On Saturday night, 19-year old sensation Luka Doncic was named the youngest Most Valuable Player in Euroleague history, while also being named this year’s Euroleague Rising Star.
On Sunday, Doncic may become the first ever to win Eurocup (with Slovenia in 2017) and Euroleague (with Real Madrid) within a year, as Madrid faces off against the Euroleague’s version of Gregg Popovich in Zeljko Obradovic and Fenerbahce at 8:00 Turkish time. The game will be shown on tape delay on NBATV.
A full Suns contingent will likely be on hand for the Final, after they split duties on Friday between the NBA Draft Combine in the US and the Final Four game overseas. The Suns VP James Jones and owner Robert Sarver watched Doncic score 16 points, grab 7 rebounds and dish 2 assists in the Real Madrid win over CSKA Moscow.
Doncic will almost certainly be taken by either the Phoenix Suns or the Sacramento Kings next month, and will be a favorite to win Rookie of the Year and could be a perennial NBA All-Star with his unique blend of size (6’8” 225), scoring, playmaking and overall feel for the game.
Yet, most Americans have never even watched a full basketball game in which Doncic has played. Personally, I watched a couple of the games he played last summer with Slovenia as they ran to the Gold Medal with he, Goran Dragic and Igor Kokoskov.
But like most Americans I have not seen any Real Madrid games until Friday’s Final Four win over CSKA Moscow. That’s mainly because not a single game has been even shown on American TV until then, and even this one was midday on a regular work day on cable network NBATV. Even today’s Final won’t be shown live on American TV.
So how can we get to know Luka better?
I’m glad you asked!
We have my counterpart (shall we say doppleganger? I dare not!) over at SB Nation’s Managing Madrid here to give us his insights. Lucas Navarrete’s site focuses 99% on football, but he has personally watched 20-25 of Doncic’s games this year, so I’d say Lucas has more insight than 99% of us.
Let’s call this a scouting report, even though Lucas is not a true scout. He’s likely more of a scout than some who’ve called themselves scouts before, amiright?
Lucas was kind enough to answer a number of questions I had about Doncic.
1) No player has ever won a Eurobasket championship AND the Euroleague Championship in the same year. Now he’s a Rising Star AND the MVP. What does Luka do, besides the obvious box score stat filling, that makes him an MVP of the league at only 19 years old?
Navarrete: He does it all and you just don’t see that in European basketball. He has great size for a guard but he’s also fast. He handles the ball extremely well and while he must improve his decision-making when he’s leading the offense that will come with age. He’s a very complete player who can impact the game in every way, at least in European basketball. I feel like most scouting reports I’ve read don’t talk about his ability to rebound the basketball as often as they should.
2) Is Luka a leader at this point? In what ways does he run the show for Real Madrid?
Navarrete: He definitely is, although not a perfect leader. He’s still 19! To me, he tries to do a bit too much at times, but I’d rather see that “weakness” than a player who just disappears when things go south. Keep in mind that Madrid are definitely happy to have Doncic and help him improve as a player but they’re also competing for every single trophy. It’s tough to find the balance between letting Luka learn and doing what’s best for the team right now, so Madrid often play better when Sergio Llull is in fact running the show with Doncic on the wing. In fact, you could see that during the Semifinal against CSKA Moscow. Doncic himself played well but Llull came in and started to find open shooters who put on a great 10-0 run and called plays for them. When Doncic is the PG, he clearly likes to play fast and take advantage of his quickness and strenghth to get buckets in transition.
3) Is Luka a point guard in the future? Or do you see him as a star playmaking wing player who supplements the team’s primary ball handler?
Navarrete: That’s the million dollar question and one which will define his career and his potential. In Europe, he could be a star playing in either role, I have no doubt in my mind. However, I think that he needs to be a PG if he is going to be a star in the NBA. Are you willing to live through his mistakes during the first few seasons so that he can actually learn how to play in that spot against the likes of CP3, Lillard, Curry or Westbrook? That will be the key with Doncic, because I just don’t know whether he will be able to be a successful forward in the NBA or not. I’ve seen many players dominating European basketball and then struggling to translate their game to the NBA because it’s much tougher for them to score. Then, they try to become three-point shooters. Former Blazer Rudy Fernandez comes to mind. If you pick Doncic, you have to trust his ability to become a PG in the NBA. There are safer bets for the forward spot.
4) Is Luka being used the same way for Real Madrid that he was for Slovenia last year in Eurobasket?
Navarrete: Yes and no. He was the leader for Slovenia and he is the leader for Madrid, although he can share the burden in Madrid because there are other very capable players who can take over. So yes, he is the do-it-all PG for both teams but he’s not required to score as much in the club, at least not now that Llull came back from his knee injury.
Sergio Llull tore his ACL 9 months ago, missed almost the entire season and had 16 points + 5 assists in a Final 4 game. That's amazing. Doncic was good and deserves credit, it was a true team effort, but IMO Llull was the key. Some of those 3s might as well have been 5-pointers pic.twitter.com/XxBglAAslD— Austin Green (@LosCrossovers) May 19, 2018
5) How would you describe his most potent role in the offense?
Navarrete: His combination of size, strength and quickness when going to the basket just gets it done in Europe. It would be extremely interesting for him to develop some kind of post-up game so that he can take on smaller guards and get easy baskets down low too. But yes, right now he’s a very good finisher, although he will have to learn against bigger rim protectors in the NBA. His step-back three is also very successful and he gets big separation from his defender with it.
6) What is Luka’s best role defensively?
Navarrete: I think he excels when he is defending forwards. He uses his body very well against them and he doesn’t have to run through off-ball screens which takes away a lot of energy. It’s very hard for other forwards to score on him (in Europe!) because he has the body and the speed to stop them. He is a very good defender at this level, although he could suffer a bit in the NBA because he might not be fast enough to defend the Westbrooks, the Kembas or the Lillards and he might not be neither tall nor strong enough to defend most NBA forwards. I’m sure he will learn how to be effective though, he’s a very smart player.
7) Which guards in particular give Luka the most trouble defensively? Do you think he can defend NBA guards, or is he more of a big man defensively?
Navarrete: I see him struggling a lot against Kemba Walker or Lillard, for example. Those very quick players who can also stop and score the mid-range. I think he could be a great defender for the SG spot in the NBA knowing that off-ball screens are not used as often as in European basketball, where you can spend close to 15 seconds chasing one guy down and fighting through screens. I believe that would be the most successful role for him defensively.
8) Is Luka the best Euroleague player ever, considering his age?
Navarrete: Ugh, I think it would be extremely unfair for other players like Petrovic, Spanoulis, Papaloukas, Navarro or Diamantidis to be behind Doncic after just two seasons. He has the skill set and he’s 19, but I refuse to put him ahead of those legends after just two seasons!
9) What else should Suns fans know about Luka? What questions should I have asked, but didn’t?
Navarrete: He is a humble kid who will not be a problem. Coach Pablo Laso has given him some tough love (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkvbKVMsiKI) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8RjmJdW2Bs) over these two seasons and I truly believe Doncic needed it and he will be a better man and player because of it. Whoever drafts Doncic will have to thank Pablo Laso and Doncic’s family because they found a way to raise him into a very likable and mature kid surviving to all the hype.
Thanks so much Lucas!! We will be in touch for more of your insights over the next few weeks, and maybe years if the Suns end up drafting Doncic.
On Saturday, Doncic was named MVP of Euroleague after averaging 14.5 points, 4.7 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals for Real Madrid.
Doncic was 4th in scoring, and top 12 in defensive rebounding, assists and steals.
At 19 years old, he becomes the youngest Euroleague MVP ever.
Luka Doncic is by far the youngest MVP in Euroleague history. pic.twitter.com/3avLpRa9lc— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) May 20, 2018
Previously, point guard Milos Teodosic was the youngest winning when he won the 2010 MVP at 23 years old.
- Milos Teodosic (2010 MVP season): 11.6 points, 4.5 assists, 41% 3P shooting
He was an NBA rookie this past year for the Los Angeles Clippers at age 31, starting most of the games (36 of 45) when he was healthy. In Europe, he’s a legend. Milos won the MVP in 2010, but has been much better in more recent seasons (19 points per game) than he was as a precocious 23 year old.
- Nemanja Bjelica (2015): 12.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 35% 3P shooting
Forward Nemanja Bjelica was the Euroleague MVP in 2015 at 27 years old. He has since moved over to the NBA with the Timberwolves and played sporadically as a backup forward this past few seasons.
- Nando de Colo (2016): 19.4 points, 5.0 assists, 46% 3P shooting
- Sergio Rodriguez (2014): 13.3 points, 5.5 assists, 44% 3P shooting
- Juan Carlos Navarro (2009): 15.3 points, 3.5 assists, 39% 3P shooting
Guards Sergio Rodriguez (2014), Nando de Colo (2016) and Juan Carlos Navarro (2009) all had similar NBA experiences — rough attempts at making it in the NBA only to return to Europe to dominate there and win the MVP trophy at 27 or 28 years old.
- Sergio Llull (2017): 16.3 points, 5.6 assists, 35% 3P shooting
Doncic’s teammate Sergio Llull, the 2017 Euroleague MVP, has never tried the NBA. Llull, now 30 years old, missed most of this year with a torn ACL. As mentioned above, Llull had a great Final Four game as well on Friday, with 16 points and 5 assists.
How about an American player going over to Euroleague?
You might remember guard Anthony Parker. He won the Euroleague MVP in 2005 before returning to the NBA in one of the Cavaliers’ poor attempts to build a championship team around young LeBron. Parker was a good NBA player, but not a great one.
Let’s take a look at these guys’ career stats in the NBA.
Maybe per-36 is a better way to show the stats, considering they did not all get the same NBA chances.
Trust me, I am not trying to minimize Doncic’s accomplishments. I am simply showing you the NBA careers of former Euroleague MVPs to show that not all of them have translated to NBA stars. It’s just simply a different league.
Let’s bring this back to DeAndre Ayton (or even Mo Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr or Marvin Bagley III) in college vs. Luka Doncic playing against the full grown men of the NBA.
Many observers believe Real Madrid and Doncic are facing much tougher competition than any of these college prospects had to face.
While that’s true, I have to ask this question.
If any of Mohamed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marvin Bagley III or DeAndre Ayton played in Euroleague for a season or two, how would they fare? I’d guess they would fare pretty well, but that’s just my own bias I suppose.
I asked Suns VP James Jones last week about the difference between college play and Euroleague.
“It’s unique to each player,” Jones said. “Every player’s experience, in college or in Europe, you can’t discount either one of them. For Luka, he’s played professional basketball against professionals. That’s not the NBA, but college isn’t the NBA. There’s some guys in the NBA that shouldn’t be in the NBA. They can’t compete on NBA levels.”
Ahh this true, soothsayer.
“You look at [Luka’s] level of productivity,” he continued. “You can question whether or not it will translate, but we know without a doubt that it’s translating right now over there in Europe. There are a lot of really really good players who dominated in Europe and had good careers here, and there are a lot of really good players that dominate here that can’t cut it in Europe. It’s truth.”
Here’s a video of some American players you might recognize who are playing in Europe these days. It’s not easy for an American player to succeed over there.
Anthony Randolph helped Slovenia win gold last year and is now playing for Luka’s Real Madrid team. Amare Stoudemire played a year in Israel, you might have heard.
There’s also former top 10 pick Ekpe Udoh, who helped lead Fenerbahce (and Bogdan Bogdanovic) to the Euroleague championship last year and came back to the NBA with the Utah Jazz this past season.
Luka Doncic might just be the first overall draft pick next month, going to the Phoenix Suns to line up next to Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and a number of other long, versatile players.
My guess is that, as a rookie, Doncic will point guard in most offensive lineups while also being slotted defending bigger players like small forwards and small-ball big men. Doncic has the girth to hold his own down low and a international playing experience to hold up all season.
Will he be better than Ayton? We don’t know yet. We just know he will get every chance to succeed as one of the most unique players in the entire NBA.