When Luke Walton was addressing reporters after the Los Angeles Lakers’ final practice before taking on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, he got a question that coaches don’t normally get asked before taking on a rookie: “How do you stop him?”
The “him” in that statement was Doncic, and the reason Walton was asked about him a day before the game is because the Slovenian sensation is far from your average rookie. Doncic is averaging 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4 assists this season, averages which sound impressive enough on their own, even without historical context.
With historical context, they make you wonder if we might be looking at a future Hall of Famer.
Luka Doncic is averaging 20.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 4.0 APG this season.— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) October 30, 2018
The last rookie to do that was...oh pic.twitter.com/GbkIGTipM7
It’s obviously premature to induct Doncic into the Hall after seven NBA games, no matter how impressive, but he has caught Walton’s notice.
“He’s a very good playmaker, he gets into the heart of the defense and he’s got great vision out there,” Walton told reporters.
And those skills take us back to the original question: How do the Lakers plan to stop Doncic?
”With the team defense,” Walton said. “We’ve got to make sure that we keep ball pressure on him and that the shell defense is built well around him.”
The Lakers have struggled with defense to start their season, a characteristic they share with the Mavericks. L.A. ranks 23rd in the league in defensive rating — how many points they allow per 100 possessions — this season with 113.2, while the Mavericks are just ahead of them in 22nd with 112.2. This is likely going to be a very high-scoring game.
But unless the Lakers go to sleep defensively for entire quarters, their offense should be enough to power them past the Mavericks. The Lakers’ boast the seventh-best offensive rating in the league (113), while Dallas ranks 20th with a 106.6.
The Lakers’ defense will have to get better if they’re going to do anything of note this season, but they may not need to stop Doncic, Wednesday night it will be enough just to try and outscore him.
But even though they’re expected to do a lot more than the Mavericks this season, at 2-5 on the season, the Lakers can’t overlook another 2-5 team. They also can’t afford to waste any opportunities to beat up on non-playoff teams while they struggle to beat playoff-caliber ones.
The purple and gold were always going to be in for a rough start to the season with a tough opening slate, but dropping gimmes — even in October — is an easy way to end up fighting harder for a playoff spot than they need to in February and March.
To get there, first they’ll have to slow Doncic’s historic roll to start his rookie season.
“He’s a great player. Looking forward to playing him this Wednesday,” Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball told reporters, while also noting that Dennis Smith and Doncic give the Mavericks an “interesting backcourt.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Ball said.
The fun starts at 7:30 p.m. local time, and the game will be televised on Spectrum Sportsnet.
All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.