Luka Doncic just finished a remarkable season on Tuesday.
After playing a key role on the Slovenian National Team squad that won the 2017 Eurobasket, the 19-year-old went on to win Euroleague and Spanish ACB MVP honors, while leading Real Madrid to continental and domestic titles.
There has never been a player who accomplished as much internationally by such a young age.
The Ljubljana native has accumulated 4,404 minutes of pro experience over the last four years, defending Real Madrid in the two toughest leagues outside the United States and his country in the most competitive tournament among nations.
Most recently, the six-foot-eight passing wizard averaged 22.5 points per 40 minutes on 59.2% true shooting and compiled a 22.8 PER in 73 appearances last season .
With Sergio Llull injuring his knee during the summer and subsequently missing the vast majority of the year, Doncic was the top shot creator on the team and was relied on to run a ton of offense – logging 26.8% usage rate and assisting on 30.5% of Real Madrid’s scores when he was on the floor.
Most people view him as best suited for a role as secondary shot creator but Doncic showed this year, at the highest level of European basketball, that he is capable of doing more than just breaking down a scrambling defense or running offense for short stretches. And soon we will get to see to which extent his shot creation prowess can translate to the NBA.
On the other end, Doncic regressed. Tasked with a larger burden on offense, his commitment to off ball defense declined. And it was once again proven true that he is not suited to defending at the point of attack, consistently needing to be paired with a smaller player capable of handling opposing point guards.
There were still glimpses of intelligent help defense, though. And his contributions on the glass continued to be pretty strong.
Creating for others remains the best part of his skill-set.
Doncic has remarkable court vision on the move and can anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they become evident. He excels in transition as well but the true foundation of his game is operating in pick-and-roll.
Doncic enjoys an advantageous point of view thanks to his height but has also developed the ability to freeze help defenders with his eyes. I can’t believe there are teams that still hedge against him, as he’s proven time and time again that he can absolutely destroy them seeing over the top, spotting whomever is over in the blink of an eye and firing bullet passes no big man can outrun.
Off dribble penetration, Doncic has shown he can pass across the court to the opposite corner against the momentum of his body, make wraparound pocket passes and toss up lobs in traffic – averaging 7.1 assists per 40 minutes last season.
Just as a significantly, Doncic has really improved his ability to take care of the ball. A reckless passer who was constantly trying to thread the needle earlier in his career, he turned it over on just 15.3% of his possessions this past year – an acceptable rate for someone with his high usage and assist rates.
Doncic took a step forward as a catch-and-shoot shooter. One year ago in the 2017 Euroleague Final Four, Fenerbahçe beat Real Madrid in the semifinal in large part by playing off Doncic when he spaced the floor. Such a strategy was no longer viable last season, as he improved into a more consistently capable open shot shooter, if not yet a knockdown one.
His catch-and-shoot stroke looks good more often than not, as he does great shot prep, rises up in balance and has compact mechanics. His release gets a little bit quicker every year, though the fact he gets little elevation off the ground and his launch point out in front might cause him to struggle a little bit more against lengthier NBA wings closing out to him.
Doncic took some shots coming off pindown screens and coming to the ball for dribble hand-offs from time to time but doesn’t have a dynamic enough release to take shots on the move with regularity at this point of his development.
He nailed just 31% of his 348 three-point shots last season, at a pace of 7.5 such attempts per 40 minutes. That percentage was so poor because Doncic had to create a large portion of his long bombs off the bounce, including a good deal of them late in the shot clock.
He showed development as a shooter off the dribble as well, taking them in very diverse ways; raw step-back pull-up off suddenness and going between the legs into a step-back pull-up in isolation, turnaround fade-away jumper in the post, stop-and-pop and pull-back pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll, shot fake into a one-dribble side-step three-pointer escaping a closeout.
Doncic has range out to the three-point line on some of these shots but for the most part these tough looks were responsible for his lousy percentage from beyond the arc. However, he established himself a good shot maker from mid-range. Doncic hit 58% of his 370 two-point shots, while making most of his living on these pull-ups.
There is some skepticism regarding his ability to create good enough separation in isolation to make as good a living on these looks at the NBA level, though. Doncic doesn’t have an explosive first step, a particularly advanced handle or a whole lot of shiftiness. His best resource for setting himself up so far has been leaning into his man as he initiates forward momentum and then taking a hard step-back, with the exception of when he is able to destabilize the opponent by going between the legs into his step-back – something that can be taken away from him if the defender is on top of the scouting report.
Doncic can get deep into the lane off pick-and-roll by playing with pace and putting his man in jail. He can also mix in the eventual spin move to gain some ground as he charges forward.
Doncic can go up off two feet with power if he has some space to load up but isn’t an explosive leaper off one foot in traffic. He also hasn’t shown much ability to over-extend around rim protectors, lacking elite length for someone his height.
But Doncic is a fairly resourceful scorer on finesse finishes; spin move into lefty finger-roll layup, lefty speed layup, shot fake off stopping on a dime into a righty scoop finish, neutralizing shot blockers by wrong footing his leap or stepping through, running floater, floater off a jump-stop.
His large 228-pound frame also invites contact, as Doncic averaged 7.7 foul shots per 40 minutes last season.
He is not as capable of getting to the basket one-and-one, though. The most concerning aspect of his game is his inability to get by big men on switches, even unathletic types. His lack of shiftiness and explosiveness really hurts him here.
While he is capable of running point on a full time basis on offense, Doncic is not suited to defend the point of attack on defense. He is too big to be able to get skinny over picks at the point of attack and while he has shown some hustle to try making plays in pursuit in the past, that sort of tenacity seems to have gone away.
Doncic also struggles to stay in front of smaller players out in space, so he is not a good option to pick up these types on switches either.
Against similarly sized players, he can bend his knees to get down in a stance, has multiple lateral slides in him to try staying in front, can leverage his bulk to chest up and contain dribble penetration by less physical types, and can use his eight-foot-nine standing reach to contest shots.
However, his post defense, once stout, has regressed, as he no longer put up that much of a fight when wings took him to the block.
His effort away from the ball was the biggest issue, though. His closeouts left a lot to be desired and he lost his man from time-to-time, aside from the fact he struggled to navigate screens chasing around shooters who get their looks off movement. Doncic also doesn’t play with enough intensity to fly around disrupting plays in the passing lanes.
But there were still glimpses of potentially elite help defense here and there. When he is locked in, Doncic can execute the scheme, rotate in to pick up the roll man and go up off two feet to contest shots via verticality or even pick up the eventual block every once in a while – recording 27 blocks last season.
And he remained an elite defensive rebounder for a perimeter player – collecting 20.9% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.