Luka Doncic is another European example of foreigners who can go head-to-head in a league dominated by Americans
By Klyde Manansala | Photos from Instagram
With future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki’s imminent retirement, the Dallas Mavericks needs a new savior. Fortunately for the struggling franchise, they may have found it in Luka Doncic.
After being selected third overall by the Atlanta Hawks at last Friday’s draft, the Slovenian prodigy joined the Mavericks in exchange for their draft rights on Trae Young. Mark Cuban, Mavericks team owner, believes that Doncic is the next big thing not just in their franchise but also in the entire league.
Doncic isn’t the first European player to join the league—and definitely not the last—but after harnessing his talent at a tender age, he has the skills to become one of the game’s elites. Unlike his contemporaries Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, and Goran Dragic, none showed their startling potential so early on in their NBA careers as Doncic has so far today.
At 19, Doncic is already the most accomplished European teen draftee in the NBA’s history. Before following in the footsteps of Ricky Rubio, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Dario Saric, and Nikola Mirotic all of whom also spent time in the EuroLeague before jumping into the NBA, the shooting guard had garnered numerous awards at a very young age.
Anyone who has scouted Doncic wouldn’t be surprised if he plays like a veteran in his rookie year. At 13, Doncic found himself playing as a reserve for Real Madrid at the EuroLeague after moving to Spain. Three years later, at just 16, Doncic was officially listed in the roster of Real Madrid, which plays for both EuroLeague and Liga ACB, making him the youngest player ever to debut in either league.
Year after year, Doncic gradually displayed his improving game. From playing just 12 games in 2016 and averaging 3.5 points, 2.0 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game, he commenced his 2018 season playing the finest games of his life to average 16 points, four assists, and five boards per game in 33 outings, mowing down team after team to lead Real Madrid to the 2018 EuroLeague title, lift MVP awards, and, most important of all, signal another European invasion in the NBA.
These achievements alone places Doncic above any American player who was drafted last Friday. Trae Young is great, but Dallas’ decision to acquire a swingman who plays point-forward will fit perfectly with their current roster. This naturally lightens Smith Jr.’s load on facilitating the floor as the second-year guard can do more of the scoring alongside Harrison Barnes.
Doncic’s arrival in Dallas is also the missing piece that could steer the Mavericks back in the right direction after missing the playoffs for consecutive years. The Mavericks have good guards in JJ Barea, Seth Curry, and Wesley Matthews, but none of them have Doncic’s great court vision and ability to play multiple positions. A combination of Smith Jr. and Doncic calling the plays could be one of the deadliest back courts in the league if they make strides together in the coming years.
Cuban has likened Doncic to Steve Nash because of his sparkling passing skills, which is just one of his many gifts. Doncic is a raw talent who is regarded as a position-less guard like LeBron James (save for the athleticism Doncic still lacks). The 6’8” guard can facilitate the floor and play number two and small forward position despite his big frame. Doncic has also mastered the art of pick-and-roll plays that could be utilized by the Maverick with Nowitzki and Barnes on the floor.
Of all his skills, Doncic’s fearlessness to take game-deciding shots is his most astonishing asset. During those crucial moments, he has shown a level of confidence and self-belief that will serve him well in the American court.
However, even though Doncic has played with former NBA players in Europe, he may still struggle to adjust in his debut season. His lateral quickness on the defensive end has been a concern due to the fact that he’s going to play defense against explosive guards like Russell Westbrook—but having Smith Jr. on his side could help him surpass this challenge.
In the meantime, let’s sit back and watch Doncic demonstrate all the tools in his arsenal. If he stays healthy throughout his rookie season, he’ll be a strong contender for the Rookie of the Year over anyone else in his draft class.