Here is an insider article on Luka from "Cleaning the glass".
Originally there were video clips between paragraphs.
Learn even a little bit about Luka Doncic, and itís easy to believe. He has the size of a wing, rebounds like a forward, but handles and passes like a point guard. He is described as competitive, poised, and obsessed with basketball. He has dominated his peers at every age. Heís now playing as a professional against grown men and seasoned veterans ó and heís still dominating. Doncic is competing in the second best basketball league in the world, and through 31 games has more than held his own. He has been both one of the highest usage players in Euroleague play, and at the same time one of the most efficient. Pick-and-rolls captained by Doncic have had the highest points per possession, by far, compared to all others in Euroleague play, and same for ACB (Spanish) league play. And, oh yeah: thereís still a month and a half until he turns 19.
Seriously, look at the headlines of these articles. In October, Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress/ESPN wrote: There has never been an NBA draft prospect like Sloveniaís Luka Doncic. Last February, Dean Demakis asked: Is Luka Doncic the Best Draft Prospect Ever? That may sound extreme, but the articles are very reasonable. Doncicís resume and production are so good that those headlines are not just normal sports hyperbole.
Thatís why weíll start our midseason review with Doncic. But that doesnít mean weíll simply accept the idea of Doncic as a sure-fire future superstar without question. Because dig a little bit deeper, and there is still plenty to study and discuss.
One of the problems with having draft rankings is that when weíre dealing with something as uncertain as the future of a basketball player, an ordered list is too simplistic. I wrote about this around last yearís draft: some players are riskier and some are safer. How do you rank a risky player compared to a safe one? That depends on many factors, including the goals of the franchise that is picking and where in the draft their pick falls. Some franchises might be more interested in swinging for the fences and some might value playing it safe. A pick that turns into a bust at the top of the draft is much more damaging than a pick that turns into a bust later, since it means missing out on many more talented players.
(This feels like a good time to mention: if you havenít read my three-part series on the draft from last June, it will be helpful to understand the perspective Iím coming from when evaluating these players. Here are the links:
Part 1: Thereís a lot we donít know about the draft, but we do know some important things.
Part 2: If we embrace this lack of knowledge and learn the science of making decisions under uncertainty, we can understand how decision making tools like statistical analysis fit into the broader picture.
Part 3: An example of how to think about the draft through the lens of uncertainty. Introducing draft risk profiles.)
Doncicís performance thus far easily warrants consideration near the top of the draft. Barring some unknown medical red flags, Doncic will go in the top handful of selections. That means we need to evaluate him with a different perspective than we would if he were a late lottery or late first round pick.
And if weíre talking about him #1 overall? The level of scrutiny has to be even higher, the focus even sharper on one key question: what is the chance that Doncic becomes a star?
A top pick in the draft is one of the best ways for a team to acquire a franchise-changing player. Getting a star via free agency requires max cap room alongside a team that is attractive enough that a star wants to join. Acquiring one through a trade requires a star on another team to become disgruntled near the end of his contract, and a team with enough assets that they can win the bidding and still have a good enough roster to convince the star to stay when his contract is up.
But hit on a top draft pick and the player plays under a contract that is incredibly favorable to the team. The team controls the player for a minimum of 5 years, and because of the negotiating leverage on their first extension, usually has the player under contract for 9 full seasons. (For more on this, see my article from July about the NBAís salary rules, Cornered Market.)
Teams picking #1 overall, of course, have the best shot at such a player, and hit on it at a startling rate. Over the 20 drafts from 1993-2012, the #1 overall pick has been a multi-time All-Star 13 times. Why thatís the case is a discussion for another time, but suffice it to say: if a team is picking #1 and does not come away with a multi-time All-Star, thatís a disappointment.
Which means with a player like Doncic, weíre not just concerned with whether heíll be good, but just how good. If you think of the draft risk profiles I detailed in A Roll of the Dice, Part 3, weíre zooming way in on the right side of the graph and trying to get as much resolution as possible on what it looks like. What is the chance Doncic is a multi-time All-Star? A consistent All-NBA player? A Hall of Famer?
Because for Doncic, his skill level is so high that itís hard to imagine him not becoming at least a useful NBA player. This isnít Anthony Bennett or Kwame Brown, a speculative bet on something that isnít yet apparent. We can have pretty high confidence that if you put him in an NBA game today, heíd hold his own.
For someone of his size, Doncic is remarkably good at navigating tight spaces and keeping his dribble alive with a player on his back:
He keeps the ball on a string while pressured or going full speed in transition:
While his 3PT% has hovered around 33% this year and last, Doncicís shot seems stronger than that number suggests. A large percentage of these shots are off the dribble, including difficult step backs:
Those last two came in overtime, with tired legs in a big game. And he made them look easy.
He has made over 80% of his free throws this year and last, and Synergy Sports reports that heís made around 40% of his catch and shoot threes in the same timeframe, both indications heís a better shooter than his raw 3PT% would suggest.
But whatís most impressive about Doncic is his passing. Even at his age, Doncic possesses a sophisticated understanding of defensive rotations, in a way that only some of the best NBA passers do. He knows when and how the defense is going to shift and throws the pass just as theyíre heading the wrong direction. He has the height to make the pass over the top of the defense, the touch to get the speed and placement just right, and the strength to fire it one-handed from one side of the court to the other. His pick-and-roll passing, in particular, is extremely impressive. He has great pace, knows how to create angles, and he reads all 5 defenders on the court.
Hereís a full breakdown from YouTube of his passing at EuroBasket 2017 which shows off the full array of his skills:
Yet while those all may be indications of future stardom, they arenít sufficient for its achievement ó because Doncic does not seem to have the physical tools of some of the NBAís superstars. He does not appear to have freakish length, a special burst off the ground, a surge to separate from defenders, or the lateral quickness to lock up the ball. In fact, one could argue heís below average for an NBA wing in all of these categories. Is his skill level enough to make up for that?
From what I have seen so far, Doncic seems to struggle to separate from his man. He tends to play over people, not by them. He has shown nice touch and body control to convert on difficult shots, but itís possible these shots will be much more difficult against NBA defenders. His 2PT% has been quite good, and he has finished well when he has gotten to the rim, but he has not gotten all the way to the basket nearly as much as might be expected.
Defensively he has shown good recognition of team concepts, shifting as necessary when on the weak side and aware of his responsibilities tagging the roller. Certainly he seems more advanced in this area than many of his American counterparts. But he is not a high steal player, and in the film I have watched there have been reasons to worry. He hasnít guarded the ball much, but a few times had some concerning closeouts or poor instances of lateral quickness
He was targeted in the post as a good matchup for other Euroleague teams. And there were multiple instances of him missing box outs and giving up offensive rebounds to his man.
Hedo Turkoglu is a bit taller than Doncic, but during his prime in Orlando didnít play all that dissimilar from what we might expect of Doncic. He could handle and run pick-and-roll, shot better than 40% from three, and had the vision and size to pass over the defense. During those years with the Magic, Turkoglu was one of the more impactful offensive players in the league. And yet if a team selected prime Turkoglu with the #1 overall pick, theyíd be disappointed. He was very good, but not the type of player that could carry an offense, and he was a liability on the other end.
Turkoglu might be a reasonable projection for Doncic if his physical limitations put a ceiling on his development. Nicolas Batum might be another: Batum in Charlotte has been a focal point of the offense, and one of the leagueís best passing wings. Heís been a solid shooter but not great, and hasnít gotten to the rim or the foul line at a high rate, so his efficiency has only been middling. Heís clearly been one of the leagueís better offensive players, but not the top flight player you aim to get with a top overall pick ó and itís not crazy to think Doncic could end up playing similarly.
Letís go one step further: whatís the worst case (but still realistic) scenario for Doncic? If we look back in 5 years and view Doncic as a bad pick at the top of the draft, what happened?
Iíd say it would go something like this: his shot isnít quite as good as we think, so heís a decent off-the-dribble shooter but not special. He doesnít have the surge to separate off the dribble or the burst to elevate over NBA size and length in tight. That makes him a limited scorer, relegated to difficult midrange shots and pull-up threes. He is a very good passer who runs a lot of pick-and-roll, finding the open man consistently, but without being able to score efficiently teams switch a lot or drop back and try to turn him into a scorer. That makes him a solid offensive player, but his weaknesses defensively become more glaring without an ability to make up for them as much on offense.
On the other hand, itís not hard to see it all clicking. Players like Turkoglu and Batum didnít do anything close to what Doncic has done at his age. Nobody has. And that would suggest Doncic is so much further along the development curve than his counterparts that he still can get a lot better. Maybe heís prime Turkoglu and Batum right now, and as he gets with an NBA staff and matures, heíll have both skill and physical upside. Maybe his handle and shot will get even better, heíll adjust to NBA speed and size and be able to leverage it to his advantage. Maybe heíll be in the mold of Steve Nash and Steph Curry, a player whose skill-level and basketball IQ is so high that his limitations are beside the point.
Getting some sense of where Doncic falls in that range is going to be one of the most important tasks of NBA front offices at the top of the draft over the next 6 months. To that end, these are the kinds of questions that will be areas of focused study:
Will Doncic be able to put pressure on the the rim reliably in the halfcourt?
Does he do that in Europe now?
How often does he get to the rim in the halfcourt off the dribble?
What percentage has he shot on those attempts?
How contested are they?
How might that change against NBA defense?
Can he reliably beat NBA defenders off the dribble? How much does that matter for his future success?
How much upside is there from a training and physical maturity standpoint to improve his quickness and leaping?
How will he score efficiently in the NBA?
Is it all about threes?
If so, how confident are we in his shot?
Will he be able to get to the line consistently in the NBA?
How will he be a threat as a scorer out of the pick-and-roll? As a pull-up shooter, or something more?
Does that even matter? Or is he such a good passer that if defenses try to play more conservatively heíll still be able to find teammates for good looks?
What if opponents consistently switch pick-and-rolls against him? Will that turn him into a one-on-one player and neutralize a lot of his advantages?
Just how good is his passing and handle? Is it so good that heíll be able to make plays instinctively even if the defense is trying to take advantage of his weaknesses (similar to how Ben Simmons has been very effective despite teams trying to cushion everything)?
Will he be a liability defensively? If so, how much?
Who will he guard?
Can he guard NBA perimeter speed and shooting?
Can he switch onto bigger players and handle them on the post or on the glass?
How much is his defensive rebounding a factor?
His numbers are good, but how many of those are uncontested rebounds where he grabs and goes vs. traffic rebounds?
Does he consistently box out or understand rebounding positioning to contribute on the glass even if he doesnít grab as many rebounds himself?