Doncic can do it all.
Luka Doncic is the frontrunner for the No. 1-overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft because he’s the most proven teenager the basketball world has ever seen. Doncic turned 19 years old at the end of Feburary, a similar age to most draft hopefuls, but has already won a FIBA EuroBasket championship and played three seasons of professional ball for Real Madrid, arguably one of the world’s best teams outside the NBA. On Saturday, Doncic officially entered his name into the draft.
To North America, his face may be new, but in Europe Doncic has been the future of basketball for half a decade.
Goran Dragic, Doncic’s Slovenian national team squadmate, has called him “a born winner,” who will “be one of the best in the whole world.” He would know best, as the two co-starred in Slovenia’s first-ever EuroBasket championship. Dragic has known him since childhood after playing with Doncic’s father, Sasa.
So many international prospects before him have come with the unfulfilled promise of a filled out frame and untapped potential which is never reached, but Doncic is game-ready right now. He’s highly skilled with elite positional size and unprecedented production. His talent is already realized.
NBA GMs should draft him with confidence. While he may lack elite athleticism, he makes up for it with smarts, skill, and poise. He’s proven it so many times already.
Doncic is a teenage superstar showing up grown adults
As a just-turned 19-year-old, Doncic is averaging 15 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in 52 games in EuroLeague and Liga ACB, the two best leagues in Europe. He’s Real Madrid’s primary ball-handler already.
Doncic is sinking two-point shots at a 61.1 percent rate, and threes at 30.2 percent. He gets to the free-throw line five times per game and makes 80.1 percent of those.
Though his numbers are brilliant, they only tell part of the story. Doncic’s advanced stats are even more impressive, as he’s on his way to putting up one of the highest box score plus-minus marks in Euroleague history.
His level of competition shouldn’t be discounted, either. The baby-faced baller is out-dueling established professionals. On any given night, he may play against a former NBA player like Nick Calathes, Alexey Shved, Jason Thompson, or Jan Vesley. Those names may not have cut it in the NBA, but they were close, and Doncic has shared the floor with them since he was all of 16 years old. That’s the age of a typical high school sophomore.
He also averaged 14 points (24th-best), eight rebounds (fourth-best), and four assists in last summer’s EuroBasket championship winning campaign. That tournament included Jonas Valanciunas, Pau Gasol, Kristaps Porzingis, Dennis Schroder, Dario Saric, Nikola Vucevic, and more. He’s succeeded against all levels of competition.
So what makes Doncic special?
Doncic is a true floor general who dictates the pace of the game
The game feels slower and under control the second the ball lands in Doncic’s hands. He rarely forces anything, and he’s careful — he only turns it over twice per game.
Doncic navigates off screens and finds who’s open. He’s brilliant at reading the defense, seeing plays before they happen. One of his real strengths in halfcourt sets is that he’s comfortable setting up three-point shooters with one-handed passes over the top of defenders. All the shooter has to do is leak out to a corner.
This is an NBA skill, and these precision passes will make Doncic a desirable teammate.
A 6’8 true point guard, huh? Is he like Ben Simmons?
Doncic is an oversized point guard with a small forward’s body, just like Simmons (6’10). But Doncic offers more skill, if far less athleticism.
He has the shooting range Sixers fans long for Simmons to one day find. Doncic is just as much a perimeter threat as he is off the drive, which makes him so hard to defend.
He’s made at least one three in 43 of 52 games this season. He averages five attempts, and is making 30 percent of them. His release is a bit on the slow side, and he isn’t sharpshooting off the dribble like Stephen Curry, but his mechanics are there.
His 80 percent free-throw shooting indicates he’s a better shooter than what his three-point percentage shows, too.
Can he see through the open court?
Doncic has Lonzo Ball-like instincts where his eyes immediately elevate and scout downcourt off every rebound. He’s always looking for easy buckets, and can push the pace when he needs to.
What if nobody’s open on the break?
Doncic isn’t going to be the quickest guard of the NBA draft bunch, but he’s an excellent ball-handler. His dribbles moves aren’t vicious like Kyrie Irving’s, they’re more polite and strategic like Manu Ginobili’s. There’s no wasted energy in what he does.
He weaves around players rather than blowing by explosively, and when he sees space, he isn’t afraid to throw a flashy behind-the-back pass.
Doncic looks thin. Can he finish through contact?
Doncic will add muscle as every rookie does, but he’s sturdier than he looks at 230 pounds. (That’s around the same weight as Porzingis when he entered the league, despite standing seven inches taller.)
He isn’t an automatic finisher, but Doncic has incredible hang time on his strides toward the rim that allow him to adjust mid-air after contact.
He’s really tough to stop down the lane.
If Doncic is the size of a forward, can he play big?
Doncic is asked to play a guard’s role on offense for Real Madrid, and typically guards smaller players at the same position. He isn’t a bruiser down low like Draymond Green, and most of his buckets rely on finesse.
He’s a hound on the boards still, always knowing where to be, and he’s solid boxing out under the hoop. He’s averaging 5.2 rebounds per game, and has reached double digits three times this season.
There’s reason to think he could devote a small portion of his game to scoring on smaller guards, too. He has a feel for when to back down in the post and use his size advantage.
It’s just not naturally what he does.
Why should we believe in Doncic when so many European players have busted?
Few have had more time to play against professionals like Doncic, who debuted for Real Madrid, probably the best non-NBA club in the world, at 16 years old. He’s the 11th-youngest basketball player to play in EuroLeague since 2000-01.
From then, he’s been dominating like no other.
Last year, at 17 years old, he was awarded the EuroLeague Rising Star Award, which is reserved for the best up-and-comers 22 or younger. Previous winners include Ricky Rubio, Nikola Mirotic, and Danilo Gallinari, whose seasons pale in comparison to how Doncic is currently playing.
Here’s what their numbers were compared to when Doncic won the award last season, with the final line showing the numbers he’s producing this year:
There’s a lot to love about Doncic. He’s a multi-dimensional hybrid guard/forward who can lead a team in points, rebounds or assists in any given night.
He’s been successful against top-tier talent for so long and that means something. His resume is so much more impressive than any short-term success in the NCAA.
While Marvin Bagley and DeAndre Ayton have their defensive flaws, and Mo Bamba has his scoring deficiencies, Doncic comes with a well-rounded game and proven production. NBA fans may not know him yet, but the scouts and GMs searching the globe for the next big thing have had an eye on him for years.
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