Nikola Jokic provides blueprint on how better fitness could help Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic has enjoyed virtually unprecedented success during his young NBA career. He’s made three All NBAs first teams in four seasons (Dirk Nowitzki made four All NBAs first teams in his 21-year career for reference) But Doncic has yet to make fitness a priority.

He entered each of the last two seasons noticeably out of shape, which led to slow starts, especially with his filming. Despite those early season struggles, Doncic still has career averages of 26.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He is the only player in basketball history to average at least 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game throughout his career by stathead.

These numbers are incredible, but they could improve. Nikola Jokic was dogged by similar complaints about his fitness early in his career. He averaged 17.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game over the first five seasons of his career. These numbers include the last eight games of the 2020 regular season which took place after Jokic began his physical transformation. Doncic seems to have followed in Jokic’s footsteps towards better fitness.

In the two seasons since Jokic made fitness a priority, his game and numbers have skyrocketed. Jokic averaged 26.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game. These represent increases of 57% in scoring, 28% in rebounds, 47% in assists and 27% in steals. Applying those same increases to Doncic’s numbers would yield averages of 41.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 11.8 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.

Jokic’s raw numbers aren’t the only thing that has improved. In the first five seasons of his career, he shot 52.4% from the floor, 33.8% from three and 82.6% from the free throw line. Those numbers improved to 57.5 percent from the floor, 36.0 percent from three, and 83.6 percent from the free throw line. These upgrades increased Jokic’s true shooting percentage from 60.4% to 65.4%.

Doncic’s percentages reflected his incredibly high scoring burden. Despite his talent, he only managed 45.7% from the floor, 33.7% from three and 73.7% from the free throw line. The same increases Jokic saw would improve Doncic’s percentages to 50.3 percent from the floor, 35.9 percent from three and 74.6 percent from the free throw line.

In addition to counting stats, Jokic’s game has become even more fun to watch. Without the glass ceiling of poor conditioning, Jokic has completed 76 dunks over the past two seasons after completing just 68 in his first five seasons combined. Doncic’s dunks are incredibly fun but unfortunately they’ve become increasingly rare, dropping to just seven this season.

More dunks from Doncic equals more fun for Dallas Mavericks fans. More importantly than enjoying the extra dunks, Jokic used his improved fitness to be more aggressive. This aggression caused him to nearly double his free throw attempts per game, going from 3.6 free throw attempts per game to 5.9 free throw attempts per game. Doncic fell to 7.5 free throw attempts per game from a career-high 9.2 in his second season.

Many (myself the leader of them) have complained that Doncic receives an extremely disadvantageous whistle, but more aggressive players receive more calls. Players in better shape are able to be more aggressive and therefore generate more free throw attempts.

Does all of this mean Doncic is likely to average 41.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 11.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 50.3% from the floor, 35.9% from three and 74.6% from the free throw line? No. Young Jokic has delayed more than young Doncic, but these numbers show Doncic is in line for a potential big jump statistically. Jokic’s statistical leaps have allowed him to win back-to-back MVPs. Doncic has entered each of the last two seasons as an MVP favorite. Doncic getting into fantastic shape means it’s very possible this will be the season he succeeds at those MVP ratings.

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