Mavs fear MVP candidate could hit wall by Christmas

WASHINGTON – Luka Doncic blamed himself for Friday’s loss to the Washington Wizards. The 23-year-old, three-time All-NBA guard blamed himself for the Dallas Mavericks’ loss to the Orlando Magic the night before.

Doncic put up points – 24 against the Magic, 22 against the Wizards but that special Luka Magic was not there: 9-for-29 from the field the first night, 8-for-21 from the field the next with a combined 5-for-19 on 3s.

“I’ve been awful for two games now,” Doncic said. “These two games are on me. … I’m more tired on the court these last two games. That’s not an excuse.’

Beyond a two-game sample size, there is a growing concern about Doncic’s minutes and usage rate.

He’s playing a career-high 36.9 minutes per game and has an NBA season-high usage rate of 39.14%, which would be the third-highest all-time behind Russell Westbrook’s 41.65% in 2016-17 and James Harden’s 40.47 in 2018-19, according to basketball-reference.com.  Usage rate is the percentage offensive plays a player was involved in.

“The usage rate is so high,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said.

How long is that sustainable?

“I would say here before Christmas,” Kidd said. “If we keep this going up, then he will not be human if he gets past Christmas. One or the other’s going to show he’s human or not. And we believe he’s human.

‘When everyone is going to come at you every night defensively and we’re asking him to do everything offensively, it’s going to show within 25 games, and that’s somewhere around Christmas. Everyone’s going to say he’s 23 years old, but he’s human.’

Doncic averages a league-best 33.6 points and is shooting 48.8% from the field but just 29% on 3s. He’s also at 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. Except for a lagging 3-point percentage, those are nice numbers from Doncic.

The conundrum for the Mavs rests in Doncic’s skillset to run the offense as a scorer and passer. With his court vision, he’s always looking for mismatches for himself or for his teammates.

The Mavs need him to do a lot, but Kidd said he and his coaching staff will look at ways to reduce his offensive responsibility. His usage rate was 38.6% last season and 35% in 2020-21 so it’s not like he’s not used to high-volume action, but the Mavs also want to preserve Doncic for a deep playoff run.

Kidd is also looking for ways to keep Doncic from falling on the court and limiting body blows. ‘Wood always wins. Bruises start to appear so that’s something we have to talk about,’ Kidd said.

In an 82-game NBA season from mid-October to mid-April, there’s not a lot of time for rest. But the Mavs have opportunities on the schedule to give him a break, including no games on Sunday and Monday before a back-to-back and just two games in seven days from Nov. 19-Nov. 25. It’s possible the Mavs keep him out of a game though Doncic doesn’t want to do that.

And it’s been a long stretch of basketball for Doncic, who helped the Mavs reach the Western Conference finals last season and then helped Slovenia reach the quarterfinals of Eurobasket 2022, losing to Poland on Sept. 14 just two weeks before NBA training camps opened.

‘I’m not trying to get days off. … If something’s bothering me, we’re going to see where I can rest,’ Doncic said. ‘I’m not trying to take a rest but obviously I think I need one.’

When asked about his usage rate, Doncic said he doesn’t look at stats and joked that there’s statistics for everything these days, including how many points a player scores when he has an espresso before the game.

At the end of his press conference following the loss to the Wizards, a reporter suggested Doncic needed more espressos.

Walking back to the locker room, Doncic said just loud enough for a few people to hear, ‘What I need is sleep.’

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