Luka Doncic assaulted NBA defenses right from the get-go. In his rookie year, he was already tagged as the next big thing by analysts. Some even mentioned him in the same sentence as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and LeBron James.
These comparisons, coupled with the Slovenian’s undeniable talent, inevitably created a target on his back. Whenever teams were about to face the Dallas Mavericks, Doncic was at the forefront of their game plan. Some teams fell victims to Doncic’s offensive assault. Meanwhile, a few managed to contain him below his average. Here are the Top 5 teams that Luka Doncic has trouble scoring against (data collected from StatMuse).
5. Indiana Pacers (23.3 ppg, 6 games)
The Indiana Pacers were a pretty good defensive team, especially during Nate McMillan’s stint. In the last few years, they’ve had key defensive players like Myles Turner (who has led the league in blocked shots twice), Domantas Sabonis, and Victor Oladipo, among others. This is indicative of what the organization’s headspace is when building a roster. Perhaps they’ve been a victim of circumstance – they’re a small-market team with little or no TV deals and thus not attractive to star players.
This handicap has not limited the Pacers when facing a generational star like Doncic. While Doncic once exploded for 36 points in 36 minutes, the Slovenian also had an eight-point outing on 21.4% shooting as well as a measly 13-point output on 33.3% shooting.
4. Atlanta Hawks (22.7 ppg, 6 games)
The Atlanta Hawks were on the verge of being the laughing stock of the NBA. They drafted Doncic as their third pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, only to trade him to the Mavericks for Trae Young. The Hawks dodged a bullet since Young turned out to be one heck of a player as well.
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Despite this, the Hawks seem to beholden to lock up the Slovenian whenever they face the Mavs. In six games, the Hawks managed to hold Doncic below 20 points twice. Unlike the Pacers, the Hawks weren’t necessarily gifted with great defensive pieces. And so their defensive work against Doncic is more a matter of strategy and preparation.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (22.3 ppg, 6 games)
It’s not a surprise that the Philadelphia 76ers are on this list. Since Doncic entered the league in 2018, they were already a pretty solid defensive team under head coaches Brett Brown and Doc Rivers. It helps that Philly had Ben Simmons — perhaps the only guard who could take Luka head-on. He has the speed, lateral movement, and great basketball instincts to go toe-to-toe with an offensive genius like Luka. Through six games, the 76ers prevented Doncic from scoring at least 20 points four times. In three games, they held Doncic to below 30% shooting from the field.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves (22.2 ppg, 10 games)
The Minnesota Timberwolves are the outlier in this list. Though they made a key stride last season by making the playoffs, the Wolves haven’t been considered a prime organization over the last two decades.
One can say that the Wolves have the advantage of being in the same conference as Doncic. They have faced the Mavericks more than anyone on this shortlist. Ideally, the more glimpses you have on your foe, the better your reading is of his tendencies of him. But if that theory is true, then why aren’t elite Western teams on this list?
It’s challenging to point out the coach responsible for this defensive showcase against Doncic. Since Doncic’s entry into the league, the Wolves have had three coaches: Tom Thibodeau, Ryan Saunders, and Chris Finch. We all know Thibs as a defensive specialist. But Saunders and Finch have contributed their piece to the pie, too. Is it because the Wolves, a lottery team over the last two decades, have always been populated with young, egoless players whose sole mission is to win?
1. Miami Heat (20.8 ppg, 8 games)
As a disclaimer, in their duel on December 14, 2019, Doncic scored two points before leaving the game at the 10:20-mark of the first quarter. This two-point output definitely dragged his statistics down in favor of the Miami Heat.
But whatever the case may be, it’s not much of a surprise to see the Heat shutting down a generational star like Doncic to 20.8 points, six points below his 26.4 career average. The real mastermind here is Erik Spoelstra. He’s not just a LeBron yes-man as some deem him to be, especially during the Heat’s championship years. The man knows the Xs and Ox of basketball more than anyone in the NBA today.
In those eight games, Doncic shot above 50% from the field only once. He shot around 40% three times, once at 33.3% and twice below 30%. These numbers paint a picture of defensive consistency for the Heat. Whenever they see Doncic, they play their best defense. Having Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo doesn’t hurt either.