Luka Doncic 3-point shooting stats: How Mavericks star turned his step back one of NBA's best signature moves

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Luka Doncic
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Luka Doncic entered the NBA as one of the most accomplished draft prospects in league history.

Somehow, some way, the Wonder Boy keeps leveling up.

Now in his sixth season with the Mavericks, Doncic is averaging career highs almost across the board. He's up to a league-best 34.4 points per game while continuing to flirt with a triple-double on a nightly basis. His field goal percentage is about the same as it was last season and he's not getting to the free-throw line quite as much, but he's greatly improved as a 3-point shooter.

Doncic has always been a willing 3-point shooter. The difference this season is that he's taking, making and converting those opportunities at the best rate of his career — and it's not even close.

Not all 3-point shooters are created equal, of course. Stephen Curry is the best of a point guard and shooting guard mixed into one. Klay Thompson excels at losing his defender with off-ball screens. Damian Lillard's range is the stuff of legend. 

For Doncic, the step back has become his weapon of choice.

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Luka Doncic 3-point shooting stats

Doncic tormenting teams with step-back 3s is nothing new, but he's never come close to this volume. In 51 games, he's connected on 115 step-back 3s. That's already the most he's made in a single season, his previous career-high being 106.

While the volume has increased, Doncic's efficiency has remained the same. He's knocking down step-back 3s at a 39.1 percent clip, which is quite impressive considering the difficulty of those shots.

Luka Doncic step-back 3s (
Season Games 3PM 3PA 3P%
2018-19 72 60 166 36.1
2019-20 61 91 270 33.7
2020-21 66 92 258 35.7
2021-22 65 106 269 39.4
2022-23 66 104 283 36.7
2023-24 51 115 294 39.1

Doncic doesn't even have that quick of a release, especially when compared to the likes of Curry and Lillard. Being 6-7 certainly helps — Doncic has the size and length to shoot over pretty much any defender — but there are a few things he does that make his step back so difficult to defend.

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Why Luka Doncic's step back is unstoppable

First and foremost, Doncic can shoot from deep.

The NBA's 3-point line is 23 feet and nine inches away from the basket at the top of the key, and Doncic consistently shoots a couple of feet behind that line. More than half of his made triples have come from 26 feet and beyond this season. Only Curry has made more deep 3s.

For reference, this is the sort of distance we're talking about:

Luka Doncic range

It would be one thing if Doncic was only a 3-point shooter, but he just so happens to be one of the best drivers in the league.

He never dunks — seriously, Doncic has as many dunks this season as his teammate Kyrie Irving, who is 6-2 — and yet Doncic finishes at the rim like Giannis Antetokounmpo. He's also automatic from floater range and midrange. Put it all together, and there isn't really a spot Doncic struggles. to score from anymore.

If defenders press up on Doncic to take away his step back, he'll keep his dribble alive until something materializes. (Only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has scored more points off of drives this season.) If they back off of him even slightly, Doncic will use the threat of his driving game to set up his step back.

Joel Embiid might be the only player who uses the hang dribble as often as Doncic does. When defended on an island, Doncic likes to cross the ball over from one hand to the other and then cradle it so that it hangs in the air before rising for a jump shot. 

As is the case with Embiid, it's Doncic's footwork that makes it so effective.

Watch Doncic's right foot in the clip below and, more importantly, how Clippers big man Daniel Theis reacts.

That little jab before Doncic goes into his one-two step forces Theis to retreat ever-so-slightly. It might not look like much, but defending Doncic is a game of inches, not feet. (And yes, he made that shot over Theis.)

Doncic will sometimes pair that jab step with a hard dribble rather than a hang dribble.

This is Jaren Jackson Jr., the reigning Defensive Player of the Year:

Notice how hard Jackson bites on the jab? Mean stuff from Doncic.

Doncic will venture inside the 3-point line from time to time to set up his step back. He makes the most of the NBA's gather dribble rule to cover as much ground as possible.

Normally, players aren't allowed to take more than two steps without dribbling the basketball, but the gather dribble basically lets them take a third step as long as they're gathering the ball while dribbling. The first step is counted when one foot of both of their feet touches the ground after gaining control of the ball.

So this might look like a travel:

But it wasn't whistled for a violation because Doncic didn't technically have control of the ball until his left foot was planted behind the 3-point line.

The balance and control to pull off some of the stuff Doncic does truly is remarkable. He takes some massive strides, and yet it doesn't prevent him from getting his feet behind the 3-point line, squaring up to the basket and getting off a clean shot before his defender can recover.

This is against Luguentz Dort, who is widely considered to be one of the peskiest perimeter defenders in the NBA:

There's no defending that.

Doncic has a few other tricks up his sleeve. He'll lean his shoulder into his defender before stepping back to send them in the opposite direction. Sometimes, the hang dribble isn't necessary. He might not be known for his quickness, but he has a wicked crossover that has claimed a fair share of ankles over the years. He'll even break out combinations that will shred even the most versatile defenders.

For years, it was James Harden who owned the nastiest step back in the NBA. There were signs that this day was coming, but that title now belongs to Doncic.

Scott Rafferty Photo

Scott Rafferty is a Senior NBA Editor for The Sporting News