Pulling Off Historic Victor Wembanyama Upset on Opening Day, Can Luka Doncic Lead the MVP Race and Carry Mavs to the Playoffs?

Published 10/26/2023, 9:34 AM EDT

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Opening Day has come and gone, and with it, we got one of the most anticipated debuts in League history. Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs hosted Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in a closely contested game where the visitors walked away 126-119 victors. The French phenom had a mixed debut, with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists in 23 minutes of game time, which was restricted due to foul trouble.

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The star of the show, however, was the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, who notched a historic stat line of 33 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. This feat made him only the third player in NBA history to register a 30-point triple-double on opening day. But can he carry this form into the season? Can he mount an MVP charge? And most importantly, can he carry the Mavs to playoff glory?

Luka Magic enchanted the Mavericks

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The Mavericks had a disappointing end to last season, where they missed the playoffs despite the acquisition of Kyrie Irving. With an extended off-season and important pickups in both the draft (Derrick Lively) and the trade window (Grant Williams from the Celtics), they seemed determined to replicate their 2011 success. At the head of their attack, as has been for the last 5 years, would be the Slovenian Luka Doncic, entering his 6 season in the League.

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After being drafted #3 overall in 2018, Luka Doncic had a lot of expectations placed on his young shoulders. Already an established star for Real Madrid in the Euro League, Doncic had made his debut for the Spanish Giants at 16. Coming into the NBA, The Mavs traded up with the Atlanta Hawks to pair Luka up with an aging Dirk Nowitzki, banking on the experience the veteran German could impart to him. That experience certainly paid off, with Luka being selected as an All-Star in his first season/second season. With a series of consistent years, Luka has already established himself as a top-10 player in the League. While the Mavs haven’t had a lot of playoff success, they did make the Western Conference Finals in 2022, where Luka spearheaded their attack in a 33-point demolition of the then-first seed Phoenix Suns in Game 7 of the WCSF. They would end up losing to eventual Champions Golden State Warriors.

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Fans complain that the team never properly built around Luka, with his last All-Star teammate being Dirk in his final season (many don’t count this an All-Star season because they viewed it as a sympathy selection). When the front office finally paired him with Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline, questions were raised about how the two would fit together. Both ball-dominant guards, Kyrie’s fast-paced game with his quick handles, was the polar opposite of Luka’s slower, body-dominant game. They quashed those doubts as the duo combined for 40 points each in just Irving’s tenth game on the Mavs. Since then, however, they have failed to maximize their potential, with a collapse toward the business end of last season ensuring the Mavs missed the playoffs. With high hopes for their ’24-’25 season, all eyes were on them as they traveled to the San Antonio Spurs.

Clutch Luka prevails despite late Wemby fireworks

The acquisition of Victor Wembanyama made the Spurs must-watch TV, with the Frenchman’s pre-season performances looking like they would cause Doncic and Co. problems. His debut, however, was far from expected with the 7’4 forward restricted to 23 minutes due to foul trouble (he picked up 5 personals in almost 17 minutes of play). It looked like his 4 quarter heroics would spoil the mood, as he dropped 9 quick-fire points, shooting almost perfectly from the field. With less than two and a half minutes remaining, Luka made two. clutch threes, putting the game firmly out of the home team’s grasp, afterward gesturing the home fans to “calma calma”.

Luka MVP charge?

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It is a common consensus that Luka Doncic is an MVP-caliber player. With his slow yet almost unstoppable game, he continues to mystify teams, while casually racking up triple-doubles. But what does he need to do for him to be in MVP contention?

For starters, he’d need to lead the Mavs to a top 2 finish in an already stacked Western Conference against the likes of LeBron’s Lakers, Jokic’s Nuggets, Curry’s Warriors, and Durant’s Suns. He’d also need to lead the League in any one category (points per game/ assists per game/ rebounds per game). A 6’9 Point Guard with a very good three-point shot and supreme rim offense, it isn’t something that’s out of the question for him. Most importantly though, he’d have to be significantly threatening that opposition teams stand up and take notice. In a League where the last three MVPs all had defining features of their game (Embiid with his fearsome inside presence, Jokic with his pinpoint passing, and Giannis with his unstoppable rim rushes), Luka would need to hone one aspect of his game till its unstoppable. He’d need to improve his defense, which has so far been viewed as one of his biggest liabilities.

The potential is there. Luka has the skill set and play style to be the face of the NBA for ages to come, and he brings with him vast experience almost unheard of at his age (add age).

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With the Mavericks walking away Victors and ruining Wembanyama’s big night, they’ve put the League on notice. Can he capitalize on this momentum to finally lift MVP? Can the Mavs sustain their bright start to bring home another Championship? All will be revealed as the season progresses, but for Luka Doncic, he will hope that this is finally his year.

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Written by:

Sameen Nawathe

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Sameen is an NBA Editor at EssentiallySports. He has been following the sport for years, while also having an extreme love for playing basketball. A firm believer that LeBron James is the greatest player to ever grace the hardwood, Sameen is a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers.
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Edited by:

Sameen Nawathe

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