While the top picks in this year’s draft may be college products, a lottery team may look to Slovenia for the NBA’s next unicorn
Unlike many recent drafts where the NBA’s top five picks seem all but set in stone, the 2018 NBA Draft is far from determined. These prospects seem to be characterized by their ‘boom or bust’ potential, so lottery teams’ draft boards have very few sure-things to choose from.
One of the more intriguing prospects projected near the top of the class is Luka Doncic, the MVP combo guard from Slovenia. Though he had been recently sagging in mock drafts on fears that he might stay overseas next season, Doncic is hoping to parlay European success into an NBA role, following in the footsteps of stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and Kristaps Porzingis.
14 PTS, 7 REBS & 7 AST in 27 MIN for Luka Doncic vs Gran Canaria in the ACB playoffs. The Slovenian sensation has now played 74 games — Euroasket + EuroLeague + ACB — since August 31 (not including exhibitions). pic.twitter.com/PlKO6Nc4q3— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) June 5, 2018
Though casual basketball fans might be less familiar with Doncic compared to DeAndre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III, Doncic has the tools to be an effective player in the league for years to come. At just 19-years old, Doncic already has an impressive resume in his three seasons with Real Madrid. En route to a EuroLeague championship, he was also named EuroLeague Final Four MVP, league MVP (the youngest ever named), and EuroLeague First Team as a rising star for Real Madrid.
In his breakout 2017-18 season, Doncic averaged 16.0 points on 45% shooting from the field, to go along with 4.8 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. While these numbers won’t blow away most observers, Doncic has a unique skillset that should play well in the increasingly “positionless” NBA.
One of the primary reasons scouts have become enamored with the Slovenian guard is his build for his position. Though he has the skillset of a guard, Doncic stands at 6’8”, 228 pounds. For comparison, Magic Johnson was an inch taller and a few pounds heavier during his career, but since Doncic is a young player, he is still growing. Like many European prospects, Doncic’s prospective team will gamble on his upside, as he projects as a work-in-progress over the next couple of seasons. Though he does have tremendous upside due to his size, there are still some questions about how he will transition his EuroLeague experience to the modern NBA.
One of the biggest questions is if Doncic could project as a primary ball handler on an NBA squad, though he has great vision for a bigger guard. Unless he attempts to tighten up his handle after his first NBA offseason (a la the Knicks’ French pick Frank Ntilikina), Doncic will most likely play his minutes as a point-forward for his NBA team, in the mold of Draymond Green. He has the raw talent at the guard position, but he may end up seeing minutes at the wing at times during his rookie campaign if he plays with more capable ball handlers. In glimpses we’ve seen, Doncic appears that he has the length to grow into a capable defender, though his deficiency of athleticism could be a problem area for potential suitors.
What makes Luka Doncic so special? His vision and basketball instincts at 6-8, 230 lbs. Not very many players out there who hit that weakside corner as well as Doncic out of PnR. Full Scouting Video: https://t.co/Q4NFjneCqE pic.twitter.com/9OFnLIFWmg— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) June 12, 2018
Another area of potential concern with Doncic’s game is his less than stellar shooting percentage from behind the arc. While he fits the bill when it comes to defending multiple positions, he is not considered a ‘knock down’ shooter, which has obviously become an emphasis in today’s game. He only knocked down a hair over 31% of his attempts from behind the arc last season, below the league average of 36.2%. Many rookies out of college face a learning curve as a result of the farther NBA three-point distance, and Doncic will most likely have to work on his long-distance shooting if he hopes to be a true threat from deep moving forward.
Though he was touted as a potential number one pick, Doncic could realistically fall anywhere between the second and fourth picks, most likely. Most mock drafts currently have the Memphis Grizzlies selecting the Slovenian champ, though the Suns’ recent hire of head coach Igor Kokoskov (who had previously coached Doncic with the Slovenian national team) make Phoenix a possible destination. Despite the Kokoskov-Doncic connection, it appears the Suns will likely select DeAndre Ayton with their first overall. It seems likely, given the needs of the top three teams in the draft, that Doncic could fall to four.
For a franchise caught in a transition between ‘win-now’ and rebuilding, Doncic looks the part of a prospect that could help immediately, while also acting as a long-term building block for Memphis. With the Grizz, Doncic would not be asked to act as a primary ball handler alongside Mike Conley and he could flourish in an environment where he is not necessarily called upon to contribute right away. A veteran presence like Marc Gasol’s could prove invaluable for a young prospect new to America, as well as teaching Doncic the intricacies of the American game. The Grizzlies were in the league cellar in three-point attempts (24th in 2017-18), so Doncic’s mid-range shooting could be featured in their offensive sets. For a team on the fringes of playoff contention, Doncic seems like a solid pick.
In my @CBSSportsNBA article I said Luka Doncic’s #EuroLeague production is unprecedented. This is his 2017-18 compared to the final years of similar players who made the EL-to-NBA jump. A lot of variables (role, pace, system, etc.) but this is pretty crazy https://t.co/SICB6Bj6SW pic.twitter.com/TXh8HTdYyW— Austin Green (@LosCrossovers) June 8, 2018
In the end, Luka Doncic projects to be a reliable NBA rotation player in the immediate future, and could grow into an All-Star as his career progresses. However, he is not a ‘home run’ pick that many rebuilding franchises in the lottery look to build around. He has the skillset to be a valuable defender and secondary scorer should a team like the Grizz pick him, while also serving as their backup plan for the post-Marc Gasol future. Similar to another European prospect (Kristaps Porzingis), Doncic will most likely spend the majority of his rookie year adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NBA game. He very well could reach an All-Star level soon, but he looks thus far like a high-floor, low-ceiling pick that would be right at home along side Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol next season, and a potential dark-horse pick for Rookie of the Year.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your NBA SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more NBA questions »
- Olympiacos Piraeus
- Fenerbahce Dogus
- Real Betis Energia Plus
- PBC CSKA Moscow