NBA

Doncic on buzzer-beating three-pointer: Those are the best feelings ever

By Sports Desk April 15, 2021

Luka Doncic sunk a buzzer-beating three-pointer for the Dallas Mavericks against the Memphis Grizzlies and declared: "Those are the best feelings ever."

The Slovenian took centre stage in Memphis as he posted 29 points, sealing a 114-113 victory with just 1.8 seconds left on the clock to earn the nickname 'Houdini' from his coach Rick Carlisle.

Grayson Allen had only just missed two free throws for the Grizzlies, making the triumph even sweeter for the Mavs.

"I was really surprised when it went in," said Doncic, whose exploits earned praise on Twitter from LeBron James. "Those are the best feelings ever.

"Sometimes you're going to make it, but sometimes you're going to miss it, too.

"You've got to take that, too. I think that's the most important part. If my team trusts me in that moment, I'll keep working on it."

Coach Carlisle compared the Mavs' talisman to the legendary Harry Houdini, conceding his team had pulled off a miraculous escape.

"In those situations, you pull off a win in a game like that once in a blue moon," he said.

"It just doesn't happen very often. Luka made one of the signature, special shots that you're going to see for a long time.

"This is one of those joyous nights where we escaped. We had Houdini. He got us out of here alive.

"He's just a very, very special and unique guy when it comes to these kinds of things. He sees angles and possibilities and has a belief system that very few of us can fathom. Pretty amazing stuff."

The Mavs are now 30-24, sitting seventh in the Western Conference.

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    A decade ago, the Dallas Mavericks stood atop the basketball world after Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and company won the NBA Finals over a heavily favoured Miami Heat team that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their first season together.

    With the Heat dynasty clearly on the rise and with the Mavs fielding a veteran roster already, Dallas decided not to make an earnest title defense and traded defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

    The Mavericks have yet to win a playoff series since those 2011 NBA Finals.

    Despite postseason appearances in six of the past 10 seasons and the acquisition of a generational talent in Luka Doncic, owner Mark Cuban decided change needed to come in the 2021 offseason.

    Gone is Donnie Nelson, who had been the general manager since 2002 and was the architect of that title team a decade ago.

    Also gone is longtime head coach Rick Carlisle, who had been in place since 2008 and amassed a record of 555-478. Nonetheless, Cuban decided to change things up.

    "The league has changed in the 21 years since I've been here," Cuban said. "Players have changed. How you build a championship team has changed. Sometimes you just have to look to have a different tool set."

    Who is in charge?

    Doncic and Nelson have a famously close relationship and the 22-year-old star was disappointed to see his longtime friend replaced by former Nike executive Nico Harrison as general manager.

    While training with Slovenia in preparation for the Olympic Games, Doncic admitted he was less than thrilled by the move:  "It was kind of tough to me. I really like Donnie. I know him since I was a kid and he was the one that drafted me.

    "It was tough for me seeing that, but I'm not the one making decisions there."

    This indicates that Cuban, who has long held the reputation as one of the most involved owners in American sports, was asserting his view of what the Mavs' leadership team should look like.

    Yet moving on from Carlisle, long considered a leading NBA coach, appears to be a move targeted at appeasing Doncic. The young star had openly shown his disapproval with some of Carlisle's coaching decisions and substitution patterns, becoming increasingly prone to on-court displays of frustration.

    Doncic may not quite wield the sway of someone like LeBron James, who has become the face of the "player empowerment era" in the NBA, but Cuban has wisely taken Doncic's input into consideration.

    And as much as the hiring of a new leadership team represents a new era for the Mavs, Cuban is clearly trying to revive some of the magic of the 2011 squad.

    Jason Kidd was named the team's next head coach, with it also announced that Dirk Nowitzki would begin a formal role as a front office advisor – two moves that also surround Doncic with mentors to help him progress into a champion.

     

    The cornerstone

    Doncic's career is off to an unprecedented start, and Dallas clearly intends to build around its multi-talented superstar well into the future. Doncic was the fastest in NBA history to reach 5,000 points, 1,500 rebounds and 1,500 assists, hitting those marks in 195 career games.

    LeBron James took 228 games to reach those numbers. Michael Jordan needed 282 games.

    Doncic has also improved every season since entering the league in 2018. Already a triple-double machine, he posted career-high efficiency in 2020-21 by shooting 47.9 per cent from the floor and 35.0 per cent from three-point range.

    His game has started to mature, as well, especially as a scorer. Doncic is a child of the shot-efficiency era, and he has always gotten shots from the most efficient areas on the floor – at the rim, behind the 3-point line and at the free throw line. Those shots remain valuable, but Doncic has diversified arsenal of mid-range options by developing a variety of floaters and pull-ups. He shot 51.5 per cent from mid-range last season – better than mid-range maestro Devin Booker (51.2 per cent) – after shooting around 41 per cent in his first two seasons.

    This bodes well as an indicator of future success in the postseason, when opponents' defenses are geared toward taking away the most efficient shots.

    Doncic's numbers are virtually unassailable and make him almost a lock to win an MVP – if not more – at some point in his career. It can be hard to forget, though, that Doncic has only played three years in the NBA.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, although a less refined prospect when drafted, needed until his sixth season to win his first MVP and became a champion in his eighth season only after suffering heart-breaking losses, sanding away some rough edges in his game that made him vulnerable in the playoffs and evolving into a true leader.

    Doncic's numbers may remain steadily impressive over the coming years, but he can still grow and develop in subtle ways as he matures. Kidd, a dynamic triple-double threat in his own playing days, will be responsible for overseeing Doncic’s growth.

    "My job is to give him answers to the test," Kidd said of Doncic. "His imagination is at the highest level, which is a great thing to be a part of. I (as a young player) tried a lot of things, and I know I drove a lot of my coaches crazy. I won't get mad because I've been in those shoes."

    Do the pieces fit?

    With a .362 usage rate last season, Doncic shouldered the largest offensive burden of any player in the league. Kidd has already said publicly that the superstar will need more help from his team-mates going forward.

    "Not having to bring the ball up every time and start the play," Kidd said. "When you look at the fourth quarter, he wears down at times."

    Further evidence that Doncic will need more help is that he has exploded for more than 40 points in five of his 13 career playoff games, yet the Mavericks are just 2-3 in those games.

    Kristaps Porzingis has been tabbed as the second option in Dallas but could end up in trade rumours sooner rather than later after a flaccid playoff performance, averaging just 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

    Despite largely considered a disappointment for not recapturing his peak form, Porzingis still plays an important role as a floor spacer on offense while defending bigger players. And while his numbers fall short of what is expected of a second option, his presence on the court makes Doncic better.

    Porzingis spaces the floor and gives Doncic room to penetrate opposing defenses, allowing him to be more efficient while both scoring and assisting, while also shooting much better from any range with Porzingis on the court compared to when he sits.

    Dallas' depth got worse last offseason with a disastrous trade that sent Seth Curry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson, who has failed to live up to his reputation as a defender and who is yet to match his 17-4-4 averages from his breakout season with Miami in 2018-19.

    After a disappointing regular season, Richardson played just 13.4 minutes per game in the Mavs' first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 4.9 points and shooting under 40 percent.

    Curry, meanwhile, exploded in the postseason for Philadelphia, averaging 18.8 points and connecting on over half of his three-pointers on 6.8 attempts per game.

    Richardson's defensive prowess also appears to be a farse, as the Mavericks allowed 113.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the court last season and only 107.7 with him on the bench.

    Richardson appears to be a failed experiment, and Dallas will need to look elsewhere to find something resembling a third star.

    Evolution or Revolution? Verdict: Evolution

    The organisation has already undergone a massive transformation by ousting their longtime general manager and head coach in favour of a new direction, so it is fair to say that anything resembling a "revolution" has already taken place in the front office.

    The Mavs' roster is far from a finished product, however, and Harrison will need to hit the ground running in his first general manager job. Dallas did not own the rights to any of its picks in the NBA draft, so he will have already assessed the need to look elsewhere to upgrade the roster around his young superstar.

    The postseason failures and frequent injuries of Porzingis could lead the Mavs to the trade market, but opposing teams have also seen those weaknesses and have adjusted their assessments of him as well. Dallas may be better served by displaying some patience with a player who is still only 25 and has averaged over 20 points per game in three straight campaigns.

    Milwaukee's 2021 title demonstrated that teams can still build patiently while developing players and Dallas may be one acquisition away – as the Bucks were with Jrue Holiday – from becoming contenders once again.

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    Russell Westbrook is preparing for life on a fourth different team in as many years, with LeBron James welcoming his new running mate to the Los Angeles Lakers following a blockbuster trade.

    The Lakers overshadowed the NBA Draft by completing a deal to get Westbrook from the Washington Wizards, who receive Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in return.

    The Wizards also got the 22nd pick in Thursday's first round – Isaiah Jackson was taken at that slot, then traded to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for point guard Aaron Holiday – while the Lakers gained two second-round selections in future drafts, according to reports.

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    As for Westbrook, his year with the Wizards included a key role in a late charge to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament, though they were beaten 4-1 in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers, after which it was announced head coach Scott Brooks would be leaving his role.

    Westbrook had broken an NBA record that had stood for 47 years during the regular season, moving beyond Oscar Robertson to top the list for career triple-double games.

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    There was speculation L.A. were also in negotiations to bring in Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings. The 28-year-old would add some much-needed outside scoring, seen as he is a career 40.6 per cent shooter from deep.

    The Lakers finished at 35.4 per cent as a team from three-point range, ranking them 21st in the entire league. Caldwell-Pope was one of their more successful players when it came to taking aim from distance, finishing up at 41.0 per cent, but he has been moved on in order to add a new playmaking presence.

    Westbrook, who is from California and played at UCLA during his college career, will earn $44.2million in 2021-22, then has a player option worth $47m for the following year.

  • NBA Draft 2021: Cunningham, Barnes lead way as teams take versatile talent NBA Draft 2021: Cunningham, Barnes lead way as teams take versatile talent

    The term "positionless" has been all the buzz in the NBA the last few years, and the first round of the 2021 draft followed that trend as the Detroit Pistons took Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick and players with similar skill sets went off the board soon after. 

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    After the Houston Rockets took guard Jalen Green second overall and the Cleveland Cavaliers used the third pick on big man Evan Mobley, the Toronto Raptors surprised many prognosticators by taking another of those positionless players at number four with Scottie Barnes. 

    At 6-foot-9, his role at Florida State was similar to Cunningham's at Oklahoma State, running the offence while defending across multiple positions. 

    "He's a multi-faceted, multi-positional two-way player," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. "We like guys that can handle, pass, score, defend, rebound a little bit and just kind of come at you in waves with that." 

    Most had expected Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs to be Toronto's pick after US fans fell in love with him during the NCAA Tournament, but he fell to the Orlando Magic at number five. 

    The Okahoma City Thunder then took yet another 6-8 talent in Australia's Josh Giddey at number six in a move that caught many off guard. 

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    It was that kind of night as NBA teams added young talent while trading players and picks in this and future drafts.

    Because most transactions cannot become official until August 6, teams selected players they know they will not keep due to deals made ahead of and during the draft. 

    Those types of moves prevailed in the latter half of the first round, with numerous reported trades on the cards. 

    Among them, yet another versatile big man in Turkey's Alperen Sengun, who was drafted at number 16 by the Oklahoma City Thunder but reportedly will play for Houston. 

    The 6-foot-10 Sengun told reporters he believes his passing abilities will help him excel as other European imports have done before him. 

    "With my new team, Houston, I will bring something different on the court," he said. "I will do whatever it takes and whatever is needed." 

    As the lines between positions and roles continue to blur in the NBA, that approach has increasingly become the default setting across the board. 

     

    2021 NBA Draft first-round picks

    1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
    2. Houston Rockets – Jalen Green, USA
    3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley, USC
    4. Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes, Florida State
    5. Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
    6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey, Australia
    7. Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, Congo
    8. Orlando Magic – Franz Wagner, Michigan
    9. Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell, Baylor
    10. New Orleans Pelicans – Ziaire Williams, Stanford (traded to Grizzlies)
    11. Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight, Connecticut
    12. San Antonio Spurs – Josh Primo, Alabama
    13. Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte, Oregon
    14. Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody, Arkansas 
    15. Washington Wizards – Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
    16. Oklahoma City Thunder – Alperen Sengun, Turkey (reportedly traded to Rockets)
    17. Memphis Grizzlies – Trey Murphy III, Virginia (traded to Pelicans)
    18. Oklahoma City Thunder – Tre Mann, Florida
    19. New York Knicks – Kai Jones, Texas (reportedly traded to Hornets)
    20. Atlanta Hawks –Jalen Johnson, Duke
    21. New York Knicks – Keon Johnson, Tennessee
    22. Los Angeles Lakers – Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky (traded to Pacers via Wizards)
    23. Houston Rockets – Usman Garuba, Spain
    24. Houston Rockets – Josh Christopher, Arizona State
    25. Los Angeles Clippers – Quentin Grimes, Houston (reportedly traded to Knicks)
    26. Denver Nuggets – Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
    27. Brooklyn Nets – Cam Thomas, LSU
    28. Philadelphia 76ers – Jaden Springer, Tennessee
    29. Phoenix Suns – Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina (reportedly traded to Nets)
    30. Utah Jazz – Santi Aldama, Loyola (reportedly traded to Grizzlies)

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