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Just a few months past his 19th birthday, Luka Doncic will enter the 2018 NBA draft with perhaps the greatest resume of all time for a prospect. The son of a former European professional basketball player, Doncic has regularly practiced and played against players much older than him since the age of eight. He signed his first professional contract at the age of 13, and since 2015, he has played with the European powerhouse Real Madrid in the Spanish ACB league and in EuroLeague – the two most competitive leagues in the world, outside of the NBA.
Doncic has been on the NBA’s radar for sometime, but roughly a year ago, the entire basketball world began to take notice. It started last spring, when he won the EuroLeague Rising Star award, and then in the summer of 2017, he and Goran Dragić (Miami Heat) led the Slovenian national team to the country’s first gold medal in the EuroBasket Championship. The Slovenians were undefeated (9–0) against teams such as Latvia, which featured Kristaps Porzingis, and Spain, which featured Marc and Pau Gasol. In the event, Doncic averaged 14.4 points, 3.6 assists, and 8.2 rebounds per game.
In the fall of 2017, Doncic resumed play in both the ACB and EuroLeague. Real Madrid was hampered by injuries for much the year, but thanks in part to Doncic’s strong play, the club qualified for the playoffs in both leagues. Doncic finished the EuroLeague season in an unprecedented fashion, repeating as the winner of the Rising Star award, winning the EuroLeague MVP award, leading Real Madrid to a championship, and being named the EuroLeague Final Four MVP. In the ACB, Doncic was also named league MVP, and he and his Real Madrid teammates are currently in the midst of a best-of-five series vs. Saski Baskonia for the league title.
His stats from this season in the ACB and EuroLeague were comparable. In EuroLeague, including the playoffs, he averaged 25.9 minutes, 16 points, 4.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game, while shooting 45.1% from the floor, 32.9% from the 3-point line, and 81.6% from the free-throw line. In both leagues, he ranked fifth or better in the overall metrics of PER, floor impact (FIC), and win shares. In the conclusion of this report, I will discuss the analytics of his statistics.
From a fan’s perspective, Doncic is a delight. He is energetic, competitive, expressive, and enthusiastic. He is also creative and unpredictable (in a good way), and he has a flair for showmanship. And he still has a boyish-like quality to him, which is endearing in its own way.
As a player, Doncic can be used anywhere between the 1-3 spots, and he could play at the four spot in a pinch. He does his best work on the offensive end, and he is especially effective in transition. His strongest attributes are his vision, instinct, craftiness, and basketball IQ. He is an excellent passer, and has a nifty handle, which he can use to create his own shot at all three levels. He is adept at using crossover combinations, inside-out dribbles, and Eurosteps, and he is able to pass the ball from various angles and distances with very good accuracy. He is definitely an aggressive offensive player, who takes chances, and though his turnover percentage of 14.9 is not ideal, his assist-turnover ratio of 2.1 makes his mistakes easier to live with.
Doncic loves to push the ball in transition, where his ability to make plays off the bounce and to pass on the move really shines. This season, his 1.38 points per possession in transition was among the best in Europe (87th percentile).
In the half court, Doncic is more of a shooter than a driver. He often shoots off the dribble, making liberal use of ball fakes, stepbacks, side steps, and jump stops. His go-to move is a stepback jumper off crossovers, which he can make from deep range. From beyond the arc, he is not yet a knockdown shooter, but his shot mechanics look solid. He also has one of the smoother free-throw shots that you’ll ever see.
Doncic is an opportunistic driver in the half court, and he uses drives to create as much for others as he does for himself. He is a crafty ball handler, constantly changing speed and direction, but he doesn’t have blow-by speed, and he can be a little shaky when going left at times. He is clearly better working off screens than he is in isolation. This past season, he excelled in pick-and-roll situations, averaging .96 points per possession (85th percentile for Europe), while in isolation, he produced just .77 points per possession (43rd percentile for Europe). He was also excellent in spot-up situations, either shooting or taking advantage of hard-charging defenders on closeouts. As a spot-up player, he produced 1.13 points per possession (81st percentile for Europe).
When Doncic does drive to the basket, he is just as likely to pull up in the paint or pass than he is to go all the way to the rim. He has good range on his runners and floaters, and he also uses hard jump stops to set up step-through layups or short-range fadeaways. He is not explosive at the rim, but his sturdy frame allows him to absorb a lot of contact and still finish. He can finish with either hand, switch hands in midair, and with a clear path, he can dunk.
Though he doesn’t do it frequently, Doncic also has the ability to score in the post. Depending on the matchup, he might back his man down, put the ball on the floor, or spin around and shoot a fadeaway. And like anywhere else on the floor, Doncic is a threat to make plays for others in the post.
The biggest concern with Doncic is that he lacks the athleticism and length to be an elite defender. There is no questioning his effort and awareness, however. As a team defender, he is usually where he is supposed to be on switches and rotations, and is quick to stop the ball when the defense breaks down. He’s an aggressive helper, and I’d say that’s when he gets burned most often. He often can be late to recover after helping, and he doesn’t have the length and vertical to bother a lot of shots. On the ball, he’s not the most aggressive defender, likely because he wants to avoid being beaten off the bounce. Underneath the basket, he typically holds his own, using a combination of good footwork and strength, but again, he doesn’t have the ability to block many shots (.4 per game this season). He is not afraid to mix it up around the basket, and he is a very good defensive rebounder (leads the ABC with 4.6 per game).
In my opinion, Doncic doesn’t have the biggest upside of all the prospects in this draft, but I do believe that he is the safest pick. His detractors are always quick to point out his lack of length and athleticism, which is understandable, but he might be able to improve in the latter area with better conditioning. He is currently not the most chiseled player, and 220 pounds might be a bit heavy for his frame. He certainly has the shooting ability, ball handling and passing skills, craftiness, and coordination to be a great offensive player, and his high basketball IQ and instincts are assets on both ends of the court. His understanding of the game is amazing for such a young player, and in some ways, he reminds me of Larry Bird.
The most compelling argument that one can make in Doncic’s favor is his unparalleled success that he has had in Europe, and to fully appreciate that success you must understand how the European game relates to the NBA and the NCAA. Euro stats do not really translate to NCAA stats for a number of reasons. The Euro 3-point line is further back, and lane is smaller (same size as NBA). High-level Euro play is typically much more physical than college, and the average Euro player is much more experienced and physically developed. Minutes for young players are typically limited in the high-level Euro leagues. In sum, the European game is much more similar to the NBA than the NCAA, and college players are almost guaranteed to see a decline in statistical productivity (even per minute) when moving to Europe, especially in EuroLeague, the Spanish ACB, the Turkish BSL, and the French LNB. To a lesser degree, the same would apply to the Italian Lega A, the Russian VTB, the German BBL, the Greek HEBA-1, the Adriatic League (ABA), the Lithuanian LKL, and the Israeli BSL.
By playing in EuroLeague and the Spanish ACB, Doncic has played against the stiffest competition possible, outside of the NBA, and his level of productivity far exceeds the vast majority of the players who have taken a similar path. The table below is a comparison of Doncic to international prospects who were drafted over the last ten years and either were a top-10 selection or are currently relatively productive players. The data used was the players’ stats from the year that they were drafted, with the one exception being Serge Ibaka, who was drafted out of high school but played one year (2009) in Spain before coming to the NBA. Three players had to be excluded: Dante Exum and Thon Maker, who jumped straight from high school to the NBA, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who played in the Greek minor leagues.
To make a quick comparison, I gave each player a “score,” which equaled how much each player exceeded the average for eight categories: effective field-goal percentage, rebounds per game, assist-turnover ratio, steals plus blocks per game, points per game, player efficiency rating, floor impact per game, and win shares. By definition, the average score would be eight, and Doncic far exceeded that in both the ACB and EuroLeague. The only players to score better than him were Dario Saric and Danilo Gallinari, both of whom produced their numbers in inferior leagues. In EuroLeague alone, no one can come close to matching Doncic’s numbers.
After watching him play a number of times and analyzing his statistics, I conclude that Doncic is a very safe bet to be a very good NBA player, and I would not be surprised if he was a perennial All-Star.
|Danilo Gallinari||6||2008||Italian Lega A||12.7||37||34.5||55.6%||5.9||0.73||2.4||17.7||21.6||12.3||7.5|
|Dario Saric||12||2014||Adriatic League||12.3||28||32.9||54.9%||9.7||0.94||1.9||16.7||22.7||13.8||4.4|
|Luka Doncic||2018||Spanish ACB||11.7||33||24.2||53.8%||5.6||2.22||1.6||12.5||22.5||12.2||4.6|
|Nicolas Batum||25||2008||French LNB-A||10.9||35||28.7||57.8%||4.8||1.51||2.1||11.9||19.9||10.9||4.6|
|Clint Capela||25||2014||French LNB-A||10.4||33||22.0||63.2%||6.9||0.82||2.3||9.4||23.8||10.4||3.6|
|Emmanuel Mudiay||7||2015||Chinese CBA||10.2||12||31.5||51.3%||6.3||1.82||1.7||18.0||17.9||13.8||0.8|
|Jusuf Nurkic||16||2014||Adriatic League||10.0||28||16.6||54.3%||5.7||0.43||1.9||11.7||34.6||8.6||3.9|
|Nikola Jokic||41||2014||Adriatic League||9.6||26||25.0||55.3%||6.4||1.32||1.7||11.4||21.2||9.8||2.4|
|Ricky Rubio||5||2009||Spanish ACB||9.4||25||22.6||47.4%||2.7||1.90||2.5||9.8||20.9||9.4||2.3|
|Rudy Gobert||27||2013||French LNB-A||9.0||27||22.7||71.9%||5.4||0.27||2.5||8.4||21.0||8.8||3.0|
|Nikola Mirotic||23||2011||Spanish ACB||8.9||42||19.5||55.9%||4.3||0.86||1.2||8.9||23.0||7.0||4.7|
|Evan Fournier||20||2012||French LNB-A||7.7||30||26.0||48.0%||3.2||1.01||1.6||14.0||17.6||6.7||1.7|
|Kristaps Porzingis||4||2015||Spanish ACB||7.6||34||21.7||51.4%||4.8||0.33||1.9||10.7||19.2||6.9||2.1|
|Dragan Bender||4||2016||Israeli BSL||6.9||28||14.5||57.0%||3.0||1.23||1.5||5.5||16.8||4.8||2.0|
|Dennis Schroder||17||2013||German BBL||6.9||32||25.3||49.0%||2.5||1.26||0.9||12.0||16.8||6.3||1.3|
|Bismack Biyombo||7||2011||Spanish ACB||6.9||14||17.1||55.3%||5.1||0.17||2.7||6.4||18.7||6.6||0.6|
|Frank Ntilikina||8||2017||French LNB-A||6.5||45||19.3||51.9%||2.3||1.70||0.9||5.4||11.9||3.8||2.2|
|Brandon Jennings||10||2009||Italian Lega A||6.1||27||17.0||41.6%||1.6||1.53||2.2||5.5||12.9||4.0||0.7|
|Serge Ibaka *||24||2008||Spanish ACB||5.8||31||16.1||55.2%||4.5||0.20||0.6||7.1||18.2||5.3||1.6|
|Mario Hezonja||5||2015||Spanish ACB||5.2||41||14.2||57.6%||2.0||1.06||0.8||4.7||12.1||3.2||1.2|
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports and RealGM, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com and Sports Reference.