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.
Part four is here, examining Doncic’s defensive projection and more.
Let’s talk about defense now, and this is where things get even more interesting.
I’ll start with this: his defense obviously isn’t where his offense is. That’s obvious. But it also isn’t as bad as skeptics say it is.
At the beginning of the season, it wasn’t great but as the season went on you could really see the improvements and there’s now enough there to say that Doncic can be an average NBA defender at the very least.
Let’s go through it anyways...
Something Doncic has going for him is his size — at 6’8, he should be able to guard multiple positions. One day, perhaps, 1 through 4 but that will, of course, depend on the matchup...
He’s got a good body and a solid frame for his age. In terms of wingspan, it’s relatively unknown officially but he enough to work with, let’s put it that way:
Similar to the offensive end, where Doncic sometime struggles to get by better athletes, he struggles at times to keep up with players who are quicker than he is on the defensive end.
Here, Errick McCollum is able drive by Doncic without a whole ton of trouble and Doncic can count himself fortunate that the shot was missed:
On the perimeter, Doncic is gotten by a little too easily:
The quicker Theodore also didn’t have much to worry about getting by Doncic for the score:
Doncic’s lack of elite pace does mean he struggles a bit against quicker players and this might be an issue in the NBA, especially if he is deployed at the point guard — John Wall, Russell Westbrook...they’re going to have a field day if Doncic is their opposite number and not just because he’s a rookie.
There were other problems too...
Doncic’s defensive effort, particularly in transition, was poor at times.
Here, Doncic is the only Madrid defender between the offensive player and the basket but provides little resistance and it’s an easy score:
On this possession, again, Doncic is in a position that should allow him to contest but instead he’s just brushed aside for the score:
Against Ray McCallum, Doncic allows him to slip by too easily for a transition bucket:
And when he did contest in transition, it wasn’t always effective:
Doncic was also prone to some silly mistakes at times, such as being caught ball-watching (punished with a backdoor cut and layup) — a cardinal basketball sin:
A miscommunication on defense leads to a three-pointer for the opposition:
There were many times in the first third/half of this season where Doncic just didn’t contest shots. At least once per game there’d be a shot where Doncic just didn’t contest:
I thought it was just a once off but it kept happening, at least once a game for a long stretch:
It was quite bizarre but this was eventually ironed out as the season went on...
While Doncic’s size and versatility means he can play multiple positions, a problem Doncic faced on the defensive end was his ability to defend in the post. If there was an area on defense that Doncic was ever targeted at — and Doncic was never really massively singled out on defense — it was in the post.
Here, Doncic is simply overpowered in the post and can’t prevent the score (albeit on a switch):
On this defensive stance, Doncic moves his feet but still can’t prevent the score:
At the restricted circle, Doncic has position established on him and there’s nothing he can do after that happens, leading to a Fenerbahce score:
There were also times for Doncic this season where his help defense could’ve been better — usually as a player drives by...just in situations where you’d like to see Doncic try and get a hand in or go with the ball-handler.
For instance, slap a hand in...do something:
Similar thing...instead of having your back turned on the ball, get stuck in there, make things a bit more difficult:
Now, that’s something I wouldn’t worry hugely about. Not just because it was something that happened more so at the beginning of this season but also because that’ll be stamped out with good coaching.
Many of these problems were more so early season problems. Obviously there were still ups and downs (and that’s how I would describe Doncic’s defense as a whole: up and down) but as the season progressed Doncic showed a more effort/discipline and you could see the improvements that came with it — a real genuine progression on the defensive end.
Against Ray McCallum again — who Doncic was having some issues with in this particular game to begin — Doncic is able to stay in front of McCallum and force into a tough shot:
Here, Doncic shows his shiftiness and feet to prevent the penetration, forcing the pass elsewhere:
Again, moves his feet well when he wants to:
On this defensive possession, Doncic moves his body well to cut off the baseline drive and the offensive player has to look elsewhere:
Here, Doncic displays much better hustle to get back and contest the three-pointer in transition:
His team defense improved too.
Here, he executes a good trap with Gustavo Ayon which leads to a turnover and a basket for Madrid:
A lot of little things got better, such as Doncic simply stepping up and plugging the gap after the pick-and-roll:
Same game, similar situation — Doncic steps up and plugs the gap preventing the penetration and the pass is forced:
Even when Doncic was struggling at times defensively in transition — and a few off-ball blunders every now and then — he would certainly try in the halfcourt.
Here, he hustles to save the ball from going out of bounds and his hustle is rewarded as his team take advantage in transition to score:
Not exactly the fastest fastbreak with Felipe Reyes but nevertheless...
Doncic struggled at times getting around screens but he would always try his best to get around and got better at getting around them as the season went on.
Against Barcelona, Doncic shows great effort and hustle chasing around screens:
More good defensive activity from Doncic as he chases around the screen before getting a deflection on the entry pass on the switch and is unfortunate to find come up with the ball but standing out of bounds:
Again, more good activity getting around screens to get back to his man before ending with a good contest on the perimeter shot:
Doncic showed his defensive activity to great extent against one of the better players in EuroLeague, Jan Vesely, and good vertical defense in the corner forced Vesely into a very tough shot at the end of the shotclock:
That leads nicely into Doncic’s improved defense at the rim...
As the season progressed, Doncic learned how to better position himself for effective vertical defense, putting it into practise here against Milan, forcing the miss at the rim:
Against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Doncic not only displays his ability to switch but, again, does a good job contesting the shot with his verticality:
As the help defender in this situation, Doncic slides over to contest the shot at the rim and forces the misses:
Doncic also averaged over a steal per game this season across all competitions.
Part of that was because of the zone defense that Madrid play — putting him in positions where he can just slide over a foot or two to grab a pass — but Doncic’s instincts themselves also played a part.
Here, Doncic knows where this pass from the corner is going and makes sure to be in front of the opponent when the pass comes, and that’s exactly what happens:
On this possession, Doncic is on hand to pounce upon the cross-court pass and it leads to a score for Doncic on the other end:
Here, Doncic surprises the offensive player as he reaches around to poke the ball loose, leading to a Madrid basket on the other end:
Somehow, someway, Doncic always managed to come up with a steal or two a game...
Doncic does, obviously, have work to do defensively but he’s not as bad as people say he is defensively and there’s potential for some upside here...
Alright, let’s try land this plane, it’s been a very long flight...
Luka Doncic is, in my opinion, the best prospect available in this draft.
Offensively, he’s very diverse — there’s many things he can do well. He can get to the rim — off the dribble and in pick-and-roll — and can do so with a variety of moves, be it spin moves or crossovers. He can hit jumpshots, he can work in the post, he’s good in transition and he can get to the foul line. His three-point shot will need work but I’m not overly worried — shooting comes in time for some. I would temper expectations for Doncic in terms of scoring in his rookie season: don’t expect 20 points per game out of him. That’s not really who he is. He can be that scorer in time — and he has come into games and turned them on their head with his offense — but I would not call him a score-first type of player. That might be who Marvin Bagley is but Luka Doncic offers a lot more to the game than scoring.
In terms of playmaking and passing, Doncic is a very unselfish player. He loves to get others involved and — given his repertoire of offensive moves and capabilities, is able to do that in a number of different ways: half-court, penetration, transition, out of the post etc...
Defensively, look, he needs to keep working on it but there’s a good foundation there. With the right coaching, Doncic could become a plus defender, passable if nothing else.
It’s easy to forgot that Doncic just turned 19 years old, given all that he has accomplished, how mature and developed his game is and the competition he has thrived against. Yes, sorry NCAA fans, but the EuroLeague is MILES ahead of the NCAA Division I in terms of competition... EuroLeague is a mans league, NCAA is a boys league and that’s the truth of the matter. You don’t generally see youngsters play a ton of minutes in EuroLeague at all, let alone see them thrive as Doncic did. Not to mention he got a lot of teams’ best looks defensively, throwing bodies at him to slow him down on a consistent — shows you how the opposition saw Doncic this season.
The Hawks own the third overall selection and there’s increasing speculation that Doncic could fall to that third spot. If he should be available by the time the Hawks are on the clock, the Hawks should absolutely — without question of any sort, without any interior consultation — be selecting Doncic with that third overall pick.
Only a few days until the big day... Will Luka Doncic leave Barclays Center as a member of the Atlanta Hawks? Many are praying so, but we shall see...
Only time will tell.