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Luka Doncic – The Greatest European Prospect Ever And Potential #1 Pick

There’s been a quiet buzz building around 18 year old Luka Doncic, a Slovenian native who plays for Real Madrid, one of the best basketball teams in Europe.

Javier Mendia Garcia/Flickr

Luka Doncic – The Greatest European Prospect Ever And Potential #1 Pick

There’s been a quiet buzz building around 18 year old Luka Doncic, a Slovenian native who plays for Real Madrid, one of the best basketball teams in Europe. While formerly international prospects were viewed with some skepticism, the game of basketball has blossomed around the world, to the point where ESPN international scouting analyst Fran Fraschilla calls Spain’s top league, where Real Madrid plays, “the second best basketball league in the world.” But other international prospects have been hyped before. What is it that makes Doncic so special?

To start, his per 36 averages last season were 14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and an combined average 1.7 blocks and steals, with a breathtaking 57.9% True Shooting metric. While Per 36 is normally a mediocre metric at best, it’s relevant here because European teams use a much deeper bench than NBA franchises do, and rotate players more frequently. He also had a notable 20.1 PER in roughly 20 minutes a game last year – again, PER isn’t the strongest metric, but it’s worth noting that of recent international draft picks, only Dario Saric is in the same ballpark – and Saric was 21 to Doncic’s 18.

He has solid shooting ability at all three levels and his passing ability, basketball intelligence, and decision making all are stupendous for a player of his age, giving his future NBA employers the ability to insert his 6’7, 218 pound frame in multiple positions and with a variety of looks. That includes point forward, which he’s played in spurts for his Spanish team. His ability to draw contact has also shown improvement, as has his ability to read the lanes for steals. In short, Doncic has a complete skillset at college freshman age that makes him polished as an NBA mid-career veteran.

However, like most European players, there’s the question of if his game can transition to the NBA style. He’ll never have more than average athleticism and will need to put on muscle to compete with the more physically gifted players in the American league. While his offensive game is already impressive, to truly become all he’s capable of, he’ll need to further develop his shooting ability, and should ideally go to a team that can put him on an opponent’s worst perimeter player defensively.


Virtually every scout agrees that the Slovenian, who declared for his native country and shredded the Russian U-22 team for 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in just under 14 minutes in his national team debut, is a safe pick. Even the most skeptical observer puts his floor at Hedo Turkoglu, who had a solid 15 year NBA career – 7 as an authentic starter. Thus, the chances of his becoming a Darko Milicic level bust are virtually nonexistent. While that would be obviously disappointing for a #1 overall pick in next year’s top heavy draft class, nonetheless it’s a useful player, unlike some others (Kandi Man, Anthony Bennett, we’re looking at you).

Where opinion splits, and what makes Doncic the single most divisive player in next year’s draft class, is his ceiling. Some scouts see him as nothing more than a respectable future starter – others see him in such glowing terms as a European version of Magic Johnson. That’s a wide variance, and the reason for it is because there’s never been a European prospect who has accomplished so much, or looked so polished, at such a young age. There’s a real fear that he could end up another Andrea Bargnani, whose only skill was volume scoring, and at disappointing efficiency at that, after being the first European drafted #1 overall. While the current data suggests that’s not likely to happen with Doncic, it’s a case study that’s given some scouts pause.

In any case, he’ll be one of the most intriguing prospects to watch when he enters the draft, his career one that will add a new dimension and important information when NBA talent evaluators are looking at potential players in the Euroleague.


Tim Moungey is owner and founder of Tourmaline Writing Company, a Las Vegas-based writing services firm, and co-author of Bleeding Greed, a book about a stockbroker who worked at Stratton Oakmont (the firm that inspired the Wolf of Wall Street). He has taught writing and literature at the University of Arkansas, UNLV, and the College of Southern Nevada. While at UNLV, he also taught Contemporary Issues in College Sports and Contemporary Issues in Pro Sports. His non-sports interests include binging TV series on Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go; indulging his nerd side with Magic: the Gathering, and plotting his next travel destination. A 2013 MFA in Creative Writing graduate from UNLV, Tim also has experience in public relations, and is eagerly awaiting the day Las Vegas gets an NBA franchise.

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