In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
For our final installment, we’ve broken down Luka Doncic’s game with a four-part deep dive.
Part one is here, centering on his scoring ability and more.
Luka Doncic is someone who at this stage — with the 2018 NBA Draft just a few days away — needs no introduction but, in case you’ve been living under a rock...
Doncic is a 19-year-old Slovenian guard/forward — standing at 6’8 — who is not only touted to be possibly selected in top three of the draft but regarded as one of the greatest overall European prospects in a long time.
New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis — one of the better European lottery picks in the last decade — rated Doncic very highly after going toe-to-toe in EuroBasket 2017. This is an excerpt from an extensive piece on Doncic by ESPN’s Mina Kimes (which will be referenced a few times) about that game.
Last year national teams across Europe met at EuroBasket, a tournament that draws NBA veterans back to their home countries. Doncic, then 18 years old, joined Slovenia’s team, which was led by Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic. When Slovenia played Latvia in the quarterfinals, Doncic and Porzingis went shot for shot. Then, halfway through the fourth quarter, the two crossed paths -- and for a moment, time stopped. Doncic dribbled between his legs, sizing up the towering Knicks center like a mathematician staring at a problem scrawled on a blackboard. Porzingis extended one rubbery arm. After a seemingly interminable pause, Doncic, known locally as Wonder Boy, dashed past the future All-Star and made a one-handed layup, glancing back at Porzingis as he jogged away.
The arena exploded. “I wanted to kill him,” Porzingis says with a laugh, adding that he was “never that consistent” at Doncic’s age. “I don’t know any other European kid that plays at such a high level.”
Now, such a reputation — as the best European prospect in years — can be perceived in a negative light. Not because of Doncic himself but because of those who have come before him. Those who have come from Europe with similar hype and have fallen flat on their face...
The likes of Darko Milicic and Andrea Bargnani, to name a few, have stained the reputation of young European prospects for many fans, who have issues trusting European prospects after being bitten by a bad experience.
Some fans want their team to select a prospect they have seen for themselves and are familiar with, usually one who has played in the NCAA. Someone that, in their eyes, is ‘safe’. From that ESPN piece, one league executive laid it out pretty well when it comes to the fan problem when it comes to Euro prospects vs NCAA:
“It’s like not seeing a movie because you saw one five years ago that sucked -- and you haven’t seen one since,” the executive says. “If they follow college basketball, they’re so much more comfortable with the known.”
The concept of disregarding a European prospect (which, of course, isn’t exclusive to Doncic) purely based on the fact they’re ‘European’ — and many, many have treated Doncic this way — is absolute nonsense but we’ll get there in good time.
Doncic has been playing professional basketball from a very young age, making a handful of appearances for the Real Madrid senior side in 2014-15 (when he was just 16) before breaking into the side — in a rotational role — in 2015-16.
His most recent season with Real Madrid has been, by far, his most successful as he emerged as not only one of the brightest young talents in Europe — winning the EuroLeague’s Rising Star Award (which is basically Young Player of the Year, as you could probably guess) in 2016-17 — but also one as the best players in EuroLeague itself, the second-best league in the world behind the NBA.
A serious knee injury to Madrid guard, and then reigning EuroLeague MVP, Sergio Llull prior to the start of the 2017-18 season presented Doncic the opportunity to step up and lead Real Madrid, one that he took advantage of as he averaged 16 points per game (fourth-best in the league) on 45 percent shooting from the field, 33 percent from behind the arc, four rebounds, four assists and one steal per game in 26 minutes per game.
(Want to point out: those are his averages in EuroLeague which is, you know, a professional basketball league and the second best league in the world, and that isn’t possible if you haven’t got game. Doncic was also 18, turning 19 when he accomplished what he accomplished this season...just worth throwing that out there.)
Doncic led Real Madrid through an injury-plagued EuroLeague regular season to a 19-11 record — fifth-best in EuroLeague) and would go on to win the EuroLeague title itself, winning a number of accolades along the way, including:
EuroLeague MVP of the Month in October (becoming the youngest to do win the accolade)
Became the youngest player (and the first under the age of 25) to lead the EuroLeague in average PIR (Player Index Rating)
Was named the EuroLeague’s Rising Star for the second year in a row
Was named to All-EuroLeague First Team
Was named as the EuroLeague’s overall MVP (again, the youngest in EuroLeague history to do so)
Was named as the EuroLeague Final Four MVP
Doncic has also won a number of awards and competitions in the domestic Spanish league (ACB) including winning the ACB title itself twice (2015, 2016, and Doncic has a chance to make it three in a row as Madrid feature in this year’s finals), a two-time winner of the Spanish King’s Cup (2016, 2017), a two-time recipient of the ACB’s Best Young Player Award (2017, 2018), named to the All Liga ACB First-Team in 2018 and was named ACB MVP in 2018 for good measure.
Oh yeah, and at the international level Doncic won a gold medal with Slovenia in EuroBasket 2017 and did play a lesser role to Goran Dragić but even still was the second-best player on that team...
Doncic is massively decorated for his age and he certainly didn’t ride coattails to earn the success he’s seen and accolades he has earned — any time Doncic’s team finds success he’s a huge part of it.
From watching him a lot this season (and I’ve watched A LOT of Luka Doncic this season), I’ve found that he’s also a very grounded person and hasn’t allowed the success/reputation to go to his head, at least on the court — he still looks to make the unselfish plays on the court and isn’t one with a huge ego on the court.
Anyways, that’s a brief description of Doncic’s year and part of his career so far — he’s a hugely successful player with a lot of talent and is projected to be selected inside the top three of the draft by many.
And yet, many have never even seen him in action, they don’t know what he’s about. Sure, they’ve heard of him but don’t know him.
Who is Luka Doncic on the court? What is he about? What does he bring? What are his strengths, his weaknesses?
Let me start off with this: I’ve evaluated four players as part of Peachtree Hoops’ draft series — Isaac Bonga, Elie Okobo, Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa. When I studied these players, one of the things I looked for is ‘What can these guys do well? Are they particularly good at one set thing or do they have multiple facets to their game?’ In other words, can they do multiple things well?
With someone like Rodions Kurucs, the answer was (a resounding) ‘no’. But with Luka Doncic...that’s a resounding ‘YES’.
Let’s start on the offensive end and start with Doncic’s ability to score.
Doncic was fourth overall in scoring per game in the EuroLeague this season (only trailing Nando de Colo — a former EuroLeague MVP — Nemanja Nedovic, and Alexey Shved...all names you might recognise) and he accomplished this because he’s a diverse and advanced offensive player — especially for his age.
Doncic is able to score in many different ways, let’s start with his ability to get to the rim and score — both off the dribble and in pick-and-roll.
On the catch after the drive-and-kick from Rudy Fernandez, Doncic drives to his left, skips by the defender, gets inside and takes advantage of some poor defense from Malaga for the score at the rim:
On the catch, Doncic goes to his left again before going between his legs and changing directions on the drive to his right, getting inside the paint and skipping around the help defense for the score at the rim:
Heading down the court, Doncic takes the ball, covers the ground up the court, drives inside, steps to his right, and extends to finish elegantly:
On a switch this time, Doncic drives by the defender and finds the path to the rim for the score:
Some bemoan Doncic’s ‘lack of burst’ but Doncic shows some decent quicks as he drives to the rim for the score plus the foul:
Again, a quick burst of pace from Doncic and he finds himself in position to score at the rim:
Nice hang time from Doncic on that finish too.
And again, more beautiful hang-time as Doncic gets inside and hangs for the finish:
Doncic possesses a very decent crossover for his age and he uses it to good effect here to shed the defender and he scores at the rim:
Doncic is also capable of squeezing himself through tight spaces and splitting the defense to get to the rim, as he does on this possession to get to the rim and finish with the left-handed layup:
Coming off the pick-and-roll, Doncic is also able to make things happen at the rim.
Coming off of a screen, Doncic drives to his right and brilliantly fakes the pass to the corner to shed a defender before finishing over another:
Coming off a Felipe Reyes screen, Doncic drives to his right, gets another screen from Fabien Causeur, and works his feet beautifully to work his way to the opposite side of the rim for the score:
A knock people have against Doncic is ‘Oh, he’s not athletic’ — not true.
Yes, he’s not going to jump out of the gym — his game is much more controlled, finessed, skilled — but he’s underrated as an athlete.
He can get up when he wants to:
Of course, who could forget this monster dunk in the playoffs?
He’s not unathletic but sneaky athletic — you just don’t see it because he doesn’t have to rely on his athleticism to score, unlike other prospects...
Anyways, going back to where we were: here, Doncic shows his sneaky athleticism as he comes off the screen and drives to the rim for the one-handed dunk plus the foul:
Doncic uses his thick frame to good use as he comes off of the screen, gets his defender on his hip, backs up into defender to create space and hits the jumper:
It’s worth noting that Doncic, at times, does have issues getting to the rim/creating against elite defenders.
Here, on the last play of the game with Madrid trailing, even on a switch, Doncic is unable to break down the defense and ends up going backwards instead of forwards and Madrid lose the game:
On this possession, Doncic tries to find an opening but cannot find a way past the defense and has to pass off:
Same game, same problem:
On this possession, great defense by Charles Jenkins doesn’t allow Doncic to penetrate and forces him to take a very tough shot:
So, you can see that Doncic is more than capable of getting to the rim and making an impact — whether it’s off the dribble or in pick-and-roll — but can struggle against elite athletes and defenders at times on drives.
It’s a possible area of concern in the NBA, but the good news for Doncic is that he has other aspects of his game to fall back on — such as his jumpshot.
From mid-range or from behind the arc, Luka Doncic’s jumpshot is a threat.
Coming off of a screen, Doncic gets to his spot, using a step-back to position himself for the jumpshot:
Here, Doncic displays his skill with the ball in his hands as he makes his opponent look silly, unleashing the step-back to finish off a beautiful move:
Off the ball, Doncic comes off of the curl, receives the ball, takes a step inside and rises into the jumpshot:
On the switch, Doncic drives and pulls up on a dime for the jumpshot which he cans despite the contest:
Against Fenerbahce, Doncic sizes up two defenders (one after the switch) before driving and pulling up to hit the jumpshot:
Doncic is obviously more than capable from mid-range as you can see but also possesses legitimate three-point range.
Here, Doncic displays his outside range, hitting this deep three-pointer:
The FIBA three-point line is a little closer than the NBA three but that is still legitimate range.
And it wasn’t just a once off:
Often, Doncic would use his killer step-back to spring into a three-pointer.
It helps create space:
When Doncic’s three-point shot is falling and he works himself into room with that step-back, it’s a thing of beauty to watch fly through the net:
The step-back is also one of Doncic’s most advanced offensive moves:
I could honestly keep going — it really was one of his go-to moves:
He also has the side-step down pat too:
In the mid-range or from three, Doncic’s step-back/side-step can be deadly.
In the pick-and-roll, Doncic only needs a bit of separation to pull the trigger and if you leave him that space it could be deadly:
Here, Doncic comes behind the screen, ducks back into the direction he came from — using the body of Felipe Reyes as a shield from the defender — and rises into the three:
And, of course, who could forget one of the highlights of Doncic’s season as he hits this full-court three against Barcelona:
Though most of his threes came off of the dribble, Doncic is handy in catch-and-shoot situations too.
Here in the corner, Doncic receives the pass in the corner and rises into a three-pointer:
On this possession, Doncic initially has the ball, finds a teammate in the corner and relocates behind the key. On the dribble and drive from his teammate, Doncic is found and he hits the catch-and-shoot three:
All of this looks great, but people are going to look and see that Doncic shot 30% for the season across all competitions, and that might seem unimpressive to you — especially given how the NBA three-pointer is even further out than the one Doncic currently shoots from — but you need to know a bit more of the story before you make a judgment on his outside shooting.
It’s definitely true that Doncic struggled at times from behind the arc throughout the season. And it’s also true that Doncic settled somewhat when there were better shots available to him/better shots that could’ve been worked.
Here are a few examples...
With 12 seconds left on the shot clock, this is not a good shot to be taking:
Same applies here:
Though the shotclock has wound down a bit more in this possession, there’s still a better shot to taken than this, a better shot to be created:
Doncic had early season success shooting the three and I think this definitely played its part in him settling somewhat — he had multiple games where he attempted seven three-pointers but would only hit one or two a game. His shot selection, at times, wasn’t good.
However, there’s another aspect to consider when it comes to Doncic’s three-point shooting...
In the absence of Sergio Llull, Doncic was burdened with leading the Madrid offense/scoring. It’s a lot of load and responsibility for anyone leading a team in scoring but at 18 years old (as he was then), that’s a lot to put on Doncic’s shoulders. He delivered for the most part but often played heavy minutes as Madrid (obviously) looked to chase as many victories as they could with their injury-depleted squad — they were involved in a lot of close games too. This, at times, took a toll on Doncic and some of his shots looked a bit tired, falling short.
In addition, Doncic soon received a lot of defensive attention after his dazzling displays to open the EuroLeague campaign. Consistent double-teams/pick-and-roll hedging became somewhat of a norm for Doncic and this affected his percentages.
At other times, when Real Madrid’s offense had sputtered to a halt, Doncic was often thrown the ball and basically asked to make something happen. A lot of poor three-point looks came from such situations.
Here, Madrid go through their motions and it becomes clear they’re going nowhere on this offensive possession. With just under five seconds left on the shotclock, Doncic is thrown the ball and asked to make something happen. In the end, he launches a horrible three as the clock winds down:
The three itself was pretty poor but what else was there to do at that stage?
Again, clock winding down and Doncic is asked to make something happen with a very limited amount of time. In the end, Doncic attempts a tough shot that misses:
I could go on, but just know that quite a number of three-point attempts from Doncic came in this fashion:
So, yes, Doncic’s three-point percentage on paper isn’t great — and I’m not saying he’s an elite three-pointer shooter, he’s not, but there’s a good foundation there...some good range — but there are reasons as to why they were as low as they were.
**Stay tuned for Part Two to come on Monday**