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Luka Doncic’s NBA draft hype train is just getting started

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The 18-year-old Slovenian is making his case to be the No. 1 pick at EuroBasket 2017.

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Luka Doncic is no international man of mystery. At just 18 years old, the Slovenian guard has already played on some of the biggest professional stages in the world with Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid. That has continued this month as Doncic takes the floor for his home country in EuroBasket alongside Miami Heat star Goran Dragic.

At an age when his American peers would be playing high school ball, Doncic has had dominant stretches against the top competition in Europe. His combination of size, skill, and production at such a young age is the reason he’ll be in the conversation for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. He’s shining again at EuroBasket.

If you aren’t familiar with Doncic already, it’s time to catch up. This could be the best international NBA backcourt prospect ever. Here’s what makes him special.

He’s incredibly productive

The hallmark of Doncic’s young career has been his remarkable production against grown men. He grew into a starter and one of Real Madrid’s best players during his age-17 season this past year, finishing sixth on the team in scoring, second in assists, and fourth in rebounds despite playing only 20 minutes per game.

Doncic is again producing at an incredibly high level in EuroBasket. He started the tournament with 11 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in a win over Poland, then dropped 22 points (on 7-of-12 shooting), five rebounds, and three assists in a win over Greece on Sunday.

Right now, Doncic is Slovenia’s second-leading scorer (13.5 points per game) behind Dragic. What stands out about him is he doesn’t just score. This is a stat-sheet stuffer whose skill level is strikingly well-rounded across the board.

He’s a preternatural passer

Doncic has displayed special floor vision and passing ability during his short time as a pro. Just look at the way he sucks in the defense out of a pick-and-roll and delivers a perfect pass to his teammate in the corner for an open three.

He’s also excellent running the break, where his creativity is able to shine in the open court.

It’s clear Doncic is a gifted passer with an advanced feel for the game. This isn’t just impressive because he’s teenager, he’s also jarring for a player who is 6’8.

There aren’t any 6’8 point guards in the NBA right now, but Doncic has the talent to do it if he can hold his own defensively.

He’s likely going to be an ace shooter

It’s easy to assume someone with Doncic’s purported skill level is already a knockdown shooter. The numbers haven’t bared that out quite yet. In 80 games last season (counting ACB, EuroLeague, and Spanish Cup), Doncic knocked down 33.3 percent of the 228 threes he attempted.

That’s fine for a player who just turned 18 years old, but he’ll need to be much better than that if he’s going to be the No. 1 pick over Marvin Bagley III or Michael Porter Jr.

Watching EuroBasket, it’s easy to be encouraged about Doncic’s future as a shooter. He has a repeatable, compact release that he can shoot off the dribble or the catch. He’s also shown impressive footwork that allows him to get his shot from a variety of angles and spots on the court.

Through five Eurobasket games, Doncic is 12 of 35 (or 34.3 percent) from deep. He's hit three thee-pointers in four of the five games.

Where did he come from?

Doncic is the son of Saša Dončić, who enjoyed a 17-year professional basketball career in Europe as a 6’7 forward. Luka first put himself on the map as a 13-year-old by eviscerating youth tournaments across Europe. Real Madrid quickly took note and signed him to a five-year contract. Yes, as a 13-year-old.

Doncic played first game with Real Madrid’s senior team at just 16 years old. By age 17, he established himself as one of the top players on a squad that also included former NBA veterans Rudy Fernández, Anthony Randolph, and Andrés Nocioni. At season’s end, he was named the winner of EuroLeague’s Rising Star award, given to the top player in the league under 22 years old.

Can he be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft?

Doncic is going to be a fascinating test case when he enters a 2018 NBA draft class that already looks stacked. He has a chance to go No. 1, but Bagley, Porter, Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, and Texas’ Mohamed Bamba are all just as intriguing.

Doncic is the best passer, shooter, and ball handler of the bunch. That makes sense considering he’s the only guard. But Doncic is also the worst natural athlete. He lacks explosion going to the rim and he isn’t super quick from side to side. It’s possible (likely?) he’s the worst defender out of this lot of candidates for No. 1, too.

Doncic has been as good as advertised so far in EuroBasket. A 6’8 point guard who is already filling box scores as an 18-year-old against grown men is undoubtedly impressive. Will his skill level make him an NBA superstar or will his lack of elite athleticism hold him back? Everyone will have their own opinion come draft time. For now, it’s easy to marvel at just how productive this teenager is when playing some of the top competition in the world.