Luka Doncic fever is happening inside the National Basketball Association (NBA) bubble at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida! The Dallas Mavericks’ 21-year-old European point forward was all business against the Milwaukee Bucks last weekend burning them with a monstrous triple-double game (36 pts, 14 rebounds, 19 assists) in a 136-132 overtime win against the league leader. It seems like the Mavs’ move to trade for Doncic in the 2018 rookie draft is a gamble that’s starting to pay off tenfold. The blockbuster draft-day trade that sent Doncic to Dallas and sensational sophomore Trae Young to the Atlanta Hawks will boil down as one of the major draft-day trades in NBA history.
Going back to Luka, this kid can do it all. He can handle the ball like a steady veteran point guard, carve his way to the basket for a layup or a kick out, can step back a yard away from the 3-point line, and still be very accurate. He is simply deadly. His upper body strength is solid after seasons of playing professionally in Europe. His teenage years were spent playing Euro-style ball which allowed his body to mature early. Now, he is a man among giants.
Doncic’s court vision is superb. Blessed with the ability to spot the open player as he drives deep into the basket, he has the uncanny ability to twist in mid-air and give a last-second kick-out pass to the corner shooters. Since he also has the strength to finish strong, opposing teams have no choice but to play honest defense inside as he penetrates. His basketball IQ, to me, is comparable to Larry Bird. Larry Legend is known for being a typical white player who is too slow and can’t jump but his basketball IQ is way up there. He, like Doncic, are both highly cerebral players.
A triple threat offensive stance makes Doncic very unpredictable. The best defensive players from opposing teams would have to meet him up way up the half-court line because that’s how good he is. He can create plays as far out. The way the Dallas coaching staff plays him at the optimal level is also a thing of beauty. The Mavericks have a plethora of point guards in Jalen Brunson, Seth Curry, and JJ Barea that can take the ball-handling load off Doncic and preserve him for the stretch. They also have solid big men that can give some hard picks and roll over to the basket-like Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleiber. The Mavericks’, the way they are playing in the bubble now, are bound to give the Rockets, Lakers, and the Clippers a good run for spots in the Western Conference Finals.
The Eastern Conference Playoff Picture
Unlike their western conference counterparts, the NBA eastern front has gotten their playoff teams and spots fixed and it’s looking like 3 teams will fight tooth and nail and would be favorites to zero in on eastern finals slots: the Milwaukee Bucks, the defending champions Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics.
The league-leading Bucks, with frontrunner and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo are clear No. 1 contenders in the East. They have a decent bubble performance, sans the loss to the Mavericks, but that wouldn’t make a dent in them locking down the first rank in the eastern race. With home-court advantage being a none- factor in the bubble, the Raptor, and the Celtics can give the Bucks a good challenge in the playoffs. One team, I believe, is peaking at the right time though … the young Celtics crew.
With Kemba Walker in minutes restriction in the seeding phase, I only expect him to go full throttle in the playoffs and this will definitely send some serious caution to playoff teams. Once Walker gets the starter average minutes in full, I expect him to blend fully well with Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown and Gordon Hayward, all multi-skilled players doing well in position-less basketball. Add either Daniel Theiss, a bruising undersized center, or resident big man Enes Kanter and the Celtics can match up well with the best there is.
I think it’s going to be a Bucks- Celtics playoff matchup in the East. The loss of Kawhi Leonard, a key defensive cog and a clutch player may be too much of a loss for the Raptors’ hopes to retain the crown this year.
The Last Western Spot
It is looking like a 3 pronged fight as well for the 8th spot in the West between the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trailblazers, and the San Antonio Spurs. The Grizz are currently holding the 8th spot but with the seeding games allowing for the 9th place team to battle it out in a virtual knockout match, do not rule the Blazers or the veteran Spurs out just yet.
The Blazers may have the upper hand here since the Spurs are without all-star Lamarcus Aldridge. The return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins shored up the frontcourt of the Blazers allowing Carmelo Anthony to slide down to the small forward spot vacated by Trevor Ariza who begged off from playing in Disney. The Blazers have a solid starting unit of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Nurkic, Collins, and Anthony. If they advance and take the 8th spot, I am sure they will give the Los Angeles Lakers a tough matchup in the first round. The Blazers have the backcourt stability and the frontcourt strength to match with the Laker bigs.
The NBA is back and playoff fever is here. Enjoy the games via TV5 in your cable channels. I’m glad to be able to witness live sports amidst the global pandemic as this gives us a sign of hope that we will all do what it takes to get to our new normal.
Stay safe everyone.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)