With Sergio Rodriguez transferring to the NBA and Facundo Campazzo loaned to Murcia once again, expectation was that 17 year-old Luka Doncic was going to be a more active part of Real Madrid’s rotation this season, even after the signing of Don Draper – a favorite of head-coach Pablo Laso.
And that has not only materialized but the Slovenian phenom is also up to a very strong start. He’s logged 72 minutes against tough competition – Barcelona, Unicaja, Oklahoma City and Valencia – and as of now should probably be expected to log something like 1,500 minutes this year.
The biggest issue with teenagers at the pro level is the physical nature of the game but there is no such concern with Doncic. Real Madrid still lists him as a six-foot-six, 218-pounder but he’s come back from the summer noticeably taller and with a bulkier frame.
Doncic has consistently proven he has the strength to hold ground in the post against men 10-15 years older than him.
But more impressive was this drive against Victor Oladipo on a straight isolation, where Doncic was able to maintain his balance through contact and get all the way to the basket.
At that size and possessing that sort of strength to hold his own on defense against wings and even true big men on switches, Doncic provides tremendous flexibility for his coach to adjust lineups around him according to the opponent.
Against Unicaja, he struggled to defend Nemanja Nedovic, who blew by him on a couple of straight isolations.
Doncic also doesn’t navigate screens particularly well at this point of his development.
As he still works through those issues, Doncic should probably log most of his minutes this season alongside Draper, freeing him up to act as a weak-side defender more often. Doncic has some lapses in attention at times but has tremendous quickness closing out to spot-up shooters and preventing catch-and-shoot attempts.
And he’s also flashed some potential as a help defender, rotating inside to contest close range attempts.
Pairing him up with a point guard who matches up against opposing point guards is also what is best for Real Madrid on offense.
While Doncic has flashed the ability to go to the post now and again, he doesn’t often look to back down smaller opponents and Real Madrid’s offense is not too focused on exploring mismatches.
Doncic is at his most comfortable controlling the game 25 feet away from the basket and with a full view of the defense in front of him. He has phenomenal court vision and can anticipate passing lanes a second before they come open (though his high turnover rate continues to be a problem).
Doncic has proven he can be relied on to create offense on an every-possession basis, so it makes sense that Laso would prefer surrounding him with taller, lengthier, more threatening shooters like Jeffrey Taylor, Jonas Maciulus, Rudy Fernandez and Andres Nocioni, so he can build a more dynamic defensive lineup at the same time.
But the biggest advantage is forcing opponents to guard him with bigger wings who struggle navigating ball screens and generally defending in space, especially because Doncic can be a more dangerous scorer matched up against such types.
Doncic is not particularly explosive off the dribble, mostly relying on a sweet-looking floater to finish over length from the in-between area on dribble drives against a set defense.
But as he grows older and probably even stronger, the expectation is most of his interior scoring will come via bullyball; bulldozing his way to the basket (maintaining his balance through contact) or earning lots of free throws (five foul shots per 40 minutes so far this season).
At age 17, Doncic is already a rotation regular and a viable option to finish games for his team, which happens to be one of the five best in the continent and is expected to win every single game it plays but a few here and there against other giant powerhouses who spend just as much money. No other player in his age group has accomplished as much by this point.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara