-season scoring increase of 7.5 points per game is the third-largest largest in history behind McAdoo's 12.6-point surge and Rick Barry's 9.9-point spike in 1966-67.

Doncic's rebound-average increase, from 7.8 to 9.3 per game, is the eighth-largest by a reigning ROY and second-highest among guards, behind Robertson's improvement of 2.4 per game. Doncic's 19.2% rebounding increase is the sixth-best by a reigning ROY.

Last but not least, Doncic has raised his assist average from 6.0 to 8.7, easily the largest upswing by a returning ROY, ahead of No. 2 Dave Bing's 2.3 per-game increase in 1967-68 and No. 3 Grant Hill's 1.9 per-game rise in 1995-96.

How is that for an encore, Mavericks fans? Doncic's across-the-board improvements are a testament to the workout and diet program that the Mavericks' training staff tailored for him last offseason and, especially, a credit to Doncic for putting in the work.

And to think, entering the season yours truly wrote this about what fans could expect of Luka 2.0:

"With more help on both ends of the floor, there is a good chance Doncic's scoring average will only marginally increase, if at all-but much more likely that his assist average, field-goal percentage (42.7) and 3-point percentage (32.7) will rise and that his turnover average (3.4) will decrease."

Turns out, Doncic improved his field-goal percentage (to 46.1) by getting into the paint and to the rim more often. His 3-point percentage has dipped to 31.8.

His turnover average has increased, in part due to the fact that his touches per game have risen from 83.8 last season to 94.3, second-most in the league behind Nikola Jokic. The NBA's top five in turnovers per game are a reflection of their ball-dominance: Trae Young, Harden, Russell Westbrook, Doncic and LeBron James.

It's not a given that ROY winners will improve in their second seasons. Of the 69 winners and co-winners, 21 saw their scoring average decrease; 28 experienced a rebounding drop; and 30 had their assist average slip.

Traditionally, NBA players' most impactful improvements have come in their third or fourth seasons. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example, in his first five seasons improved his scoring average thusly: 6.8, 12.7, 16.9, 22.9, 26.9. Wilt Chamberlain's biggest jump came in season three, from 38.4 to 50.4.

For Doncic, of course, historic comparisons matter little. He didn't remake his body in the offseason simply to improve his statistics. He did it so that he could better persevere through the long season and playoffs, to avoid a repeat of his minor slippage of late last season.

At the moment his tremendous sophomore season is unfinished business and unfulfilled opportunity, in frozen suspension.

Asterisk pending.

___

(c)2020 The Dallas Morning News

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