NBA Exec Says Luka Doncic 'Leap Years Above Anyone' After EuroBasket Brilliance
NBA unicorn Kristaps Porzingis looked heated as time expired in his EuroBasket quarterfinal Tuesday. His 34 points for Latvia weren't enough against Slovenia—it was a memorable but wasted effort, overshadowed by the 18-year-old who'd just beat him for a layup and burned him with a step-back three.
Luka Doncic is already raising the bar for college basketball's top NBA prospects and gamely challenging proven NBA pros like Porzingis.
"Michael Porter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III couldn't put up the production that Doncic is doing in a 40-minute FIBA ball-control game," an NBA veteran scouting executive told Bleacher Report.
Doncic, who went for 27 points and nine rebounds against Latvia, is building confidence in scouts and momentum in the debate as the No. 1 overall draft pick for 2018.
"Yes, 100 percent," said the executive when asked if Doncic could go first. "His game is leap years above anyone. Continues to shine and impress."
In 2018, Porter won't be able to cake-walk to No. 1 at Missouri with empty team production, the way Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz did in college. Flashes of upside will not be enough for Duke's Bagley, like they were for Karl-Anthony Towns at Kentucky.
Doncic has entered their tier, putting together a resume no 2017-18 college star will match.
International teenagers don't typically play big minutes in Euroleague or for their national teams.
Part of the big draw to Doncic is the fact that, whatever reservations you may have about his average athleticism, he's consistently produced against quality European clubs and countries with quality NBA players. His unique game has worked in the face of high-end competition, and he's still younger any of the top-ranked college kids.
He was also younger than any player to win MVP of a Euroleague round last season. He wound up winning three more en route to Real Madrid's 2017 Final Four run. Two weeks into September, and he's suddenly Goran Dragic's sidekick, taking names deep into EuroBasket.
At Doncic's age, recent early picks like Porzingis, Dragan Bender and Mario Hezonja weren't nearly as productive or experienced. And Dante Exum, Frank Ntilikina and Nikola Jokic played at lower levels.
He's not the perfect prospect on paper, but Doncic's consistent success is speaking for itself and strengthening a No. 1 overall draft case that already had some steam.
Basketball IQ and Skill vs. Talent, Athleticism
Prepare for similar discussion about Doncic versus the 2018 field as we did with Lonzo Ball versus Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and De'Aaron Fox. There are obvious differences between Doncic and Ball, but we're still talking about prospects whose value is driven by basketball IQ and skill, not tools, bounce or scoring upside.
To value Doncic over competitors like Porter, Bagley, Arizona's DeAndre Ayton and Texas' Mohamed Bamba, you'd have to put extra stock in his feel for the game and toughness, because he isn't going to jump as high, reach as far or move as fast.
At 6'7", Doncic handles the ball like a guard, but he separates himself with vision, passing instincts and decision-making that frequently show, though mostly in ball-screen situations. A natural facilitator, he takes the right steps at the right speeds to manipulate the defense before threading the needle or lofting a touch entry to the roll man.
Shooting is the other big selling point for Doncic, who's gradually become more threatening by the year. After knocking down 76 total threes in 80 games and making 80.8 percent of his free throws in 2016-17, Doncic has hit 17 triples through seven EuroBasket contests, showing tremendous confidence and versatility with his shot-making.
He's finding new ways to create separation and make tougher jumpers off the dribble. Scoring isn't Doncic's primary identity, but it's becoming a bigger part of it between his ability to improvise and a perimeter game that's developing nicely.
Completely Positionless: Fits in Everywhere
It's both impossible and silly to label Doncic with a position.
Point-wing would be the most accurate description, but Doncic is a puzzle piece capable of changing its shape. No NBA team will have to question his fit with its roster.
He'll often bring the ball up and initiate the offense, tapping into his playmaking IQ. But he's just as comfortable spotting up around the arc and playing the 2 or 3 as a ball-mover, shooter or cutter.
We've seen promising defensive quickness around the perimeter and a standout nose for the ball under the boards, where he hunts down opposing teams' misses and quickly looks to turn around and push the break. Doncic's 7.7 rebounds per game at EuroBasket rank No. 6, a smidge more than Pau Gasol and 0.4 more than Marc Gasol at No. 8. His Slovenia side takes on Spain and the Gasols in a semifinal Thursday.
And he couldn't have picked a better time to become draft-eligible, with versatility rising in value and an NBA that's becoming more accepting of positionless lineups.
Doncic lacks the explosiveness and quickness that traditionally fuels No. 1 overall upside, particularly for a perimeter-oriented player.
Is he a future superstar or more of a quality role player? For a general manager, it's not a question you'd want to ask when talking about a potential first pick in the draft.
Can he blow by someone off the bounce without using a screen? Doncic does have a habit of settling for step-back jumpers when his man sags back to take away the drive. In 158 combined pro, junior and FIBA games since 2015, he's averaged 4.3 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes.
How well will he finish at the rim? Can he put enough pressure on defenses as a scorer?
None of these questions are overly alarming, but they are worth asking and considering when assessing Doncic versus a 6'10" polished scorer (Porter), an electric, do-it-all big man (Bagley) and two anchors with over 7'5" wingspans and improving skills (Ayton and Bamba).
Doncic's floor looks sky-high and risk-free. There aren't any signs of bust potential. The debate is over his NBA ceiling.
Why NBA Teams Could See Doncic as No. 1
"Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dirk—we could all beat them in a foot race. Can't beat or teach the fundamental skill level this kid Doncic shows," said the NBA exec.
There have been enough examples of players defying the laws of upside, and Doncic is building a case to become another.
Along with all the size, skill and numbers, he is also delivering under unprecedented expectations, showcasing a competitive edge and fearlessness in key moments.
Given his play at EuroBasket, it's only reasonable to think he's ready for a bigger role with Real Madrid. By June, the draft's most proven player won't have had any NCAA experience.
The rules of upside still favor Porter and Bagley, but Doncic has left them with little margin for error.