Despite two fantastic performances from Luka Doncic in the first two games of the Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Semifinals series against the Phoenix Suns, the Mavs find themselves in a 0-2 hole as they head back home. Doncic has been sensational; unfortunately, the rest of his team has not been on the same level as their young superstar.
So what gives; why can’t Dallas figure out ways to win despite Doncic’s dominant offensive play? The reason, according to Charles Barkley, is because of Doncic himself.
“The next transformation for (Luka Doncic) is he has to learn to play without the ball. When you are a great player, you have to learn to play without the ball, because you have to give the other guys confidence. And (Jalen Brunson) has got to be more aggressive, (Spencer Dinwiddie) has got to be more aggressive, and Luka is going to have to learn to do what (Chris Paul) does.” Charles Barkley, NBA on TNT
Barkley believes Doncic needs to play more like CP3
Barkley’s take that Doncic has to play more like Chris Paul is a good observation. Paul allows his teammates to get their rhythm going early in the game before taking control in the fourth quarter. Paul has done this throughout the postseason, and he did it again in Game 2 when he scored or assisted 19 straight points for Phoenix to open the fourth quarter.
Doncic, on the other hand, seeks out his shot early and often and hits his teammates once opposing defenses collapse on him. The problem is that he may be asking his teammates to take their first or second shot later on in the game than they should be. So, for example, if you are counting on a role player to make a clutch three in the fourth quarter, but it’s only their fifth shot of the game, you are at a disadvantage because that player hasn’t had a chance to get into the rhythm of the game.
This isn’t to say that Doncic doesn’t pass the ball because he does. But, as Barkley alluded to, the problem is that he is too ball-dominant that his teammates are worse off despite his skilled playmaking abilities. Brunson and Dinwiddie have struggled early on against Phoenix after dominating against the Utah Jazz in the first round because they have had to take the backseat since Doncic returned.
How Doncic and the Mavs can fix their offensive struggles
As their series shifts back to Dallas, the Mavs will have to figure out how to open up their offense. And while Barkley’s suggestion may seem outrageous, taking the ball out of Doncic’s hands may be the best option for the team moving forward.
Brunson and Dinwiddie kept the Mavericks afloat in Doncic’s absence because they were given the keys to the offense. But now that they are stuck playing off-ball roles again, they have struggled. Jason Kidd is going to have to draw up certain sets where Brunson or Dinwiddie initiate the offense to keep the Suns’ defense on their toes because right now, their strategy is clear; Doncic can get whatever he wants, but as long as he has no help, it doesn’t matter.
And so far, that defensive strategy has been a great move from Monty Williams, as Phoenix has put the clamps down on the Mavericks through the first two games of the series. Doncic has scored 80 points combined over the first two games, but aside from him in both games, Dallas hasn’t had a 20+ point scorer in either game.
Allowing Brunson and Dinwiddie to run the offense from time to time at least forces Phoenix to adapt. Will they continue to let the ball handler do damage, or will they provide more off-ball help on Doncic? This, conversely, may open up lanes for Brunson and Dinwiddie if they have the ball, or it could weaken the Suns’ off-ball defense and open up the perimeter for guys like Maxi Kleber and Randy Bullock.
Barkley’s observation of Doncic’s play is spot-on. Doncic is a great player in his own right, but often that’s not enough to win a series. Paul and the Suns understand that, and that’s a big reason why they have raced out to a quick 2-0 series lead. Whether or not Doncic can adjust his playstyle to how the Suns are guarding him will determine just how long this series goes on.