(First posted at RealGM)
Luka Doncic has the most impressive résumé of a teenage basketball phenom walking around the Earth right now, having earned 1,613 minutes of EuroLeague and Spanish ACB experience last season. The 18-year-old was not just a rotation cog but also a viable option to finish games for Real Madrid – a dominant powerhouse that enters every game with the expectation it is supposed to win.
The Slovenian is a giant shot creatorwhose biggest value is as someone who runs offense on lineups that go super big across the perimeter but who can also share the floor with a smaller point guard and space the floor or create against a scrambling defense as a conventional wing. 48.3% of his live ball attempts were three-pointers last season.
The biggest issue for teenagers at the pro level is dealing with the physical nature of the game, which often makes them a liability on defense. But there is no such problem with Doncic, who has even proven himself strong enough to hold his ground in the post against veterans a decade older than him.
That said, there are concerns regarding his ability to defend on the ball, which as a result opens up questions about who exactly he needs to be surrounded with.
Doncic’s top asset at this point of his development is his court vision. He can create corner three-point shots without necessarily threatening to dribble into the lane. He is very perceptive and can whip a pass to the corner as soon as he notices an opponent easing his stance for a split-second or focusing a little too soon on taking an extra step inside to help crowd the interior on a potential dribble drive.
His court vision also pops when the opponent hedges against him in the pick-and-roll. He can spot breakdowns in the rotation behind the play and pick them apart.
Doncic is a very impressive playmaker out of the pick-and-roll for someone his age, playing at a deliberate pace where most 18-year-olds tend to go at one speed only. He doesn’t have particularly impressive explosiveness attacking off the ball-screen but has a good handle to manipulate his man around the pick, put him on his back and force the other defenders into tough decisions as he penetrates the lane.
Doncic has proven himself an excellent passer who can anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they come open and whose height affords him an advantageous point of view in traffic. He’s able to not only make simple pocket passes, drop-offs and kick-outs to the strong-side but also lob it up with great timing and pass across his body to weak-side shooters on the opposite end of the floor.
Aside from that, Doncic consistently passes ahead in transition to speed up the pace of the game, touch-passes or swings the ball to better shooters when they are close to him on the weak-side and tosses some awesome entry passes.
According to our stats’ database, Doncic assisted on 27.8% of Real Madrid’s scores when he was on the floor last year. That came at the cost of him turning it over on 21.2% of his plays, though. Doncic is not only aggressive taking chances of thread-the-needle type passes but he’s also consistently looking to pass off dribble penetration and opponents have noticed it too.
That is not to say he is a subpar scorer. Doncic averaged 15.6 points per 40 minutes on 20.3% usage-rate last season, which are decent marks when you consider he is a teenager playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world against the highest level of competition in the continent.
Doncic is not very fast. He can’t just blow by his man one-on-one or completely leave him behind as he turns the corner and attack the rim furiously. Other than a crossover, he hasn’t yet develop a particularly diverse set of dribble moves either. Being able to burn big men on switches is probably the biggest concern about his skill-set right now.
But despite those limitations, Doncic gets all the way to the basket a fair amount. He is strong enough to maintain his balance through contact and his momentum forward.
He can elevate off one foot or two feet to go up strong with space to take flight but acts mostly as a below the rim finisher in traffic. Doncic’s preferred method of finishing against rim protection is a right-handed toss but he’s also flashed the core strength to go up, absorb contact and finish on his way down.
He’s yet to develop dexterity drawing foul calls, though, as he averaged just 4.2 free throws per 40 minutes last season.
And even in instances where he’s unable to get all the way to the rim, Doncic has proven himself a resourceful scorer from the in-between area, as he’s shown great touch on running tear-drops and floaters off jump-stops.
Doncic is not a particularly dynamic pull-up jump-shooter at this point of his development. He is not yet the sort of guy who can rise up for stop-and-pop jumpers off the pick-and-roll without a moment’s notice.
But he can make shots off the bounce, even from just behind the FIBA three-point line. Perhaps he relies too heavily on step-backs to create separation and that will be a concern regarding his eventual transfer to the NBA but he’s been able to get decent looks off against the level of competition he’s faced so far. Doncic has also proven himself able to nail step-in threes off the pick-and-roll when his defender dies on the screen and the big drops.
Much like his shooting off the bounce, Doncic is still only a capable gunner off the catch. Real Madrid used him off the ball as a floor-spacer quite a bit and he nailed some open shots but not enough to completely discourage opponents from playing off him some, as he hit just a third of his 228 three-point shots last season.
He seems to be on the right track to develop into at least an average open shot shooter, though. His release is not lightening quick but the ball goes out faster than it did a couple of years ago. Doncic gets little lift off the ground and shoots almost a set shot but the mechanics up top seem pretty clean and he’s not a hesitant shot taker.
Doncic has flashed the ability to take shots relocating to an open spot around the wing and even coming off a pindown screen from time to time but his release doesn’t suggest he’ll become someone a real asset making shots on the move in the immediate future, though he’s already developed an awareness for how to get open for such looks. Doncic averaged 5.6 three-point shots per 40 minutes last season, which is not an unimpressive mark when you consider he ran offense half-the-time he was on the floor.
Doncic is also an asset operating off the ball as a cutter. He’s shown a knack for recognizing good opportunities to dive to the basket and can play above the rim as a target for lobs.
Doncic has the size of a wing and does a good job defending as such.
He’s shown lateral quickness to stay in front of similarly-sized players in isolation and the strength to contain dribble penetration through contact. He’s also proven himself able to hold his ground in the post against players 10-15 years older than him, which suggests he might become an asset to pick up big man on switches in time.
As a weak-side defender, Doncic executes the scheme; staying in a stance off the ball, looking to guard two players when Real Madrid loaded up the strong-side against the pick-and-roll and rotating to the basket area when he was called upon to act as the last line of defense. His contributions through blocks and steals were marginal, though.
He’s proven himself able to run shooters off catch-and-shoot looks on closeouts and tends to do a decent job of subsequently sliding his feet laterally to stay in front.
But his most tangible impact on defense comes on the glass. Doncic collected 21.2% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season, which is a remarkable mark for any perimeter player, let alone someone who logged minutes at point guard.
The biggest concern regards his ability to defend smaller players, both in the pick-and-roll and out on an island. He can bend his knees to get down in a stance but seems to be too big to be able to go over screens cleanly at the point of attack. Doncic also doesn’t have the burst to keep pace with go-go guards as they turn on the jets to blow by him or shake him side-to-side.
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Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara