You’ve probably heard of Dragan Bender, Zhou Qi and Thon Maker by now – the next generation of foreign-born phenoms who will reach the NBA in the next couple of years. You will soon be hearing whispers about Luka Doncic, too.
Competing against an older age group, the 16-year-old born in Slovenia led Real Madrid to titles in the Spanish league U18 and the Adidas Next Generation Tournament last season. He’s already logged 24 minutes with the senior squad in five appearances in the Spanish ACB and needed only six seconds to hit his first shot as a pro.
Listed at 6-6 and 195 pounds, Doncic has a big frame for someone his age and more playing time as a pro might be in the horizon. Real Madrid currently lists him as part of the senior squad and didn’t sign a third string point guard this summer, suggesting they might carry the teenager on the active roster often next season.
Doncic has prototypical size for a wing but his skill-set is perfectly suited to run point. He was responsible for initiating the offense for Real Madrid’s junior squad and was tasked with making something out of nothing late in the shot clock after a busted play or offensive rebound (which resets the shot clock to 14 in FIBA rules).
Doncic is not very explosive turning the corner to get into the lane out of the pick-and-roll against a set defense on a play-to-play basis. But he might be one of those special passers who doesn’t have to in order to create shots for others. He has excellent court vision, whether it’s passing ahead in transition, anticipating rotations by the defense in the half-court or hitting teammates cutting to the rim with pinpoint passes.
According to Euroleague, Doncic posted 45 assists in 231 minutes, an average of seven assists per 36 minutes, in two events of the Adidas Next Generation Tournament. According to stats made available by the Spanish Federation, Doncic posted 32 assists in 120 minutes in the Spanish league U18, an average of 9.6 assists per 36 minutes.
He is, however, quite reckless trying to thread the needle with passes, which makes him turnover prone. Doncic turned it over 29 times in the Adidas Next Generation events (an average of 4.5 turnovers per 36 minutes) and 18 times in the Spanish league U18 (an average of 5.4 turnovers per 36 minutes). These giveaways are mostly bad passes, as his handle is not too loose and he is attentive to dribble the ball low in traffic.
Doncic usually looks to pass on the move but can create his own shot in isolation against his age group. His first step isn’t all that impressive in these instances and he rarely blows by his man on his way to the basket, but Doncic can sustain his balance through contact and is able to go side-to-side to force his opponent into hesitation, managing to get separation and pull-up comfortably from mid-range.
Like most players his age, Doncic is at best a capable open-shot shooter at this stage of his career. He can make outside shots, both off the bounce and off the catch, when he has time to go through his motion comfortably. With a hand in his face, though, the consistency is not there yet. Doncic hit 12 of the 39 3-point shots he attempted in nine appearances at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament but just six of his 21 such attempts in six games of the Spanish league U18.
He gets little elevation off the ground, sometimes even looking like a set shooter, which results in a low point in his release. His mechanics are clean but the shooting motion is slightly methodical.
Doncic can get to the basket on drives against a set defense from time to time but doesn’t attack the rim with any sort of explosiveness and hasn’t shown the ability to hang in the air to finish around length. He has flashed an euro-step to get around rim protection in transition, though it hasn’t been a go-to move of his in the half-court.
Doncic gets in his stance and plays with effort, which is encouraging for someone his age. Even though he was a year or two younger than most of his opponents, Doncic is a decent defender thanks to his size and has the physical attributes to develop into an impact player on that end.
He sometimes gets caught on screens but has enough foot speed to recover to his man well and make himself a threat to block the shot or shut down the passing lane as a trailer. Doncic has lateral quickness to guard players of his age group in isolation and uses the strength in his frame to contain dribble penetration through contact. There is no record of his wingspan but he appears to have good length to contest shots effectively defending on the ball, though his closeouts to spot-up shooters leave something to be desired.
His contribution on the glass does not, however. Doncic was excellent tracking the ball off the rim against that level of competition, using his edge in athleticism to make an impact helping Real Madrid protect the glass. He averaged 10.1 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes in the Adidas Next Generation and 12.3 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes in the Spanish league U18 – incredible marks for any guard.