We know little about Luka Doncic, outside of a few random Wikipedia notes about him being born to a former basketball player and a model turned hairdresser in Slovenia a little more than 18 years ago.
Here’s what we do know: He’s a 6-foot-7, 218-pound specimen, the best international prospect at least since Ricky Rubio — and maybe ever — and he could be the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
Doncic became the youngest player ever to suit up for Real Madrid — an overseas power that has won 33 titles in Spain and nine EuroLeague championships since 1957 — in the top-tier Spanish League when he debuted at age 16 on April 30, 2015. Since then, he has risen from seldom-used phenom to a key contributor and sometime-starter on a team that reached the EuroLeague semifinals, becoming the youngest player ever to win the league’s Rising Star honor — an award previously bestowed on a handful of future NBA players, including Rubio, Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Mirotic and Andrea Bargnani.
The worry, as with all international prospects, is that projections won’t translate into NBA production, a la Bargnani, the only European ever to be selected first overall. Some of the game’s best foreign-born players — Dirk Nowitzki, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic, to name a few — entered the league with far less fanfare than Doncic will, so it’s been a crapshoot.
But Doncic could change all that. The so-called “Wonder Boy” averaged 14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.7 combined blocks and steals per 36 minutes for Real Madrid this past season, with a highly efficient 57.9 true shooting percentage and a respectable 18.2 player efficiency rating. Not to mention, most of his opponents, many of whom have played in the NBA, are a decade his senior.
Additionally, after much debate about whether he would play for Spain or another European country, Doncic made his national team debut for Slovenia over the weekend, dropping 14 points, six rebounds and four assists on Russia’s under-22 junior national team — in a little less than 14 minutes of action.
As expected, he demonstrated an array of NBA-ready skills — a step-back 3-pointer from the corner, a behind-the-back pass in the pick-and-roll, a posterizing dunk in traffic and remarkable court vision. These are the very attributes so many scouts cite in dubbing him a player polished beyond his years.
Still, the questions remain. As skilled as he is, and as well as he feels and understands the game, by all accounts Doncic isn’t an exceptional athlete. This, despite his best effort, limits his defensive prowess, so healthy skepticism will follow due to the long line of hyped international studs who came before him. Is this playmaking point-forward prodigy the European Magic Johnson? The next Toni Kukoc, a useful role player on a contender? Or a Darko Milicic-like bust in the making? Nobody knows.
This quote, from the best profile on Doncic to date, by The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks, is most telling:
“There’s a good chance we get to next April and [Doncic] is the most polarizing player in the draft,” said Elan Vinokurov, the president of EV Hoops, a scouting service used by many NBA teams. “We have never seen a player like him before, in terms of what he’s done in Europe at his age. I’m usually a guy who’s quick to come up with comparisons, but no one really comes to mind. He’s one of a kind.”
He’s a once-in-a-generation talent we know so little about, beyond the brilliance he’s displayed as a boy amongst European men. Real Madrid holds the media at arm’s length from players under the age of 18, so we’ve barely heard from him outside a few Twitter posts, all of which adds to the intrigue.
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