Image: (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)
Luka Doncic is off to a historic start to the 2019-2020 Season. You constantly hear his name brought up with legends of the game such as Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. While those guys are all great, I like to talk about Dirk Nowitzki. To get a historical context for Luka Doncic’s MVP caliber play, let’s compare his performance this year to the only MVP in Dallas Mavericks franchise history, Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk won his only NBA MVP in the 2006-2007 Season, earning 83 first place votes. Steve Nash was second with 44 votes and Kobe Bryant was the only other player who received first place votes with 2. Dirk was the cream of the crop this Season and outperformed a fine list of future Hall of Famers to do it.
2006-2007 MVP Voting – Top 5
Dirk was absolutely on fire this season, being one of only 4 players in NBA history to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the line while scoring at least 20 points per game (the others are Bird, Curry, and Durant). He led the NBA in Win Shares and Player Efficiency Rating that year while also leading the Mavericks to a 67-15 record under Head Coach Avery Johnson and the #1 overall seed in the NBA by a 6 game margin.
Dirk was flanked by fellow All-Star that season, Josh Howard, who averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists across the ’06-’07 Season. Their other key contributors were Jason Terry, Devin Harris, Eric Dampier, Jerry Stackhouse, and Devean George. There are some good players here but not quite the roster you are expecting from a dominant 67 win team that the Mavericks were that Season. Dirk deserves a lot of credit for elevating his teammates to a level of success that the Mavericks franchise had never seen before.
Dirk Nowitzki 2006-2007 Season Stats
Again, what jumps out is Dirk’s efficiency. about 25 points per game on only 17 shots. We all know how he did it, by working ANY defender from the mid-post area with pump fakes and one-legged fadeaways. The 17 shots a game that Dirk averaged this season not only speaks to his efficiency but also his unselfishness. Nobody could guard him 1-on-1 but when double teams came he knew how to get the ball out quickly and initiate their secondary offense. This didn’t always result in big assists numbers, because the way the Mavs swung the ball around the perimeter, but it certainly resulted in wins.
Dirk only attempted 2.1 threes per game at an elite rate of 41.6%. Imagine if he had been at his best in today’s era where everyone has the green light to jack up as many threes as they want. For context, the 2.1 threes Dirk shot in his MVP Season are about half the number that fellow Wurzburg great, Maxi Kleber shoots this Season (4.1 3PA). For better or worse, if Dirk played today I have to think he would have shot way more threes and racked up a few more points per game. When you shoot it as well as Dirk from deep it just makes sense to get him more of those shots.
Dirk Nowitzki 2006-2007 Season Top Games
Dirk’s top stat lines may not Wow! you after what we have seen Luka do this year but his 42.6 game score was the third top score in the NBA that Season. 14-20 from the field, 2-2 from three, and 8-9 from the free throw line, Dirk simply couldn’t miss at home against Memphis on February 7, 2007. All 7 of his top games this season were in January or February, right at the mid-way point of the Season.
Dirk 2006-2007 Highlights
2nd Year Luka
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18 games into Luka Doncic’s 2nd NBA Season he is playing like an MVP. Scoring, assisting, rebounding, not many have every been able to stuff a stat sheet like Luka. Add in the magic and flair that he plays with and you have an NBA Superstar with no ceiling on what he can accomplish.
Luka Doncic 2019-2020 Season Stats
2 Players in the history of the NBA have matched Luka’s 30 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists per game that he has averaged so far over the course of an entire Season, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. It is only 18 games into the Season but Luka does not look like he is slowing down any time soon. Every night is an absolute show and he never fails to showing you something unique every time he plays. Whether it is an impossible shot, a pass nobody saw coming, or handles that put defenders on skates, Luka knows hot to fire up a crowd.
What is even better is that his dominant play and showmanship has resulted in Maverick wins. The Mavericks currently sit at 12-6, good enough for 4th in the Western Conference and 1st in the Southwest Division. At age 20 Luka Doncic is already leading this team to Playoff level standards in just his 2nd Season.
Luka Doncic 2019-2020 Season Top Games
Monster triple-doubles all over the place. Luka is unstoppable, he impacts every phase of the game and it shows when you look at his box-scores. Despite the big time counting stats, Luka still has not yet reached Dirk Nowitzki’s 42.6 Game Score from the 2006-2007 Season.
Luka already has three 40-point games and ten games of scoring at least 30 points. He has had a game with 15 assists, a game with 15 rebounds, and a game where he had 14 rebounds AND 15 assists. He gets wherever he wants on the court and knows how the make the defense pay.
Luka Doncic Highlights
It is completely unfair to compare an entire Season’s worth of work against just 2-months of play but I am going to do it anyways. Side-by-side stat comparisons are dominated by Luka Doncic. Much of that stems from their style of play. Luka is a ball dominant guard while Dirk would post up and wait for the Mavs to work the ball to him. You can see this disparity in the Usage Percentage (USG %) numbers, 35.8% for Luka and 28.9% for Dirk.
What is surprising is how efficient Luka Doncic has been while handling the ball so much. Dirk’s 2006-2007 Season was highlighted by uber efficiency and his 50/40/90 shooting marks, yet so far this Season Luka Doncic has posted a higher True Shooting Percentage (TS%) and higher Player Efficiency Rating (PER) than Dirk did in his MVP Season.
|40 Pt Games||1||3|
Obviously stats are not everything, in fact they are nothing if it doesn’t result in Wins. As I mentioned earlier, Dirk’s 2006-2007 Mavs went 67-15, the best record in the NBA. What’s interesting, however, is that those Mavs started the Season 0-4 and and eventually 13-6, a very similar record to the Mavs at this point in the Season. After that, everything clicked for Dirk and his teammates and they went on to dominate the NBA Regular Season.
Luka Doncic has his Mavs at 12-6, and showing potential to go on huge winning streaks this Season when it all comes together. It is hard to see the Mavs locking down the #1 seed like the Dirk team did in ’07, but we all know how that ended. I have been avoiding it this whole article but that was the year when the #8 seed Golden State Warriors upset the #1 seed Mavs in the first round of the Playoffs in 6 games. Dirk’s MVP Season in marred by the memory of his one of his most disappointing Playoff losses.
I always start an article like this with an idea of how I think my conclusion will come out but I really try to let the research guide my final thoughts. I thought it would be obvious that Luka had the statistical advantage but that Dirk would be way more efficient and that the Wins would outweigh the production. In fact, Luka has been just as efficient overall and their teams were in similar standings after the first 20 games. The jury is still out, but if Luka can maintain close to this level of play and can lead the Mavericks to a Playoff Series win, whether he wins MVP or not, I don’t see how you could say that his Season isn’t better than Dirk’s MVP campaign.
Dirk took the long hard road to the top of the mountain and it made him the humble Champion that we know and love, but it looks like Luka Doncic is on the express lane to Super Stardom and I cannot wait to see where it takes us!