The Luka Doncic Rules: The defensive playbook the Timberwolves can use to slow down Mavericks star

Luka Doncic is an impossible player to defend. He led the regular season in scoring with 33.9 points per game, and his 27.3 points, 9.1 assists, and 9.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs have carried the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals. It doesn’t matter what type of scheme or personnel he is going against — he is going to get his. 

Despite the inevitability of Doncic’s dominance, there are still techniques that can at least make life more difficult for him. He still has never advanced past the Conference Finals during his six-year career, although that may change this season. There is a playbook out there on how to try and slow him down, and the Timberwolves will likely try to take some pages out of it. 

The first rule to stop Luka Doncic is to pray. Here are the rest of the ideas Minnesota can try.

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How to guard Luka Doncic

Tire Luka out defensively, both on and off the ball

Doncic has been much better as a defender during these playoffs than his reputation might suggest. During the regular season, his effort comes and goes. He’s been much more locked in, particularly against the Thunder where he’s made impact plays on a nightly basis. He’s closing out harder, making better rotations, and holding up more than we’re accustomed to seeing him in one-on-one situations. 

Improvements aside, the Wolves should still target Doncic early and often on defense. They should force him to defend ball screens and try to have him switch onto Anthony Edwards as much as possible. They should also target him as a help defender, testing his ability to make the right rotations. 

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The reason for targeting Luka defensively is two-fold: First, he’s still one of the weaker defenders on the Mavs despite the improvements that he’s made (and particularly given Kyrie Irving’s also-improved defense). Second, and more importantly, forcing Luka to guard as much as possible can hopefully tire him out. That has been the only thing that has worked against him in the past. 

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Force Luka to help rebound

Doncic is a great rebounder on paper, leading Dallas with 8.7 per game during the playoffs. Many of those rebounds are uncontested though, and the Mavericks have traditionally rebounded better with him off the floor. 

One of the few weaknesses in Luka’s game is that he is not diligent about boxing out. He relies on his height and standing around the basket for the vast majority of rebounds. When players do crash in from the corners off misses, they can usually get around him

Whoever Luka is guarding should try and crash the glass as aggressively as possible, forcing him to expend even more effort on boxing out. That strategy should result in a few extra chances and drain Luka’s energy even further.

Throw multiple defenders and schemes at him

There is no single coverage that works against Luka. He will pick apart any defense if he knows it is coming, which is why it’s important to change up schemes.

In the past, the Wolves have blitzed and sent two defenders at Luka with Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid. That’s a decent plan, but it has to be sprinkled in rather than defaulted to every time down the floor. 

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The Wolves also have a ton of big bodies that they can throw at Luka. All-Defensive wing Jaden McDaniels will likely get the initial assignment. Anthony Edwards and Nickeil Alexander-Walker should also get looks. 

The Wolves had success pressuring Jamal Murray from the inbound, forcing Denver to waste a lot of shot clock getting the ball up the floor. They should continue that with Doncic, and use those fresh bodies to continually harass him from 94 feet out. 

Pull in from the corners and hope the role players miss shots

The most effective strategy against Luka during these playoffs has been to force the ball into the hands of role players and hope that they miss. Oklahoma City forced their series to seven games by using this approach. 

The Thunder pulled in help during their series, crowding the paint against Luka at the cost of leaving the corners open. That looked like a good strategy in Game 1 when the Mavs weren’t hitting their 3’s. 

That strategy was less viable as Dallas’ role players started to shine. P.J. Washington was a scorching 46.9 percent from 3, Derrick Jones Jr. and Josh Green were both at 37.0 percent, and the Mavs shot their way into eliminating the Thunder.

Living with corner 3’s doesn’t seem like a great strategy. But you’re picking your poison when it comes to guarding Doncic. Gearing your entire defense towards tiring him out and forcing him to pass to open teammates is the only way to hope to slow him down.

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