Meet the NBA Draft Prospects: Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic is, has been, and will be the best prospect out of this draft.

We’re back with more draft prospect information and this time it is on Luka Doncic, the King of Europe (yes I made that nickname up but as you’ll see in a bit it is more than fitting). Since day one Luka has been my favorite prospect and has only widened the gap between everyone else. So if he is my top player in this draft then why have I waited until now to enlighten you? I waited because I wanted to see not just what awards he would win, but how many.

Luka is a 6’8 227 playmaking guard who has been dominating the world’s second best league for a couple years. Oh yea, he is also just 19. While playing for Real Madrid he has won essentially every award possible highlighted by EuroLeague Champion, EuroLeague Final Four MVP, and EuroLeague MVP. He has a passing vision that isn’t just rare for his age but for any player. He has the ability to score from every level of the floor and navigates the pick-and-roll better than most NBA veterans.

He sounds like someone who has all the makings of the top pick right? While I agree, as well as many others, there are some rising concerns which make no sense to me. Some teams are worried that Doncic may not actually come over this year because he has yet to fully commit. Seems to me that there are a few obvious reasons for that; first, he is still playing important playoff games for Real Madrid and would like to focus and win those, second, he wants to try and force his way to the Suns to play for his national team coach, third, he wants nothing to do with Sacramento. Others worry about his lack of athleticism which is fair but we have seen plenty of guys of similar physical ability have very long successful careers. Then there is the concern about his diet. Well, there is a simple answer to that, he is 19 years old. So few people have perfect diets and once he is apart of a team’s strength and conditioning program this won’t be an issue. The fact that Doncic seems to be falling due to these concerns is absurd. He has all the tools to be a long time impact player and will make every team that passes on him regret it.

Strength: Pick and Roll Manipulation

One of the most common actions in the NBA is the pick-and-roll. Historically it has been used as an end of the shot clock tactic to quickly run something after the initial action didn’t produce anything. Now, it is used to throw lobs for a rim running big man, open driving lanes for the ball handler, create shooting space from outside, or just create a mismatch that turns into an isolation set. It has become not just preferred, but required for a team’s primary ball handler to have extreme comfort when running the pick and roll. Doncic is already one of the best in the world at this. He isn’t the most explosive athlete so there won’t be a ton of highlights of him blowing past defenders and finishing above the rim but there will be many instances where you rub your eyes and question if you’re actually watching James Harden. Doncic is a crafty ball handler that is very good at snaking his way to the rim; his 6’8 frame allows him to utilize mismatches by scoring over smaller defenders and being quick enough to create space against bigger defenders. When all else fails he has the ability and vision to whip a perfect cross-court pass to a teammate for a wide open three.

Below Doncic displays his amazing vision out of the pick and roll. The action begins with Doncic using a well-set screen to create some space from his original defender. The defense quickly recognizes that the action is designed for Doncic to run off of two picks. Doncic's original defender (number 17) fights through the screen and recovers and the original screener's defender is slow to the play and hedges out on Doncic near the elbow. This creates a logjam as his teammate (number 7) is there ready to set the second screen. Doncic does a simple hesitation move that gets all three defenders to commit to him which creates an open lane for the original screener to roll through and an opening at the top of the three for the second screener to pop out to. The defender at the bottom of the video has to slide over to prevent the easy layup and Doncic is able to use his vision to see over the top of everyone and deliver a perfect cross-court pass to his teammate for a wide open three.

He also does a great job of creating enough space off of screens to shoot from outside. While his outside shot needs to become a little more consistent, it is strong enough where opponents have to respect and contest hard on it. As you can see his patience rivals that of elite ball handlers in the NBA. He is happy to run his opponent through a screen two or three times in order to get the necessary separation or to get to the rim.

Weakness: Pure Athleticism

Typically top draft prospects pair their high skill set with elite athleticism, that is not the case with Doncic. Doncic’s athleticism doesn’t come from explosiveness like it does for Ayton or Jackson. He does a very good job of changing speeds and direction but rarely is able to finish above the rim. As a 6’8 primary ball-handling wing this is not an ideal scenario. This will limit Doncic’s ability to finish at the rim as his shots will be much easier to contest. This could also become a big hindrance on defense. Faster opponents will be able to blow by him on drives and finish over him at the rim. While a lot more goes into basketball than being just an athlete, it is a crucial aspect of those prospects we see make the jump.

Strength: Passing

Doncic is one of the best passers in this draft. His vision and anticipation reflect players who have years of experience on him. There are plenty of players who rack up assists purely by making an easy, unnecessary pass which essentially just pads their stats. Doncic racks up his assists by confusing defenders in the pick and roll and finding teammates that no one else would be able to get the ball to. The most enjoyable part of his passing isn’t his ability or vision but his eagerness and willingness to pass. As the best player in Europe, he obviously wanted the ball in his hands but it wasn’t just to score on his own. He gets the same joy from threading the needle as others do knocking down a three. His joy when setting up teammates helps him as a passer because it results in him making the right play.

In this below clip, we see a great example of Doncic's ability to create out of the pick and roll with his creative passing. Doncic is patient and waits for both defenders to commit to him. He then looks to the wing so the help defense retreats back to his original defensive position. Once he sees the defender freeze, he whips a one-handed pass to the wide-open man in the paint for an easy basket.

Weakness: Defense

Doncic will be able to guard multiple positions but this is purely due to his 6’8 228-pound frame and basketball IQ. When he is matched up against quicker opponents, don’t be surprised when he frequently gets blown by. His lack of lateral quickness and burst will be a huge deterrent when trying to keep up with the faster play of the NBA. While he generally does a good job off the ball, he needs to improve his pick and roll defense. Despite his ability to dominate this action on offense, he frequently seems lost on defense. His approach lacks confidence as he is often out of position and struggles to fight through screens. He also has the tendency to make the wrong read on whether he should be fighting through the screen, hedging, or just straight up switching. The silver lining is that some of this can be corrected by better coaching and being in an NBA system full time.

Strength: Killer Mentality

There is absolutely no lack of confidence in Doncic’s game. There isn’t a move, pass, or shot he thinks he can’t make. There isn’t a team or player he is afraid of. There isn’t an award he hasn’t won. At just 19 Doncic has dominated Europe for a few years and won everything that there is to win. He will gladly talk trash after crossing up an opponent or get on his teammate for making the wrong play. Rarely do we see players of his age conduct himself with the authority and leadership that Doncic displays. The best part about it is how naturally it comes to him too. None of it is an act and none of it is forced. All Doncic wants to do is win and he isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers to do so either. When a teammate messes up he will let them know about it but he will also find them for a wide open jumper the next time down the floor. He leads by example and wants to destroy every team he faces. Whoever is fortunate enough to draft Doncic will be getting a natural leader with years of dominance at Europe’s highest level at just 19 years old.

Outlook

Doncic has been my favorite prospect from day one and I haven’t wavered for a second. His feel for the game and IQ is well beyond his years. He isn’t the greatest athlete which can lead to defensive struggles but by no means does it come close to outweighing the positives. He is a very creative scorer at all three levels with a passing vision that illuminates every spot on the floor. He utilizes the pick-and-roll and change of pace to perfection to create scoring opportunities all over the floor. He will be an immediate leader and impact for his team. I’m not expecting him to become a prolific 30 points per game scorer but consistently put up stat lines around 20 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. His game reminds me a lot of James Harden or Manu Ginobili; neither are the most explosive athletes but are masters of change of pace and body contortion. Doncic will be an All-Star for years to come. The concerns about his athleticism, eating habits, and determination to come over are pure nonsense in my eyes. Get over the fact that he’s from Europe. If Doncic was coming out of UNC or Duke or Arizona this year he would be the consensus number one pick. Instead, he was busy dominating a grown man’s league and winning championships and MVPs. There is still plenty of room on this bandwagon because any team that passes on Doncic will make them regret it for a very long time.

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