Does Luka Doncic Have Any Flaws? Peers, Coaches, Scouts Have to 'Nitpick'

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterFebruary 4, 2019

Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic (77), from Slovenia, drives past Cleveland Cavaliers' Matthew Dellavedova (18) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Cleveland. The Mavericks won 111-98. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Dallas Mavericks swingman Luka Doncic could have felt right at home this past weekend.

Forty-five minutes before his game against the Cleveland Cavaliers tips off, the Rookie of the Year front-runner is making his way through a gathering of fans decked out in traditional Slovenian red, white and blue. Cleveland has the largest population of Slovenians outside of the country itself, and it looks like all have come out to see their native son.

Doncic flashes his boyish smile. He signs autographs and poses for pictures. He even stops to greet the first prime minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Lojze Peterle, whom Doncic has never met before.

At 19, Doncic carries himself like a 10-year veteran both on and off the floor.

Something seems too good to be true. Rookies in the NBA shouldn't be this good this quickly. The learning curve for rookie point guards can especially be brutal, given the intense competition they face at their position every night.

But as a teenager, Doncic can score, rebound and pass like an All-Star. 

Is there any part of his game he even needs to work on?

"Every part," Doncic tells Bleacher Report. "I think you can improve everything by the day. You can't be satisfied by what you have. Just working on every part right now."

Oh, and he's modest, too.

Doncic has to have a weakness somewhere, right? 


Cedi Osman, a native of Turkey, has faced Doncic before on their respective national teams. He's gone over the scouting report. He knows Doncic's killer step-back three is coming.

But much like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook, there's nothing an opponent can do.

Doncic splashes step-back three after step-back three, each time generating a greater buzz from the Slovenian-populated crowd. At the end of the first quarter against the Cavaliers, Doncic already has 18 points. 

All Osman can do is shake his head.

"For a 19-year-old, it's as good of an overall game as I've ever seen," teammate and 21-year NBA veteran Dirk Nowitzki told B/R.

The rookie dubbed Wonder Boy is leading the Mavericks in scoring with 20.7 points per game. Only a few days into February, Dallas has already matched its win total from a season ago, with 30 games left to play.

"That was my first time seeing him," Cavs head coach Larry Drew said. "He's a terrific player.

"He plays with a confidence both off the dribble and taking a three-point shot. When you watch their team play, basically he's the point guard. A lot of what they do, it goes through him at the top of the floor. He's the facilitator. Doesn't look like he gets too rattled when teams are pressuring him defensively. He plays under control. He plays inside and out. He's a terrific player. Defensively, we did a good job. He just made some tough shots."

Doncic carved up the Cavaliers for 35 points, tying a career high. The Cavs used Osman and David Nwaba, their best wing defender, on him with little success. Traditional point guards can't defend his 6'7", 218-pound frame. Bigger defenders are often too slow. Night after night, it's a struggle for teams to find someone who can make him uncomfortable.

"He's a legit 6'8"," Nowitzki notes, adding an inch to Doncic's official listed height. "He's a big boy."

Cavs big man Larry Nance Jr. was surprised when he stepped on the court and was nearly eye to eye with the Mavs guard.

"Man, he's impressive," Nance Jr. said. "You see him on TV and everything, and it's hard to tell how tall he is until you get next to him. He's a problem now. What is he, 19 or 20? So, what, we're going to have to deal with that for another 18, 15 more years or however long he's lucky enough to play? I'm a fan."

Doncic has perhaps as perfect of an offensive game as one could hope for at his age. He's lethal with his step-back three, forcing opponents to close out before he gets into the lane for a floater or lobs up an alley-oop to a cutting big man. His size, court vision and passing ability conjure up comparisons to LeBron James and Magic Johnson.

"Everyone knows LeBron is my idol," Doncic says. "I just try to play the game like him."

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Even NBA scouts, among the best talent evaluators in the world, struggle to find weak spots in his game.

"He really doesn't have much," one Western Conference scout told B/R. "You'd really be nitpicking.

"You can say 'lack of athleticism,' but he makes up for that with his size, IQ and poise. He beats more athletic defenders every night, so that doesn't really matter. He's young and can get emotional at times, but he's fearless. He won't stop shooting or making plays. He's a stud. It's very impressive what he's doing at such a young age coming from Europe."

The search for a weakness continues.


Historically, rookie point guards are often bad defenders. Given the premium of talent at their position, they're forced to learn the tendencies of dozens of opposing floor generals while having to score and create for their own teams.

Perhaps opponents can exploit Doncic defensively?  

Well, kind of.

The Mavericks are only slightly worse on defense with Doncic on the court (107.5 defensive rating to 103.9). When Dallas switches defensively, Doncic's size gives him an advantage.

"All rookies get attacked defensively," Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle told B/R. "He's really picked up his defense. Not only knowledge of how to defend in the NBA, but getting into a stance and being able to guard guys of all sizes. We do switch at times, and he's switched on to big guys, switched on to small guys and he's gotten better and better."

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 22: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks plays defense against the Chicago Bulls during a game on October 22, 2018 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
Glenn James/Getty Images

Even Doncic, who claims "every part" of his game needs work, acknowledges the strides he's made in 50 regular-season NBA games.

"It's good," Doncic says when asked to assess his defense. "Working on it and just keep working on it."

When pressed to name something Doncic may need to improve, Nowitzki brought up defense before continuing to shower the rookie in compliments.

"Probably more on the other side of the ball," Nowitzki said. "I always say that the things that come later are the in-between game, the one- and two-dribble pull-ups, the floater, but he's already got that. He's shooting with the best of them. He can post; we post him up against smaller guards. He's got a pretty great all-around offensive game already."

That isn't much for opposing teams to go off of. Attack Doncic defensively and hope you can challenge his lack of lateral quickness. Even if that works, he's likely coming back the other way and splashing a three in your face. 

Doncic is special. He's the first rookie to average at least 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game since Oscar Robertson did so in 1960-61.

The difference? Robertson turned 22 at the beginning of that year. Doncic won't turn 20 until Feb. 28.

If Doncic has any weaknesses, they remain few and far between.

If he continues playing like this, every court will feel like home.

        

Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

Related

    Report: Nets Are Interested in a Kyrie-DLo Pairing

    Some within organization think an Irving-Russell backcourt could 'not only coexist, but thrive'

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Nets Are Interested in a Kyrie-DLo Pairing

    Some within organization think an Irving-Russell backcourt could 'not only coexist, but thrive'

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    Vote for House of Highlights' Moment of the Year Award

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Vote for House of Highlights' Moment of the Year Award

    NBA.com
    via NBA.com

    How to Stop Giannis, According to the Player Who's Tried It Most

    NBA logo
    NBA

    How to Stop Giannis, According to the Player Who's Tried It Most

    SBNation.com
    via SBNation.com

    All-NBA Supermax System Is Creating More Problems Than Answers

    NBA logo
    NBA

    All-NBA Supermax System Is Creating More Problems Than Answers

    SI.com
    via SI.com