June 8, 2018, 4:48 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a deeper look into European phenom Luka Doncic. This is the third part of a series of installments where I break down the top international prospects in this year’s draft with in-depth scouting reports and early statistical projections.
(Real Madrid, Liga ACB, Spain), 6’8” 220 lbs SG/SF
A lot has been written and said this past year about European sensation Luka Doncic and his future in the NBA but for me it simply comes down to one thing. Doncic is a cerebral player with an exceptional feel for the game that every coach wants to have on the court in order to win games. At 6’8” he is built for the NBA, while a playmaking wing with the ability to initiate the offense, shoot behind the arc and execute with a high level of decision-making is not someone that many NBA teams have on their rosters. Just look at some of the plays he regularly makes to get an idea about how he dominates games with his pure talent.
A Winner at All Levels
It’s never easy to predict how a player’s style will carry over to the NBA but scouts and GMs are able to identify some of the basic traits that produce successful draft picks. With Luka, it seems that basketball is in his DNA. Doncic has been groomed to play basketball since he was born, as his father Sasa was a very good basketball player in his own right and spent the better part of the last decade as a high-level coach in the Slovenian League. Luka signed his first contract with Real Madrid at the age of 13 and eventually became the youngest player to debut in Liga ACB in 2015 at the age of 16. That same year he got playoff minutes in what is being considered the second best league in Europe after the EuroLeague.
A tremendous run the last few months where he was the EuroLeague’s Regular Season MVP (youngest ever), the EuroLeague’s Final Four MVP (also youngest ever), the ACB’s Regular Season MVP and the ACB’s Best Young Player, all while leading his team to the Euroleague title, has solidified him clearly as one of the best European draft prospects of all time. And what is really special about him is that no player has ever had the level of success at the European level at his age before. European leagues are filled with veterans and former NBA draft picks while young players, while extremely talented, often struggle to earn minutes on top-level clubs (Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert didn’t even play in the EuroLeague, the top tier league in Europe).
Doncic was not supposed to carry a heavy burden this season for a loaded Real Madrid squad that featured former NBAers Anthony Randolph, Rudy Fernandez, Trey Thompkins, Gustavo Ayon, Eddy Tavares and Chasson Randle, but injuries decimated the team as former Warrior Ognjen Kuzmic and last season’s EuroLeague MVP, Sergio Llull, were out for the year. Doncic took the reins and led the club in points (12.8) and assists (5.0) in just under 25 minutes per contest, leading his teammates to a rollercoaster type of season. Real Madrid reached the Spanish league finals yesterday and they are waiting to find their opponent (it’s either Baskonia or Barcelona). Having the home court advantage, I find it very unlikely that they don’t win the league unless fatigue or more injuries settle in so Doncic should be completing a tremendous winning season soon.
His points per game in EuroLeague competition might seem pedestrian but no other teenager has ever averaged 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists as the lead ballhandler on a contending EuroLeague team. The closest age-comparable player from European history is legendary guard Drazen Petrovic, who starred at the age of 18, almost 30 years ago.
(Graphic from Austin Green of CBS Sports)
Let’s also remember the amazing run Doncic had with his Slovenian national team last summer in the 2017 EuroBasket where he dominated against a few established NBA pros like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Evan Fournier, Kristaps Porzingis and the Gasol brothers in leading his team to their first ever gold metal against traditional powerhouses like Spain, Serbia, France and Greece. Suns’ New Suns coach Igor Kokoskov paired him with Goran Dragic, playing mostly small ball, with the two stars scoring a lot of points in transition and spreading the floor while former NBAer Anthony Randolph was the rim protector. They destroyed a Spanish squad that featured Ricky Rubio, both Gasol brothers, both Hernangomez brothers, Alex Abrines and former NBAers Sergio Rodriguez and Juan Carlos Navarro in the semifinals and while Dragic was the tournament’s MVP, Doncic made the All-Eurobasket team.
Why Is He Falling In The Draft?
The consensus mock drafts from ESPN, SB Nation, B/R and SI currently show that Doncic could slide out of the top-three and while Luka is really good at basketball he still has visible weaknesses to his game and plenty of room to develop.
Doncic has a tendency to over-dribble and often struggles to create separation, forcing contested step-back jumpers, while his strength, conditioning and athleticism are average at this point – something that will be an be an issue in the NBA where he will have to compete against the best athletes on the planet. I’m not sold on whether he can play the point guard position as he will face more overall quickness and speed than he is used to and I believe it will be ideal if he’s paired with a quick point guard like the Kings’ De’Aaron Fox so he can work off the ball as a secondary creator. Lateral quickness and explosiveness is also not there but the truth is that Luka has looked pretty exhausted at times, which is understandable considering how much basketball he has played the last two years while teams scouted him heavily and prepared for him diligently. Let’s not forget that he has just turned 19 years old while playing 75 games so far this season (since early September) in the EuroBasket, the EuroLeague and the Spanish league ACB.
Questions about his toughness and ability to compete against the elite NBA talent are still out there and quite honestly I’m really surprised since the kid has proven himself at every level he has played so far. I do expect him to get knocked around a bit early and how he reacts will be a key to his development but he is pretty resilient and doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
Why Teams Will Regret Passing On Him
In today’s day and age, everyone has enough access to information and video about NBA Draft prospects and Doncic’s strengths and weaknesses have been exposed so he really isn’t a mystery man. Sure, there is always the question about the transition to the NBA level and no one can really tell for sure what kind of a franchise player teams need in order to win, but the draft is a gamble and a lot of the success for a prospect depends on landing in the right situation.
This year’s class is full of capable big men but since 2000 there have only been two bigs that had more than 30% usage in the NBA Finals, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan, both winning multiple Finals MVP trophies. If I were a GM selecting at the top of the draft I would pick DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley or Jaren Jackson only if I believed that they have the potential to get into the discussion with the above mentioned Hall-of-Famers. Otherwise, I would simply bet on the 6’8”, 220 pound basketball genius with great vision, pure basketball instincts, great footwork and a ton of skills that have been evident in more than 200 games where Doncic proved to be clutch and rose to the occasion each time his team needed a big play.
People have plenty of questions about his defensive abilities but in a league where switching is becoming more and more of a necessity he has the frame to take the beating and compete against the bigger and faster bodies in the NBA. It’s a fast-paced, spread pick-and-roll league, and guys who can create for themselves and others thrive. Doncic will be fun to pair with big men and shooters who will enjoy playing with him and the open looks he creates.
Another Update on Minicamps
The NBA Global Camp successfully took place in Treviso, Italy last week and garnered nearly 1.4 million(!) views on Facebook TV in three days. Top Draft-eligible prospects from outside the US attended the event in front of representatives from all 30 NBA teams. Potential first rounder Dzanan Musa and draft-and-stash candidate Isaac Bonga didn’t participate in 5-on-5 games but were just there for interviews and measurements. Musa had some back issues recently but he was cleared by NBA doctors during the camp.
A few of the most prominent agencies like CAA, Catalyst Sports + Media, Octagon, Roc Nation, Raymond Brothers, Impact Basketball, Independent Sports and Entertainment also had their own events mostly in the Los Angeles area last week.
Here are some of the international guys that helped their draft stock with solid performances in these minicamps:
(Orlandina Basket, Serie A, Italy) 6’9” 220 lbs SF
Considered a potential first round pick until early 2017, Kulboka had an up and down 2017-18 campaign in Italy but was still named the Best Young Player of the Basketball Champions League (the second best tournament in Europe after the EuroLeague).
The Lithuanian prospect had a great weekend in Treviso and although he is extremely talented and can shoot the ball from anywhere in the floor (possessing a high release), he still remains very thin and just completed his first season playing at a high level. His combination of size and scoring ability is something that teams are always looking for but he is not very athletic, lacks speed and is inconsistent while his passing and defense are somewhat still underdeveloped.
(Barcelona, Liga ACB, Spain) 6’10” 190 lbs SF/PF
Kurucs is a 6’10” combo forward who was projected to go in the first round but saw his draft stock drop significantly due to injuries and a lack of playing time with EuroLeague powerhouse Barcelona this year (remember how I mentioned how difficult it is for young prospects to get playing time in Europe?). He had a nice showing in front of scouts at the CatalystSM Pro Day, reminding a lot of people of the skillset that makes him an extremely intriguing option. His combination of size, polished scoring instincts and versatility is attractive in today’s NBA and many scouts still consider him to be the third-best international prospect in this year’s draft class.
Strong showing from Rodions Kurucs at the @CatalystSM Pro Day. Had some big dunks. Shot it well. Looks the part and then some. Definitely helped himself after a tough year in Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/bpsf4WygT3
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 30, 2018
(Mississauga Prep, Canada) 6’9” 202 lbs PF
Thon Maker’s little brother declared for the draft after a post-graduate year at Mississauga Prep in Canada and he led his team in Treviso in scoring (18.0) and FG percent (61.5) while playing 23.5 minutes in a couple of games. The South Sudanese-born player is simply a project who offers great versatility on the defensive end and he can shoot the ball but I expect him to go undrafted.
(Olimpija Ljubljana, Slovenia) 6’3” 190 lbs PG/SG
An athletic combo guard who broke out at the U-18 Eurobasket in Slovakia last year, he turned out to be one of the NBA Global Camp’s main attractions, finishing second in scoring with 19 points in two games. Sanon is a fearless attacking guard without much discipline in his game who is often criticized for his selfish play and the lack of passing, but he can flat-out score. Unsurprisingly, he led the camp in turnovers while his defensive effort was up and down since he can make a difference when locked in. He is one of the youngest prospects in the draft (currently 18.6 years old) and he looks like a great draft-and-stash option, while there are some rumors about already having a promise from a team in the second round.
(BCM Gravelines-Dunkerque, LNB Pro A, France) 6’3” 213 lbs PG/SG
Mokoka was named the LNB’s Pro-A Best Young Player this year while he was also a member of gold-winning French junior teams at the 2014 U-16 and 2016 U-18 European Championships. He may have played himself into the second round with his impressive frame, athleticism and poise, elements that make him a tremendous defensive force. He is still raw and far from a reliable shooter and it’s likely he withdraws from this year’s event as he will be eligible to be drafted for another two years.
Thank you for reading this article and please make sure you check us back again next week and throughout the offseason as more player breakdowns are coming up. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com, RealGm.com and CBS and are accurate as of June 8th.