This Luka Doncic pick-and-roll shows how the Mavericks star outsmarts even the NBA’s best defenses

Luka Doncic has faced the Timberwolves twice this season. He played quite well both times.

Through two games against the NBA’s No. 1 ranked defense, Doncic is averaging 36.5 points, 10.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds on 50.9 percent shooting from the field. While Minnesota overcame a big night from him in the first matchup, Doncic powered Dallas to victory in the second with a 34-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist performance.

Doncic has gotten to the point where flirting with a 30-point triple-double is an average night for him, which speaks to the heights he has and continues to reach. 

Here’s one example of how Doncic wrecks the best defenses even on an average night.

MORE: How Thunder became NBA’s dark horse contender

This Luka Doncic pick-and-roll shows how the Mavericks star outsmarts even the NBA’s best defenses

🎥 The play

WATCH: Follow Luka Doncic and the Mavericks all season long on Sling TV

✏️ Breakdown

Dwight Powell dribbles toward Doncic on the right wing to run a handoff.

Doncic doesn’t make his way to Powell immediately. Instead, he sets a down screen for Derrick Jones Jr. in the corner before venturing back out to the 3-point line. He then does something important — Doncic makes it seem as though he’s going to shoot when he receives the ball from Powell, which puts a bit more pep in the step of his defender, Anthony Edwards, on the close-out.

Luka Doncic vs. Timberwolves No. 1

Doncic takes advantage of Edwards giving him little-to-no space by running him into Powell’s screen.

Luka Doncic vs. Timberwolves No. 2

With Edwards caught up in Powell’s screen, Rudy Gobert extends himself out to the 3-point line to prevent Doncic from turning the corner.

Doncic deliberately strings Gobert along by keeping his dribble alive and inching closer to the sideline. 

Luka Doncic vs. Timberwolves No. 3

The Timberwolves are now in a bit of a tricky spot.

Minnesota doesn’t want Gobert switching onto Doncic, so Edwards is in recovery mode. That, however, means there are two defenders in the vicinity of Doncic. Jaden McDaniels doesn’t want to leave Kyrie Irving alone one pass away on the left wing, so the Mavericks have a 3-on-2 situation brewing.

Doncic has three options depending on how the last line of Minnesota’s defense, Kyle Anderson and Karl-Anthony Towns, rotate:

  • Option 1: Pass to Tim Hardaway Jr. in the left corner if Anderson stays in the paint to take away Powell’s roll.
  • Option 2: Skip the ball over to Jones in the right corner if Towns stays in the paint to take away Powell’s roll.
  • Option 3: Thread the needle to Powell rolling to the basket if Anderson and Towns are too slow to react or anticipate the pass out to the corner.

Being the trickster that he is, Doncic looks at Jones as though he’s going to go with Option 2 — a skip to Jones.

Luka Doncic vs. Timberwolves No. 4

But with Anderson rotating out to Hardaway and Towns staying put, he goes with Option 3 — threading the needle to Powell.

Being 6-8 helps Doncic survey the floor and make a pass most wouldn’t even think about trying.

Luka Doncic vs. Timberwolves No. 5

🤔 Why it matters

Doncic might be the toughest pick-and-roll cover in the NBA right now.

Statistically, only the Hawks’ Trae Young scores more points per game than Doncic as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. Doncic is more efficient than Young and almost everyone else in the league, ranking in the 89th percentile with a robust 1.06 points per possession.

Doncic doesn’t have as quick of a 3-point trigger as the likes of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, but he does just about everything else at a league-best level.

The only player who has made more shots at a better rate from floater range than Doncic is Nikola Jokic, who might have the best floater in the game despite being a center. Doncic has been astounding finishing around the basket as well, connecting on 77.3 percent of those opportunities. That’s what you’d expect to see from rim-runners, alley-oop threats or Giannis Antetokounmpo, not someone who has only one dunk on the season.

As we’ve covered before, Doncic plays at his own pace, uses his body well to shield defenders and has the footwork to do things like eurostep his way around defenders. He also has incredible touch. Not being able to dunk on people might be his only limit when it comes to finishing.

Doncic’s ability to get downhill and take whatever the defense gives him is why you saw Gobert extend himself as much as he did. The reason you didn’t see Gobert switch onto Doncic is because Doncic probably would’ve cooked him.

That’s not an indictment on Gobert’s defense. Doncic might just be the best one-on-one scorer in the NBA.

Doncic is currently leading the league in isolation scoring while ranking in the 76th percentile in efficiency. His size makes him a tough cover for guards and he’s too tricky for bigs to stay in front. When his step back is falling as it has been for most of this season, there isn’t really an answer for him.

Most of Doncic’s isos begin with pick-and-rolls. This is what Gobert and the Timberwolves were trying to avoid:

So what do you do? Play the pick-and-roll traditionally, and Doncic will weave his way into the paint for a layup, floater or turnaround. Switch, and he’ll play games with whoever’s defending him, whether it’s out on the perimeter or on the low block because he’s also a punishing post scorer. Put two on the ball like the Timberwolves did, and he’ll string the defense out until something opens up.

Teams have even tried to catch Doncic off guard by switching up how and when they send doubles at him. He usually sniffs those out, too.

Doncic has been doing this stuff for a while now, but his skills get a little bit sharper every year. The Mavericks have also done a good job of surrounding him with role players who complement him. They almost always have three shooters he can kick the ball out to, plus one rim-runner he can throw lobs to.

Even on an average night, Doncic always seems to have an answer.

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