I expect LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo to be this season’s MVP Award winner, but it’s intriguing to know that Luka Doncic is, theoretically, in the running for an unprecedented double: MVP and Most Improved Player in the same season.
Doncic’s dynamic play is the biggest reason for the Dallas Mavericks’ return to respectability. The second-year pro is averaging 28.9 points (fourth-best average), 9.7 rebounds (No. 17) and 9.0 assists (No. 3).
As a rookie, he contributed 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 72 games. Dallas went 33-49 last season.
This season, the Mavericks are 27-15 through Friday.
Legendary NBA columnist and pundit Peter Vecsey, who is now retired, pointed out that Luka Doncic is in the running for both prestigious awards, noting that it’s not prohibited.
“Voters aren’t restricted from naming the same person at the top of both ballots,” Vecsey said.
Doncic leads the NBA in triple-doubles (12), followed by LeBron’s nine and Russell Westbrook‘s and Nikola Jokic‘s seven.
Better as a second-year pro
Luka Doncic shot .427 from the field last season and .713 from the free-throw line.
This season, he’s improved in both categories: .466 from the field and .766 from the charity stripe.
Doncic draws contact
Still only 20 years old, Doncic knows how to make life difficult for the opposition. He draws contact. He challenges defenders. He forces them to foul him. He’s savvy and gutsy and aggressive.
Doncic is No. 3 in the NBA in free-throw attempts (349). He’s also No. 3 in free throws (273).
King James, of course, is a big reason the Los Angeles Lakers have transformed themselves into a title-contending team. The sad-sack Lakers of 2018-19 are a distant memory, and frontcourt dynamo Anthony Davis’ arrival also signaled a new era in L.A.
LeBron is averaging 25.4 points (11th-highest scorer) and leads the league in assists (10.9). The Lakers (33-8) are the Western Conference’s top team.
Greek Freak’s performance
The Milwaukee Bucks (37-6) lead the Eastern Conference, and Antetokounmpo’s dazzling numbers are a big reason for that. The 2018-19 NBA MVP is the league’s second-leading scorer (30.1 ppg; James Harden is No. 1 at 37.2) and sixth-best rebounder (12.8).
Dwane Casey’s assessment
Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey doesn’t expect Doncic to be picked for both awards.
“There are a few more candidates for Most Improved (Player),” Casey commented.
That said, the Pistons bench boss is impressed with the Slovenian superstar’s playmaking skills.
“He is one of the best passers,” Casey said. “I was around with Pistol Pete (Maravich). This kid is of substance where Pete was more show.”
Indeed, last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year award winner has elevated his game. He’s clearly better in all facets of the game, delivering more consistency, more game-changing plays and greater doses of “wow-did-you-just-see-that excitement” whenever he steps onto the court.
Longtime Golden State Warriors broadcaster Jim Barnett, whose involvement in the NBA began as a Boston Celtics rookie in 1966, recalled a terrific achievement by Wes Unseld in the 1970s that serves as a good reminder that, yes, Luka Doncic, who’s been heralded by some as the new face of the NBA, could claim the MVP and MIP awards this year.
In the 1968-69 campaign, Unseld was chosen as the league’s Rookie of the Year and MVP.
The former Baltimore Bullet wasn’t the only player to receive both awards.
In the 1958-59 season, Wilt Chamberlain also grabbed the ROY and MVP awards while playing for the Philadelphia Warriors.
“So there is precedent for double awards,” Barnett observed.
It may be a longshot, though.
“It’s certainly possible,” Barnett told Talk Basket. “I think it would help his cause to be Most Improved if he hadn’t averaged 21.2 ppg last year as a rookie. However, right now he is averaging nearly a triple-double. And they are impressive numbers. …
“I think it’s a good call that he could be Most Improved (Player) and the MVP.”
Former NBA coach Herb Brown also weighed in on the discussion.
“Anything is possible,” Brown stated. “I think the Association would prefer to spread their awards around rather than having one player earn more than one award. Milwaukee has a front-runner for the MVP, doesn’t it? Many players deserving not only Luka.”
Alexander Wolff, whose basketball articles appeared in Sports Illustrated for decades, doesn’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility for Doncic to earn both accolades.
“I don’t see why not,” Wolff declared earlier this week.
“I believe a Rookie of the Year has been MVP at least once,” added Wolff, the editor of “Basketball: Great Writing About America’s Game” and the author of “The Audacity of Hope: Basketball And The Age of Obama.”
“It certainly would be quite a story. It may be dependent on how well the Mavs do, as MVP voters tend to factor in overall team performance when they cast a ballot.”
Bill Cartwright, a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, is not convinced Doncic can nab both awards.
“I think in order to win all the awards, the Mavericks must be a top-four team,” Cartwright offered. “I don’t see that happening this year.”