By Morten Jensen
At this point, we all know about Luka Doncic and his inevitable selection in next year’s draft. The 18-year old swingman from Real Madrid, via Slovenia, is one of the most skilled and anticipated youngsters to ever come out of Europe and at EuroBasket, he’s proving why.
Slovenia is undefeated heading into its game with Latvia, with Doncic providing solid contributions in support of current team star Goran Dragic, who leading the team with 21.2 points and 5.0 assists per game.
This may not be the summer of Doncic, but when Dragic finally cooled a little against Greece, Luka provided a glimpse of what has him in the running for a top five pick in next summer’s draft. For most of the tournament, Doncic has worked in a complementary role with some quality passes, but against Greece, Luka added, “give me the ball and get the hell out of my way,” to his resume.
Doncic was outstanding, scoring 22 points while pulling down five boards and dishing three assists (hardly a fair representation of the quality of his passes) in leading Slovenia to their third straight win. He shook off a poor outing against Lauri Markkanen’s Finland and re-discovered his shooting stroke, draining three tripes on seven tries, including a smooth one-dribble pull-up from NBA range.
At just 18 years old, Doncic’s stroke looks consistent for his age, suggesting he’ll further improve his accuracy in later years. In six games, Doncic hasn’t shied away from the three-ball, launching 6.3 nightly, making 34.2 percent; a percentage was drastically affected by his 0-for-5 effort against Finland, however. He’s making them off the bounce, coming off screens, or simply spotting up from a stand-still position.
Here, Doncic shows the full array of his skills:
He aggressively dribbles the ball up court, makes a nifty right-to-left crossover to get into the lane, drops off a pass to an open Sasa Zagorac, who hesitates and attempts to re-start the play.
Instead, Doncic reads the play as soon as Zagorac drops the ball off and pops to the top for the open three, which he makes. Watch the play again, but keep focus on Doncic this time. The ball has barely left Zagorac’s hands, before Doncic recognizes his advantage and calculates he’ll have more space the further away from his defender he moves. He processes this in less than a second before he’s in full movement and the end result is an open three with his defender playing catch-up.
At 18, you don’t make that move. It’s not even an instinctive move for most seasoned veterans. It further shows the ridiculous upside Doncic is in possession of. He’s going to be able to outsmart most of his competition, NBA included, which he’ll need to do given his lack of elite athleticism. Because the counterweight to Doncic’s strengths, is his defense where he’ll ultimately struggle.
At 6-foot-8 and roughly 215 pounds, Doncic has great size and instincts, but he does not project as a plus defender due to slow feet and, frankly, a lacking desire to assert himself on that end of the floor. Throughout the tournament, he’s been caught cheating off his man to chase rebounds, but to Slovenia’s luck, this has not been exploited as much as it would be in the NBA.
Additionally, while Doncic has virtually unlimited potential as a playmaking wing, he goes through periods where he channels his inner Carmelo Anthony. The ball sticks, he gets caught up in trying to create something and the defense is allowed to get set while the clock winds down. Sometimes it leads to something good:
And sometimes it leads to forced shots, or even turnovers.
Here, he’s in trouble dancing with the ball with the clock winding down. Had it not been for an unwise double-team, Doncic would surely have launched a heavily contested three-ball. It would suit him well coming to a team that relies heavily on ball-movement, so his potential can be maxed out.
One can forgive his desire to produce when factoring in his age, however. His role for Slovenia, while not as big in the first two games, is to have the ball in his hands and run the offense. When he catches rhythm on his dribble, or he’s made a couple of hoops, it’s only natural to want to explore how much farther he can go. Against Greece, the result was 14 first-half points coming on a variety of different ways to score, including some much-encouraging floaters.
Also noteworthy is his toughness. Here, Doncic takes offense to Kings center, Georgios Pappagiannis, coming down hard with an arm and hitting his head. Without hesitation, he pushes him in the chest, despite being about six inches and 25 pounds shorter and lighter. The confidence it takes to do that, especially at Doncic’s age, bodes well for his NBA future where players will undoubtedly test him from the moment he steps onto the court.
EuroBasket provides an unique opportunity for Doncic to test himself against NBA players and gives teams insight to how he adapts to playing alongside a starting NBA point guard. Dragic represents a fair chunk of NBA point guards. He shoots a lot, handles the ball a fair bit and is the de facto communicator on the floor.
So with Doncic, who shares similar strengths, being pushed slightly to the side, it’s essential he adapts well to such a change. The more reps he gets with Dragic, the more Doncic is going to understand what type of sacrifice he’s looking at when he’s coming over next summer.
With the way Slovenia is playing right now, there should be plenty of reps yet to come.