An 18-year-old Slovenian by the name of Luka Doncic has NBA talent scouts salivating.
Doncic is one of the most complete prospects in years, his combination of size, court vision, scoring ability, and versatility is ideal for the current landscape of the NBA.
But he’s not just a raw product, dude is playing for Real Madrid, the best basketball team in the world outside the NBA and producing against grown men.
While his American colleagues are finishing up high school and dunking all over kids in chem class, Doncic is playing professionally in the second best league in the world and balling. He fills the box score, able to do basically whatever he wants on the offensive end of the floor. He turned 18 in February.
Doncic’s numbers with Real Madrid this season drawn out over 40 minutes highlight his unique ability: 15.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and 1.7 steals a game on 43.4 percent shooting.
Slovenian countryman and NBA veteran Goran Dragic, who played with Doncic’s father, and now Luka, for the Slovenian national team had some pretty high praise for the younger Doncic,
“Mark my words,” said Dragic, “he’s going to be one of the best in the whole world.”
Doncic showed the world, or at least all of Europe, why he’s so highly-rated at this month’s Eurobasket Championship, where Slovenia took the Gold.
Against Greece early in the tournament, Doncic dropped 22 points, five rebounds, and three assists in an impressive and efficient display,
Luka Doncic showed a little bit of everything today. Comes alive when on ball. Advanced PnR game – pull up range, uses size, elite vision. pic.twitter.com/ETZErRMdtB
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) September 3, 2017
A look at his highlights show a 6’8″ guard built like, well, not an 18-year-old, able to find his way into dangerous positions and pick a perfect pass.
Doncic is good around the rim, has excellent ball-handling skills, can bully smaller guards, and blow past bigger forwards.
He has a good, not-great-yet, shot, but talent evaluators say his form will allow him to improve from distance.
Luka Doncic out there dropping laser-beam assists pic.twitter.com/5nKZKjo41y
— Eurohoops.net (@Eurohoopsnet) August 31, 2017
During Eurobasket Doncic averaged 14.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists alongside Dragic and former NBA big man and LSU Tiger Anthony Randolph, a naturalized citizen of Slovenia.
Randolph also spoke about Doncic’s potential, while trying to keep expectations relatively tempered. Randolph told ESPN,
“I don’t want to give him a big head, but I think he’s probably one of the best talents that I’ve ever seen, especially at his age. It’s unbelievable. Just for his size, the way that he handles the game, the way that he carries himself on and off the court. He’s just so versatile. I mean, the kid can damn near average a triple double when he figures it out.”
So who does Doncic compare to? Basketball fans (and actual NBA executives) love a good comparison. It helps our small brains understand a player we haven’t seen much of. The issue is that Doncic doesn’t compare to anyone.
There aren’t any NBA players, past or present, that have the same skill-set as the young Slovenian. His offensive game is similar to his countryman Dragic, but he towers over the Miami Heat guard. His versatility is somewhat similar to Draymond Green, but he doesn’t play defense like Green and looks to be a far better offensive player.
There is no precedent for Luka Doncic, which is a testament to his unique abilities, but also has talent evaluators around the NBA somewhat skeptical.
Front office executives like to be able to simplify a player’s profile by comparing him to someone they’re more familiar with, especially with an 18-year-old who plays in Spain.
Doncic defies this.
Elan Vinokurov, who runs EV Hoops, a scouting service employed by teams around the NBA, spoke to The Ringer about Doncic’s uniqueness, which will have some teams evaluating him as a once in a generation talent, while others won’t see him fitting into the NBA,
“There’s a good chance we get to next April and [Doncic] is the most polarizing player in the draft. We have never seen a player like him before, in terms of what he’s done in Europe at his age. I’m usually a guy who’s quick to come up with comparisons, but no one really comes to mind. He’s one of a kind.”
This polarization is already playing out.
An anonymous statistical analyst for an NBA team told The Ringer that Doncic was the second-best player in the world outside the NBA,
“I’ve been tracking him for years. My model has him as the second-best player in the world outside of the NBA. If I was running a team at the top of the draft, I’d be doing everything in my power to get him.”
Whereas other evaluators see him as a “smaller Hedo Torkoglu.”
There’s a bunch of competition at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft. Michael Porter Jr. is the early favorite to be the first pick and big men Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley III, and DeAndre Ayton will all be vying with Doncic to be selected early in the draft.
NBA teams might decide to go with the more familiar, American commodities, but Luka Doncic has been balling against professionals since he was 16 and has one of the most unique set of skills of any NBA prospect ever.
He might just change the face of the NBA.