Few European players put together the resume Luka Doncic put together over an entire career. Even fewer do it by the age of 19.
Doncic capped his weekend off by scoring an efficient 15 points with four assists and three rebounds in 29 minutes to help lead Real Madrid over Fenerbahce 85-80 to win the Euroleague title, earning the Final Four MVP; a list which includes the following NBA players:
Congratulations to Doncic for joining the long list of Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP winners pic.twitter.com/i6NQYPzp4y
— James Holas (@SnottieDrippen) May 20, 2018
Someone with Luka Doncic’s credentials in the second toughest league in the world is sure to be a quality NBA player, but will he be a superstar?
1.) What is the high upside, fully realized potential for Luka Doncic and how likely is he to reach it?
Adam Spinella: Luka Doncic’s highest potential would be serving as the featured creator surrounded by at least two other great passers and some positional versatility. He’s not going to be elite at guarding athletic point guards in the NBA, so playing in a system where he can defend wings but play with the ball in his hands is the best way to realize potential. He certainly has the ability to average 21 points, seven boards and six assists per game, something only six players have done over the last 25 seasons.
To me, that upside makes him more like a less-athletic Penny Hardaway than it does anyone else. Doncic is a very efficient scorer during his Euroleague days, whereas Hardaway was a bit higher-volume and athletic-based, but his role within an offense and his size defensively reminds me of Hardaway. Doncic realizes his potential if he gets a prime go-to scorer on the wings and others who help move the ball so he isn’t caught doing stagnant pick-and-roll all game.
James Holas: Doncic is 6-foot-8, aggressive, and a great passer with a crafty handle who uses his size and leverage to create separation. I have some concerns about how the higher level of velocity and force in the NBA changes his impact, but the skills are obvious: the kid has a full toolbox on the offensive end, like this nifty step back.
Luka Doncic and Real Madrid won today and advanced to the EuroLeague final against Fenerbahce on Sunday. Doncic had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Used his signature step-back jumper a few times. pic.twitter.com/RZ2Bx2iTRK
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) May 18, 2018
Maybe he can be a playmaking Tobias Harris? Gordon Hayward 2.0?
2.) What are the biggest question marks or obstacles that might prevent Doncic from living up to a top three draft billing?
Adam Spinella: The athleticism isn’t necessarily as large of a concern for me as many seem to say, but actually the three-point shooting is. Doncic has dipped in three-point efficiency over the last few years and if he ever dips below 33 percent, he may have a difficult time getting enough room to separate with the dribble. He’s certainly a fantastic passer and a heady player, so those guys tend to have a little less risk when their talent is as highly regarded as Luka’s.
However, the biggest obstacle or issue every player faces is the team drafting them and how much the environment around them helps great players thrive. A place like Sacramento is difficult to predict, with so many young players and a proven impatient organization that has proven impatient in the past. Finding the right teammates is important if Doncic is going to be perceived as a top-tiered player, though his impact should be a positive no matter what his role is because of his versatility and high skill level.
James Holas: Luka Doncic has obviously honed his craft and developed his prodigious skill set, paying off with a Euroleague title, MVP, and “Final Four” MVP, all at the age of 19. I can respect that the Euroleague is called, by some, the second toughest league in the world. I also recognize the toughest, the NBA, is a whole different animal.
Doncic starts alongside big man Walter Tavares, who played 20 minutes a night and averaged almost eight points and six rebounds a game. Sergio Llull and Rudy Fernandez, two of the most decorated, successful international players of their generation, both come come off the bench for Real Madrid.
They defeated CSK Moscow and Fenerbahce (from Turkey) to win the championship, teams featuring former NBAers and international stalwarts Jan Veseley, Luigi Datome, Rudy Fernandez, and Nando De Colo.
Fernandez spent four years logging quality rotation minutes for the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets. He averaged nine points per game but was unhappy with his role and left the NBA six years ago.
Tavares was a second round pick who barely logged 100 minutes of NBA action.
In Datome’s two NBA seasons, he played less than eight minutes per game for a bad Pistons team and rebuilding Celtics squad.
Vesely was a Washington Wizards lottery pick who didn’t make it through his rookie contract.
Do the names Othello Hunter, Will Clyburn, Brad Wanamaker, or Chasson Randle ring a bell? They don’t? These were some of Americans featured in the Euroleague Final Four.
It’s possible the Euroleague is both the second most competitive league in the world while STILL being miles behind the NBA, as far as top talent and athleticism. I don’t say any of this to denigrate Doncic’s accomplishments at the tender age of 19, but to pump the brakes a bit on expectations. It’s one thing to dominate former fringe NBA players, it’s quite another to be the number one pick and yoked with star expectations in an NBA featuring Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and LeBron James.
Doncic has great size and, again, there’s no ignoring the skills. But that hesitation move that gets you by Marko Guduric may not fly with Jaylen Brown. It’s one thing to get a floater over ex Sacramento Kings Jason Thompson, quite another when you try that over Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Jordan.
Doncic is not mud puddle slow. It remains to be seen if he has the prerequisite foot speed and athleticism to utilize his fully loaded tool bag at the NBA level. I’m not saying he won’t be a quality NBA player, because that’s almost guaranteed. Will he be more Gordon Hayward, or Doug McDermott?
3.) Of the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks, which situation would be best for Doncic and how do you see him fitting? (I’d like to get a different team for each of the three answers if possible…can we plan this out?)
Adam Spinella: Phoenix is by far the best situation in my mind, and it isn’t close. Flanked by Devin Booker, Doncic wouldn’t have to be a number-one scorer and would be afforded with enough space to drive. His familiarity with coach Igor Kokoskov would help him play a style he’s both familiar and comfortable with right away and Josh Jackson would serve as a great defender at the point of attack to take away the top defensive assignments from him and Booker. The Suns, a blank canvas in their frontcourt, could attract a solid stretch-5 candidate this summer to provide even more spacing. Phoenix should have around $21-27 million in cap space, allowing them to go out and get some of the better bigs on the market.
The one downside in Phoenix is they have so many wings on their roster who struggle to guard point guards consistently: Booker, Josh Jackson, TJ Warren. Drafting Doncic could mean the Suns keep Elfrid Payton as their point guard moving forward, and their fit is a little questionable since he can’t space the floor around Doncic, but he’s adaptable enough to make it work.
James Holas: Devin Booker is “the guy” in Phoenix, with Josh Jackson primed to be his version of Scottie Pippen. The Kings are still an NBA laughingstock, and just drafted their “guy” in D’Aaron Fox; Buddy Hield and Bojan Bogdanovich also are ready for heavy minutes: all three are guards who need ample touches.
In Atlanta, Doncic be joining 6’6″ Kent Bazemore, 6’9″ Taurean Prince, 6’8″ Deandre Bembry, and 6’10” John Collins to form a versatile, rangy core. The Hawks were dismal last year, but the gleams of a real team are present, and if Doncic is the goods, Atlanta’s rebuild may be accelerated to warp speed. Doncic’s passing and ball handling could be the connective tissue that ties Atlanta’s young squad to success.
4.) Is there a reasonable deal you can put together that Phoenix should consider for the top pick and Doncic?
Adam Spinella: Unless it features a franchise-caliber player like Karl-Anthony Towns or Kawhi Leonard, the Suns really shouldn’t explore it. Their timeline isn’t necessarily built to win right now, so getting a player a little older (or with less wide of a window for their prime) doesn’t suit the organization too much. Doncic and Ayton, no matter who the Suns select here, have tremendous value with their perception as being superstar-caliber, can’t-miss prospects. They shouldn’t be flipped for players that are any less valuable than other immediate superstar-caliber players.
James Holas: The Suns are in talent acquisition mode, so any move that brings in a bright young star to grow with Booker is on the table (Devin Booker’s combination of flash and devastating scoring touch should make him untouchable). The talk about Karl Anthony Towns being unhappy in Minnesota should make the front office perk up. Eould Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and the first overall pick get it done?
Let’s get wild: the first pick, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson, Chandler’s expiring for Kawhi? Spurs get a youth infusion, resetting the franchise, and Coach Popovich gets to mold the untapped potential of Bender, with Jackson and Doncic as the Future of San Antonio?
I’m bad at trades.