After the Dallas Mavericks finished off a surprising, five-game series win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, they’re on their way to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2011 and a date with the historically great Boston Celtics.

Many people and variables deserve credit for the Mavs’ success through three rounds, including Dereck Lively II’s rapid ascension (which we kind of predicated), Kyrie Irving’s well-roundedness, Derrick Jones Jr.’s fearlessness and Jason Kidd’s decision-making.

But more than any of these factors, the Mavericks have the Western Conference Finals MVP, Luka Doncic, to thank for their good fortune. Through 17 games in the NBA postseason, the five-time first-team All-NBA guard is averaging 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game with 56.4% true shooting, 13 double-doubles, six triple-doubles and a plus-minus of +5.8 per 100 possessions. If that weren’t enough, he also finished the regular season third in NBA MVP voting and first in our catch-all one-number metric DRIP, which projects a player’s contribution to a team’s plus/minus per 100 possessions.

All this, and the fact he just vanquished three of the top four teams in the Western Conference, has the NBA world wondering: Is Luka Doncic the best NBA player right now?

The reason Doncic fares so well in DRIP is that he has by far the best O-DRIP of any player in the NBA.

DRIP and other one-number metrics like it measure how impactful a player is in the specific role on his specific team. For the Mavericks, Doncic’s role on offense is basically to be the emperor of the universe.


Doncic is the overseer of everything in the offense, making a majority of the big decisions for the team. During the playoffs (and regular season), no player other than New York Knicks All-Star guard Jalen Brunson spent more time with the ball in his hands than Doncic.

Normally, such ball dominance would be worrisome, but Doncic is an exception to the rule. Even all-time-level defenses tremble at his feet: After limiting the world champion Denver Nuggets to a mere 106.6 offensive rating, the Timberwolves surrendered a 118.3 offensive rating to the Mavericks. They tried everything against Doncic, but it didn’t matter – he had an answer for every riddle en route to the upcoming matchup against the Eastern Conference champion Celtics.

NBA Finals Schedule

All Times ET; Games on ABC; *-if necessary

  • Game 1: Mavericks vs. Celtics, Thursday, June 6 (8:30 p.m.)
  • Game 2: Mavericks vs. Celtics, Sunday, June 9 (8 p.m.)
  • Game 3: Celtics vs. Mavericks, Wednesday, June 12 (8:30 p.m.)
  • Game 4: Celtics vs. Mavericks, Friday, June 14 (8:30 p.m.)
  • *Game 5: Mavericks vs. Celtics, Monday, June 17 (8:30 p.m.)
  • *Game 6: Celtics vs. Mavericks, Thursday, June 20 (8:30 p.m.)
  • *Game 7: Mavericks vs. Celtics, Sunday, June 23 (8 p.m.)

By playing his brand of helioball, Doncic can make almost any offense great. But time has taught the Slovenian that, to be the best NBA player, one also needs versatility. For him, that means playing off the ball sometimes and letting Irving run the show. And this season, Doncic is averaging his highest percentage of assisted twos (17.7%) and 3-pointers (29.9%) since his rookie season. Sequences like this one have become more of a regularity:

(Sidebar: While Doncic has taken strides as an off-ball offensive player, Irving is still the superior off-ball weapon by a pretty significant margin, as we illustrate in this article).

Doncic’s abilities to be a scorer and consistently make the right decision regardless of the caliber of defense pitted against him and his newfound talent for fitting alongside high-level offensive players (the tandem had a net rating of 9.5 in their minutes this season, per PBP Stats) give him a legitimate case as the NBA’s best offensive player.

In basketball, an individual player can have more impact on the offensive side of the ball than on the defensive side. It theoretically means the best offensive player in the league only needs to be solid on defense to take the top hoops spot.

So, what about Doncic’s defense?

The title of this subheading is a bit misleading because not everything about Doncic’s defense is damaging. But if there is something holding him back from being the king of the league, it’s certainly his work on that end of the court.

Doncic actually has a positive D-DRIP (0.6), and it’s because of the metric’s proclivity toward his loud defensive style.

Great floor generals tend to also be great at accruing steals. The same skills that make a player strong at reading the floor on offense tend to translate on defense.

Doncic is no different. In the regular season, he was in the 74th percentile in steal rate – using his wonderful mind to read passing lanes and create high-value turnovers (like this).

Doncic, at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, is also much bigger than other high-usage ball handlers (such as Brunson or point guards Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks and Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers). This advantage gives him more juice as a tertiary rim protection threat (39th percentile block rate). That’s a massive advantage for someone who is supposed to be his team’s worst defender on the floor in most situations.

Also, since the NBA’s recent decision to allow for more physicality on defense, Doncic has been leveraging his burly build on that end of the court.

Look at how much Doncic can use it to derail Lu Dort’s drive in this play:

Even with these strengths, Doncic is oftentimes a moving target on that end of the court. He struggles moving laterally and getting through screens, and, from time to time, loses his focus to allow his offensive player to slip by him when he’s defending off-ball.

Look at all these great shots that are a direct byproduct of Doncic breakdowns:

Some of this is a symptom of fatigue from Doncic’s massive offensive burden, some is the cost of the laundry list of injuries he’s had to play through this postseason – right knee sprain, left ankle soreness, back soreness and left Achilles soreness – but most of it is just his own shortcomings as a defender.

The case for the league’s best player has often been definitive, whether it be Michael Jordan or LeBron James or others among the greatest players in NBA history.

Today, the debate is more wide-open – maybe more so as this year’s playoffs continue.

Regardless of Doncic’s defensive limitations, Dallas has shown in the postseason it can still build a stout unit of fortification with him playing heavy minutes. However, to do it, the Mavs have had to make sure they play lineups in which he’s the weakest defender – something that limits team-building flexibility.

OK, so what does this do for Doncic’s case as the best basketball player on the planet?

Ideally, the best NBA player is the superstar who offers a team the most flexibility as it is fleshing out the roster. The fact the Mavs need to be a little more methodical with the personnel put around Doncic hurts him with earning the moniker.

For instance, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, the NBA MVP this season for a third time, offers similar offensive production to Doncic (he’s not as ball-dominant, but he’s a lot more versatile) while also providing more flexibility on defense. His great hands, size and mobility (relative to his size) give him a D-DRIP of 2.0 (much higher than Doncic’s D-DRIP).

This also gives the Nuggets the luxury of playing weaker defenders (like Jamal Murray) next to Jokic without tanking their defense (remember, a big reason why they won last year’s NBA championship was their defense).

It’s this line of reasoning that leads me to place Jokic over Doncic in the league hierarchy. You could also make a similar argument with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, the 2022-23 NBA MVP (although that would be harder given his injury history).

Still, these nits we are picking are just subtleties on the margins. One could probably find similar minutiae that suggest Doncic is better than Jokic, Embiid and whoever else you want to include in the conversation.

The point in all of this is that this year’s run to the NBA Finals has given Doncic a seat at an exclusive table where only the candidates for the league’s best player reside.

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