Luka Doncic was a surprisingly polarizing prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft. Much of the collective debate was centered on how the 6’8 wing’s play in EuroLeague would translate to the NBA. Though he was arguably the most accomplished teenage draft hopeful ever, with MVPs and championships in leagues widely considered to be more competitive than the NCAA, Doncic was tied down by the weight of his failed European predecessors.
Here’s a mere sampling of proof from Twitter:
I'm not taking Luka Doncic #1. Bust rate on Euros to high. Give me the D1 kid that just dominated in the tourney anyday— .d (@Domo_LXXXVI) February 20, 2018
That luka doncic guy looks like a bust imo.. could be wrong but there’s only so many international guys who figure it out on the next level.— Bucks vs Hawks 29-12 (@BucksBased) December 15, 2017
That dude Luka Doncic is gonna be a BUST ... all them European players get so much hype and be trash— ✨✨IG: BiGGCAiN24✨✨ (@BiGGCAiN24) June 21, 2018
Luka Doncic will slide out of the top 5 on the night of the NBA Draft.— NBA Draft God (@NBADraftGod) June 9, 2018
The risk of drafting a Euro player who might end up a bust outweighs the reward of finding the next Nowitzki or Porzingis.
Odds are also greater that he’s a bust.
Luka Doncic should stay in the Euroleague... because he’s going to be a bust in the #NBA.— Karthik Venkataraman (@TheSuperKman) May 17, 2018
I’m on the record right now to say LUKA DONCIC will be the BIGGEST BUST in the 2018 NBA Draft. Dude struggles to score in a bum European League and his game will have no chance of translating to the NBA level.— Joey Younan (@joeyyo24) June 21, 2018
3. Luka Doncic— Jackson (@BALandDCsports) July 4, 2018
Don’t really see the hype in him. IMO I think he will be a bust/ not live up to the hype. Ricky Rubio at its highest pic.twitter.com/kcY88IgSAY
We’ll never know exactly how much of a role Doncic’s European background played in the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks passing on him with the first three picks of the NBA Draft. But the stigma that Europeans are destined to become NBA lottery busts still exists, and even Luka Doncic couldn’t fully overcome that on draft day.
But he damn sure has now.
In front of raucous Minnesota crowd fired up for Ryan Saunders’ home coaching debut, Doncic torched the Timberwolves for a near triple-double (29 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds) and 119-115 win. He knocked down seven of the team’s final nine points in less than 90 seconds, including a thunderous dunk and the dagger triple.
Luka Doncic drives by DRose and throws down a dunk! pic.twitter.com/XUCI9PoBD3— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 12, 2019
Luka Doncic is no bust. It’s January, and the Rookie of the Year award — a small achievement for an already two-time championship-winning MVP — is already his.
Many fans have been evaluating European prospects all wrong. Doncic is proof.
Those fans above get heated talking about the Europeans who flopped after they were taken in the lottery. It’s true that there have been plenty who have played their way out of the league or are close to doing so, despite promise of being the next-best thing.
A few examples:
- Jan Vesely was the No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft, picked over Kemba Walker
- Andrea Bargnani was the No. 1 pick in 2006 over LaMarcus Aldridge
- Darko Milicic was the No. 2 pick taken in 2003, over Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
- Even more recently, Dragan Bender was taken No. 4 overall in 2016, and already, the Suns declined his fourth-year option from his lack of development
All of those players required bigger leaps of faith than Doncic, though:
- In three EuroLeague seasons for Serbian team KK Partizan, Vesely never averaged more than 10 points or five rebounds. Doncic, by contrast, won EuroLeague MVP after turning 19 in-season.
- Bargnani played for Italian club Benetton Treviso and scored 12 points per game with five rebounds in his final seasons in EuroLeague and Lega Basket Serie A. He was named the EuroLeague Rising Star for being the best under-22 player in the competition, but that’s a far cry from winning MVP.
- Milicic averaged 10 points and five rebounds for a Serbian league team. A year earlier, he didn’t even get off the bench for Yugoslavia at the under-20 World Championships.
- Bender played just 12.5 minutes per game for Maccabi Tel Aviv, receiving most of his playing time in the less competitive Israeli Superleague rather than the Euroleague.
Doncic not only played for Real Madrid, which many consider to be the best team outside the NBA, he led it to a EuroLeague and Spanish league title. Those are the two best leagues in Europe, and he was the MVP of them both despite playing against full-grown adults. He averaged 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists across all competitions.
Doncic should finally be the European-born star to reverse NBA fans’ empty-headedness
There have been other great European players, including Doncic’s teammate Dirk Nowitzki, but it took time for them to find their footing in the NBA. Doncic, on the other hand, is an instant phenomenon. He’s averaging 20 points with seven rebounds and five assists, launching the Dallas Mavericks into playoff contention despite a flawed roster around him. He’s stealing all of the spotlight from the rest of his (excellent) draft class in the way fans care about. (And no, not just because of the genius Halleluka song by our friends at The Ringer.)
All things equal, the NBA promotes the flashy players, the heat-checkers, the cut-throaters. Doncic brings all that flare, as well as the numbers to back it up.
Just halfway through his first season, his highlight reel is deep:
TWO TEAMS DECIDED NOT TO PICK LUKA DONCIC AND A THIRD TEAM TRADED HIM pic.twitter.com/n4cLK5xPwN— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) November 29, 2018
Skeptics not only have acknowledged that Doncic is no bust, they’ve jumped on the Doncic bandwagon. In the league’s most recent All-Star votes return, Doncic received the second-most votes of all frontcourt players in the Western Conference, with more than 2.2 million. That’s the fourth-most anyone in the league received, with only LeBron James ahead out West and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving before him in the East.
Luka Doncic may not completely eradicate the cop-out European bust takes, because there will always be holdouts. But maybe next draft, his play will convince an enlightened few to drop their preconceived notions about international basketball talent.