You get the broad strokes. Luka Doncic is going to be a star. He’s a guard with forward-like size, or a forward with a guard’s game. He’s got expansive passing ability, which he’s honed through an adolescence spent in the second-best league in the world. He’s Euro LeBron—or no, that’s pushing it, how about Gordon Hayward with Manu Ginobili’s brain? He’s brash, unafraid to take the big shot. He’s wise beyond his years, reading the floor like a seasoned vet.
The headline, what’s being argued, beyond the specifics, which are finite, few, and sort of irrelevant, is that he’s a sensation: an infinite thing, infinitely parseable, a screen stretching from horizon to horizon upon which we can project whatever—art, dreams, Jenny Holzer text, but mostly, for some reason, superlatives, leeringly fetishistic descriptions of his pick-and-roll acumen, spreadsheetishly dull translations of foreign league statistics, advocacy and marketing, blaring hype like an anhedonic drug, like water that makes you one percent happier and seven percent more anxious.
I don’t really care for draft coverage. I don’t like showbiz columns or political horse race fluff or tech rollout liveblogs. I’m allergic to savvy. If you try to show me the game behind the game, or the next hot new thing, I’m out. I once sniffed around a job at OZY, a publication i can’t even properly describe because it’s so emptily buzzy and useless. The best way to explain it is they put together that hilariously ideology-free ideas conference the internet made fun of for a few days. At the time I spoke to them, they were still trying to figure out what they were (and I suppose still are) and the thing they kept telling me was that the site was going to be about being ahead of the curve. So I guess, like, profiling a trendy restaurant before it becomes a trendy restaurant, or identifying a mayoral candidate as a 2028 presidential favorite? I never totally got the idea, but I knew that I found it loathsome and intellectually bankrupt. Because if you’re selling people the future, you’re only selling them your flawed and probably incorrect notions about it. In other words, you’re selling them nothing, and selling people nothing is a crime.
I know that draft coverage is not, strictly speaking, nothing. There’s genuine, hard-won information there. Draftniks—people who understand basketball on an elemental level better than I do, by the way—watch hours and hours of tape and interview coaches and visit camps to try to deliver to readers a detailed portrait of some 19-year-old prospect about whom they are often genuinely enthusiastic. It’s not cynical or empty work.
But I resent it all the same, because when I’m reading it, I often feel like I’m being pitched. I’m skimming a list of back-of-the-box features: “Doncic is already advanced at reading pick-and-rolls, changing speeds, and creating angles to throw dagger passes above and through the defense.” Or sucking down hyperbole: “Luka Doncic is the most accomplished NBA prospect in decades.” Or suffering the tedious, faux cinematic prose of a myth-building celebrity profile: ”a few minutes after the April photo shoot in Madrid, after dribbling the scuffed basketball that lives in the trunk of his Porsche while cameras flash away, Doncic sits on a bench in a brightly lit studio.” Modern life already feels too much like living inside a commercial to actively seek out the sensation of being watched through a one-way mirror.
I also question the utility of this stuff, which tends to run together to the point that what’s being praised and proclaimed about Doncic sounds a lot like what was previously said about Andrew Wiggins or Anthony Davis or Kwame Brown. As the draft-industrial complex has grown, so has the granularity of the analysis, but because predictions are, no matter how observation- or data-backed, disposable and always wrong in some respect or another, a process that has a whiff of science about it spits out nothing so grand as crude ballyhoo: this guy’s going to be really, really good. Seems like something I could guess at.
And ultimately, as draft fervor peaks—as this expert parrots another, by dint not of plagiarism so much as there not being all that much to say about an NBA career that hasn’t started yet—it functions more as an alarm, a several times daily reminder to be excited. This would be annoying by itself, but considering the entire media landscape has organized itself into a billboard for a Marvel movie that doesn’t come out for another six months, it’s downright depressing. I’ve got more conditional excitement than I know what to do with, a whole skyscraper-sized bookshelf of Content Yet To Come that I sometimes wish I could pull down on top of myself just to feel something now, in the moment. Because I’m numb, and what I would like, what would put some warm blood back in my aspartame-choked veins, is for somebody to talk to me about something they simply like—a book they’re reading, a basketball player with a hitchy jumpshot, a french fry sandwich—so I can ground myself in the present and know that it’s possible to be a little bit satisfied with what already exists.
You’ll notice that I’m levying this criticism at the conclusion of what’s ostensibly an NBA season preview, in which you will find a lot of stuff that falls well outside the genre but also, inevitably, some predictions, some hopes, pointless conjecture. This isn’t an argument against one way of writing about sports (or culture, or politics, or whatever). It’s a call, sure to be unheeded, for some balance, the service of many different types of interests. The sheer amount of attention-chasing fake clairvoyant articles out there has got me itchy and dazed.
I can’t tell you one thing about Luka Doncic that we don’t both already know. But you see, that is exciting. It means we have a chance to learn about him together.
More 2018 Futures: Kevin Love, Manu Ginobili, Marcus Smart, John Wall, Devin Booker, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Trae Young, Kenneth Faried, Joakim Noah, Mike Conley, Ben McLemore, Kawhi Leonard, Aaron Gordon, Danilo Gallinari, Wayne Ellington, Frank Kaminsky, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, Paul Millsap, Kris Dunn, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Durant, C.J. McCollum, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic