(First posted at Upside & Motor.)
Probably no other underage player in the world has gotten as much high level experience as Luka Doncic last season.
The 17-year-old born in Slovenia didn’t immediately become a rotation player in his first full season as pro with Real Madrid but it’s not as if he was only carried on the senior squad to earn experience in practice either.
Head-coach Pablo Laso saw him as a legit viable option for certain situations and as the team dealt with some injuries midway through the year, Doncic logged 668 minutes, including 133 minutes against Euroleague competition.
And with Sergio Rodriguez transferring to the NBA, there is a chance Doncic will earn more regular playing time next season, which he should be able to handle, even at such a young age, because of his size (six-foot-five, 218 pounds – according to Real Madrid’s website).
The biggest issue for teenagers at the pro level is dealing with the physical nature of the game but there is no such issue with Doncic, best reflected in his ability to maintain his balance through contact on drives, get dribble penetration deep into the lane and finish through contact. His large frame invites contact, awarding him 4.3 foul shots per 40 minutes last season.
More impressive, though, is the fact he can already put his strength to use in the post. In one of the games against Barcelona in the ACB Finals Doncic took 31-year-old, 230-pounder Stratos Perperoglou to the low block and backed him down into a short-range attempt that net him free throws.
Then when Perpeoglou tried taking it back to him on the very next possession (it was a matter of pride at that point given Doncic is a teenager), the Slovenian proved himself tough enough to hold his ground in post defense and shut the Greek veteran down in very impressive fashion.
Doncic’s athletic ability isn’t up to speed with his size, though. Playing against fully developed men, the 17-year-old hasn’t shown particularly impressive quickness and hops off the bounce at this point of his development.
Doncic can get off the ground out of one foot to finish with power in transition or on a straight line drive unimpeded and play above the rim as a target for lobs on weak-side cuts along the baseline.
But he doesn’t have great speed playing downhill in pick-and-roll or on straight-line drives off a live-dribble, also lacking burst to turn the corner and attack the rim with explosiveness. Doncic hasn’t flashed much ability to hang in the air and finish around length either.
He’s for sure athletic enough to make pitch in some on defense, though. While his contributions through blocks and steals are marginal, Doncic collected 20% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season – according to RealGM. That’s a remarkable rate for any perimeter player, let alone a point guard.
Because of his size, Doncic can play any spot around the perimeter at the European level. But regardless of position, at his core, he’s a lead ball-handler who looks to create shots for others as his priority.
Doncic has impressive court vision and has proven to be the sort of passer who anticipates openings a second before they happen, assisting on 20.2% of Real Madrid’s scores when he was on the floor last season – which is more impressive than it sounds because he often shared the floor with either Rodriguez or Sergio Llull, and they were the ones responsible for running offense.
Doncic is too aggressive trying to threat the needle with some of his assist attempts on the move, though. At this point of his development, he is a turnover machine, coughing it on 27.6% of his possessions last season.
His handle is solid for someone his age, though he hasn’t yet shown many dribble moves to create separation side-to-side to get decent looks off the dribble. He is a capable pull-up shooter if the opponent gets stuck on a screen or sells out to take away the lob to the roll man and leaves him open but not at all the sort of shot maker who stresses defensive schemes, like his teammates Llull and Rodriguez are, for example.
Off the catch, Doncic is an average open-shot gunner as of now. He’s sort of a set shooter, getting very little elevation off the ground, but his release is quicker in comparison to what it looked in junior ranks and the mechanics look clean – nailing 36.8% of his 68 three-point attempts last season. Doncic hasn’t shown much in terms of shooting coming off screens yet, though.
Defensively, he stays on a stance defefending off the ball and has shown signs he’s an attentive team defender rotating inside to take up space but struggles chasing opponents around screens. In that area, his size is actually a disadvantage as he’s often gotten stuck on picks. Doncic is also not above getting caught watching at the ball and beaten backdoor from time to time, which is to be expected from someone his age.
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