Can Luka Doncic really win MVP this season? Yes, he really can. Will he? Probably not. But this is a value play, and relative to his odds, Luka is what you might call an educated gamble.
The problem is, if you haven’t made your bet yet, you’ve already missed the best action. At the start of the summer, per DraftKings, Doncic was +12500 to win the hardware. Now he’s down to +7000. That means there has been some serious action on the Mavs’ second-year budding star, and for good reason. The ingredients are there for a dark-horse run. It’s not as high value as it was a few months ago, but 70-1 is still worth a shot. Twenty bucks gets you $1,400 — admit it, you spend twenty bucks pretty regularly on dumber things.
In his rookie season that looked nothing like typical rookie seasons, Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, six assists and 1.1 steals a game. Those are stupid numbers for anyone. For a rookie, well, they’re historical, which is to say no rookie in NBA history has hit those collective marks.
Sophomore slump? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Dallas officially turned the offense over to Doncic after trading Dennis Smith Jr. — his 32.9 percent usage rate ranked 10th in the league last season, per Cleaning the Glass. Rick Carlisle doesn’t just give that kind of control to a 19-year-old, and Doncic, now 20, suddenly has Kristaps Porzingis next to him to form a potent 1-2 punch — not only balancing the amount of defensive attention Doncic will face, but providing him with a deadly pick-and-roll/pop partner.
For as big a star as Doncic immediately became, one aspect of his game that didn’t get a ton of attention was his playmaking/passing — he assisted on almost 32 percent of the Mavericks‘ buckets last season, a higher mark than guys like Damian Lillard in Portland and Jrue Holiday in New Orleans, and that number could well rise this season into the 35 percent range, which puts him up there with Ben Simmons and creeping on Nikola Jokic and LeBron James.
Doncic’s step-back jumper has already become one of the NBA’s signature shots, and his scoring speaks for itself. But he can be an elite passer and in many ways already was last season, it’s just that the parts of his game perhaps people were more surprised by — his ability to get separation and score against more athletic defenders, and knock down 3-pointers (particularly early in the season) stole the spotlight.
All told, Luka can realistically push to average a triple-double. He probably won’t, but the push for that kind of statistical line creates MVP buzz that doesn’t just go away. It builds throughout the season, and Doncic’s immense, league-wide popularity certainly adds to this component. And then you have the Mavericks as a team, who have almost no national expectations to make the playoffs, but the thing is, they are good enough to push for a spot.
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Low expectations are the most fertile of MVP breeding grounds. It’s the reason Damian Lillard is another good value bet, because once again people are doubting the Blazers. Some places have them finishing as the No. 8 seed. Lillard can easily put Portland in the chase for home-court advantage, as he does every season, and that’s the narrative you need. But Lillard is only 14-1 to win. It’s still good relative value in my opinion, but a much lower ceiling than a Luka bet, obviously.
The opposite is a guy like Kawhi Leonard. Unless the Clippers win 60-plus games and secure the No. 1 seed, which everyone feels would be commensurate with their talent, Leonard will be fighting the perception of regular-season underachievement. Same thing for LeBron James if the Lakers slow play in preparation for the playoffs.
But Luka and the Mavericks? They have nowhere to go but up. Just earning the No. 8 seed might not be enough for Doncic, and the Mavericks rising to a No. 6 or even No. 5 seed seems lofty. But that’s why you’re getting the value. It’s not likely, but it’s not exactly impossible either. Take a shot on Luka. You could risk 20 bucks — or even just 10 bucks for a potential $700 payout — on a lot worse bets.