Note: this is part one in a two part series on current Real Madrid guard and 2018 NBA Draft prospect Luka Doncic where we look at his incredible track record as a player.
One of the most common tropes that regularly pop up during the build up to every NBA Draft deals with how a lot of folks still view European prospects as these “mysterious” figures.
To be fair, that label used to be somewhat warranted over a decade ago. Back then, the ideal most common ways to watch European prospects play included traveling abroad or waiting to see them compete in the Summer Olympics. However, with the growth of outlets like YouTube and the power of live streaming, the ability to scout most European prospects is just a few clicks away. While even Giannis Antetokounmporemained a relatively unknown commodity until he was drafted, it is much easier to find ample footage of a prospect competing in the Euroleague, Spanish ACB, Eurocup, the Adriatic League or the Basketball Champions League.
Nevertheless, one may still hear media personalities or analysts wax poetic suggesting NBA executives be fired if they roll the dice on a Euro super-stud heading into an NBA Draft. it won’t be long before you hear them drop names like Darko Milicic, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Andrea Bargnani as underwhelming comparisons, alluding to why a current European prospect won’t work out.
Though such aforementioned players have failed at the NBA level, there have been plenty of others who have gone to shine in The Association instead.
As we get closer to the 2018 NBA Draft, you’ll probably hear similar skepticism expressed regarding Luka Doncic. It’s a real shame, because Doncic has been facing off against high level European competition since he made his debut with Real Madrid back in 2014-15, when he was only 15 years old. Although his role with the team was initially limited, it was still extremely impressive for a teenager to just get his foot in the door of one of the most storied franchises in European hoops.
As the years have gone on and he’s had time to mature, Doncic’s role with the team has increased. He averaged 7.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game on 43% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc in 20 minutes per game with Real Madrid through Euroleague competition during the 2016-17 campaign.
Over the course of two seasons, Doncic has risen up after barely getting on the court, to now serving as a key contributor for a team that finished in the Final Four of the Euroleague.
Although it was impressive for an 18-year-old to have that kind of role, it looked pedestrian compared to what lied in front of him. Two months after Real Madrid’s season ended in mid-June, Doncic had the opportunity to play with the Slovenian National Team in the 2017 EuroBasket.
Despite playing against a number of teams featuring an array of NBA talent, Doncic shined as the 2nd best scorer on a Slovenia squad that ended up winning the whole tournament. In Eurobasket competition, he averaged 14.3 points, a tournament-high 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 41% from the field and 31% from beyond in the arc in 29 minutes per game.
His great production included him putting up 27 points and 9 rebounds on 7-14 from the field, 4-11 from beyond the arc and 9-10 from the free throw line against Latvia. A lot of those points came against former draft prospect Janis Timma or NBA stud Kristaps Porzingis. Against Porzingis, Doncic was able to launch a few perimeter jumpers while also being able to drive to the basket.
The guard’s overall performance led to him joining the likes of Goran Dragic, Pau Gasol and Bojan Bogdanovic on the Eurobasket All-Tournament Team. From that point, it should’ve been clear that Doncic had ridiculous upside.
His growth as a player continued when he returned to Real Madrid for the 2017-18 campaign. Due to an off-season injury to Sergio Llull (the Euroleague MVP in the previous season), Doncic was immediately vaulted into a role as Real Madrid’s primary scoring threat.
Although it’s extremely rare for teenagers to be leaders of an elite European team, Doncic exploded out of the gate. When the year turned to 2018, he was averaging 18.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1 steal on 64% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc in only 26 minutes per game. That put him in a similar conversation as the likes of Nando De Colo, Alexey Shved and Errick McCollum, who are all at least 5 years older than he is.
While his production has declined a bit since then, it’s likely because fatigue is finally settling in. Doncic is still a pretty solid offensive threat. As of May 18th, he’s putting up 16.1 points, 4.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds on 46% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc in 26 minutes per game. That level of play is good enough to make him the leading scorer of a Real Madrid team that is about to compete in the Euroleague Final Four.
When examining his resume it’s clear that Doncic stands out as the best prospect in this year’s NBA Draft class. From him joining NBA veterans on the EuroBasket All-Tournament team, to emerging to his current role as leading scorer of an elite Real Madrid squad, he has continued to shine against high level competition. Analysts spend the next month pondering if his strengths can translate to the NBA, or if how his weaknesses can will up deterring his progress at the next level. However, I think it’s clear that he is a pretty well-known asset with a tremendous track record for a teenage prospect.