Luka Doncic Proving His Euro-Doubters Wrong

There’s long been a seemingly inherent bias against the European players. The stereotype considers the Euroleague to be a “lesser” proving ground. Luka Doncic was the latest “victim” of this.

Now he isn’t just proving his doubters wrong, but he’s establishing that a player can hone his skills every bit as well across the pond as in the NCAA.

A teenager who played professional basketball for three years, Doncic is the kind of “Wonderboy” that’s made up in a video game simulation. The antithesis of the American basketball prospect has broken through societal expectations.

According to Scott Davis of the AP, the league agrees:

Dallas Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle: “He’s got a good feel for the game. He reads situations well, and he knows that, before the game is over, he’ll have the ball in his hands enough. He plays beyond his years in terms of reading things, mixing aggression and unselfishness.”

Golden State Warriors Forward Kevin Durant: “He’s polished. He’s skilled. You can tell that he played professional basketball already, and they’ve got a great guy in him to lead this franchise in the future.”

Houston Rockets and reigning MVP James Harden: “He can play.”

Doncic has deserved all this respect from his elders, and some.

Scoring

The Slovenian rookie is averaging 17.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists while sporting a 55.2 percent true shooting, per Basketball-Reference.com. He’s the front-runner in the Rookie of the Year race.

Some, such as Ian McMahan of the Athletic, were concerned Doncic lacked NBA athleticism, and whether it would hinder his ability to guard and separate from others off the dribble. Doncic stands at 6’7″ and 220 pounds, but he still has some baby fat on him. He hasn’t had the opportunity to reap the benefits of an NBA training staff and diet.

Would that slow him down, literally?

No. Not one little bit.  Doncic’s first step is mesmerizing. He goes at the steady pace of a veteran, suddenly, craftily moving off the dribble.

This clip shows his ability to get to the basket with ease. His dribble is advanced for a 19-year old, especially for a forward.

He has touch around the rim like a point guard. He has reverses, eurosteps and floaters that allow him to score however he likes when he likes. Here Doncic dribbles behind the back from the perimeter and throws up a pretty floater, knocking it down with ease.

So far, he’s shooting 6o percent at the rim. This isn’t a mind-blowing number, but it shows he can get to the rack fairly efficiently.

He gets by opposing defenders with that deft handle and then takes plenty of contact because of his large frame. He gets fouled on 9.3 percent of his shot attempts, which ranks in the 60th percentile among forwards. He also makes 25 percent of the shot attempts he’s fouled on, (also in the 60th percentile).

Doncic can also hit from deep, shooting 36.4 percent from behind the arc on 5.9 attempts per game. His efficiency should increase in time, reps and game experience.

It’s not only the fact that Doncic hits these shots at a decent rate, but that he has the ability to create his own 3-point shot that opens up his game and the offensive floor for the Mavericks.

He can hit difficult shots from deep while changing his pivot foot and pump-faking.

Most famously, Doncic has a stepback jumper akin to many seasoned NBA veterans. This will only get more efficient as he improves shot selection and has a better playmaking point guard alongside him.  (Sorry, Dennis Smith Jr.)

Here, Doncic takes a smooth step-back jumper and splashes it home:

Playmaking

Additionally, Doncic is a seasoned playmaker. The raw assist totals don’t show that, as he does only average only 4.5 assists per game, but assists aren’t necessarily the best way to understand a player’s court vision or unselfishness.

Doncic finds shooters in the corners off of any offensive action. Here he kicks it to Harrison Barnes for an easy three:

Here, Doncic hits sharpshooter Wesley Mathews in the corner:

Doncic also has the uncanny ability to find players on skip passes, a la Kevin Love. He throws it 30 yards down the court for a streaking Dennis Smith Jr.:

Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carslile loves to use Doncic and center DeAndre Jordan in the pick-and-roll. It creates a problem for defenses because Doncic can pull up from mid-range, 3, or finish at the rim with a flick of the wrist. If Jordan has a mismatch on a guard, it’s an alley-oop every time.

According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Doncic is second among rookies in passes made per game, fourth in secondary assists and second in potential assists (a teammate misses a shot after his pass) with 9.2 per game. He ranks 33rd among all NBA players in potential assists. 

Doncic’s usage percentage is in the 93rd percentile among forwards at 27.2 percent, and his assist percentage is in the 93rd percentile among forwards at 22.3 percent. These numbers indicate that Mavericks trust him to finish possessions with the ball in his hands.

Sometimes, that can be to his detriment: His turnover percentage is 17 percent which ranks in the 11th percentile among forwards. That’s not surprising coming from a rookie who has taken on a workload of an NBA superstar.

Hand in hand with his turnover problems are his defensive deficiencies. He’s not a bad defensive player fundamentally, but his lack of a chiseled NBA body and lack of conditioning will come to bite him if not fixed. (And he could wear down during this longer NBA season.)

Halleluka

One is awestruck by how much awareness Doncic has. Nothing is forced. He lets the game come to him, responds in the moment and almost always has the right instincts.

Doncic’s fanbase has grown beyond his own cult following. The Ringer, Bill Simmons sports news website, had created a song called “Halleluka.” A parody of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. It went viral last week and was even played during a Mavericks home game.

The song begins with this line:

“I heard there was a Wonderboy, who many teams would not employ. But you don’t really care for Euros, do ya?”

The song continues to coo “His game was strong, but we needed proof, we hadn’t seen him play Mizzou” pokes fun at the ridiculous idea that Doncic needed validation because he had not faced Divison 1 College competition. The song immortalizes a player who, for decades to come, has the chance to be revolutionary NBA talent.

Luka Doncic is now proving his doubters wrong, one by one, city by city.

Halleluka.

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