Luka Doncic's overseas opponents break down his game, NBA potential: 'He's the complete package'

Luka Doncic's overseas opponents break down his game, NBA potential: 'He's the complete package'

Draft

Luka Doncic's overseas opponents break down his game, NBA potential: 'He's the complete package'

Luka Doncic just won the ACB title with Real Madrid, capping off an amazing year in which the 19-year-old point forward also won the Euroleague championship and the Eurobasket with his Slovenian National Team. The 6-foot-8 guard was named the Most Valuable Player of the Spanish League as well as the Euroleague.

To get a better idea of Doncic’s skill set, put his incredible year into perspective and figure out how his game may translate to the NBA, we talked to 11 players who have played against Doncic overseas (many of whom matched up against him on numerous occasions). HoopsHype talked to the following players:

Brad Wanamaker is an overseas star who’s drawing interest from NBA teams. The guard has played for Brose Baskets, Darüşşafaka and Fenerbahçe among others. He was All-Euroleague 2nd Team in 2017. He’s played against Doncic 11 times.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo previously played for the New York Knicks, who drafted him with the No. 51 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He has played for Andorra and this year, the forward was a Greek League champion and All-Star with Panathinaikos. He’s played against Doncic 11 times.

Adam Waczynski is a Polish swingman who won the Eurocup with Spain’s Unicaja in 2017. He’s played against Doncic 10 times.

Nemanja Radovic has faced Doncic nine times as a member of UCAM Murcia and Obradoiro. He’s also member of the Montenegrin National Team.

Matt Lojeski has won the Greek League three times playing for Panathiniakos and Olympiacos. He’s played against Doncic eight times.

Shane Larkin is a four-year NBA veteran who was most recently on the Boston Celtics. Last year, the guard played for Baskonia and was named to the All-Spanish League 2nd Team. He’s played against Doncic five times.

Colton Iverson was acquired by the Boston Celtics after being selected with the No. 53 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He has since played for Maccabi Tel Aviv and Andorra among others, and he was an Israeli Cup winner in 2017. He’s played against Doncic five times.

Nikos Zisis is a veteran guard who won the Eurobasket with Greece in 2005 and the Euroleague with  CSKA Moscow in 2008. He’s played against Doncic four times.

Aaron Jackson joined the Houston Rockets for their playoff run. Previously, the guard was an overseas star and he won a Euroleague championship with CSKA Moscow in 2016. He’s played against Doncic three times.

Kyle Wiltjer, formerly with the Rockets, played for Olympiacos this season. He’s played against Doncic three times.

Dorell Wright played 11 seasons in the NBA. This year, the guard made the transition to the Euroleague and played for Brose Bamberg. He’s played against Doncic twice.

Pierre Jackson previously had stints with the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks. This year, he was an Israeli League Champion and All-Star with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He’s played against Doncic once.

Aaron Jackson: “One of Doncic’s first Euroleague games was against my Russian team a few years ago, CSKA Moscow. We had no specific game-plan for him, no scouting report for him. But we knew he was young, so we decided that we would try to intimidate him. We went under every ball screen. The first time he realized it, he didn’t shoot. The second time? He fired a deep three. All net. Next possession? Same thing. He was 16 years old, playing against CSKA! After that game, he never looked back!”

Nikos Zisis: “I have heard from guys playing with him that he loves the game, and that’s the most important thing. Now he has to stay focused because he has a long way to go. But I understand that this is not easy to do. They also tell me he’s a natural talent. His abilities and how things come to him so naturally are unbelievable. It’s not like he has to spend hours and hours working to do these things.”

Matt Lojeski: “I think he’s making the right decision in entering the draft this year. Watching him in the Euroleague, you can tell how much he’s improved in one year. It’s time to go. He got stronger, he became more confident and he creates more for the team. Before this year, with [Sergio] Llull on the team, he had to share the ball more. Now, it was him running things and he really stepped up. Winning the European championship gave him a lot of confidence.”

Adam Waczynski: “He has become a really competitive player with a good Euroleague body. He had the perfect skills two years ago, but the only [reason] why he couldn’t play was his body. He improved a lot in this area.”

Pierre Jackson: “Having played against him, I saw that he’s a very confident player who’s very poised. He just played like he belonged out there [with the veteran players in their prime] and acted way older than his age. He will be in the NBA a long time.”

Dorell Wright: “He’s a great competitor who is highly, highly confident in his game and in himself. He has a lot of confidence. And when you talk to people around the league, they talk about whether a guy has ‘a lot of dog in him.’ Luka has a lot of dog in him, which means he’s not going to back down from anyone. He’s going to take on every challenge. That’s something I really, really like about this kid. I think that confidence and competitiveness will really help him as he transitions to the league.”

Brad Wanamaker: “The kid is special! He can do a little bit of everything. He’s constantly rising to the moment and making clutch plays.”

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: “Luka is more than what you see when you look at his stats. He’s an all-around player who can beat you in many ways. He doesn’t just execute one way. He reads the game extremely well.”

Aaron Jackson: “One thing that separates him from other players is how he competes. You see it during games or even if you’re just watching his film. He cares so much, to the point that literally every possession is big to him. He has that fire that you love to see in a competitor; it’s similar to Manu Ginobili.”

Nikos Zisis: “His presence on the court, for such a young guy and such a big team, is amazing. With his poise and his confidence in his game, it’s almost like he’s a veteran who has played a lot of games at the Euroleague or international level. With him, it’s not just about technical skills. It’s also his personality. He goes out there, he enjoys himself and showcases his unbelievable talents.”

Adam Waczynski: “If he sees advantage on the post, he will post you up. If he sees you got slow legs, he will attack you from the perimeter. He’s an extremely hard player to defend and has a high basketball IQ. At this age, [it’s] unreal.”

Colton Iverson: “Luka is the complete package. The composure he shows at his age is incredible, to go along with his size and skill set. Helping Madrid to the Euroleague championship was not a fluke; he has been doing big things for a long time and I believe he can carry that into the NBA.”

Pierre Jackson: “I doubt 99 percent of this year’s draft class could do what he did in the Euroleague this season. I think he is super talented, man. The sky’s the limit for the kid. To do what he’s done this entire year on the Euroleague level is big time.”

Colton Iverson: “What he did this year, it’s unbelievable. He’s being guarded most games by players who have NBA experience, and oftentimes they have 10 years of pro experience on him too. To be able to play that consistently in Euroleague and in the Spanish league is amazing. I don’t think we’ll see a guy his age do what he just did against other pros for a while.”

Dorell Wright: “He’s a winner. He’s having a great year, not only with Real Madrid but also with the Slovenian National Team last summer. You always want a winner on your team, and he brings that winning pedigree even though he’s so young. A lot of people underestimate European basketball, but these guys can really play. I’m talking 1-through-13, these guys can play. A lot of the players are really well-rounded and bring a lot of different things to the table too. The Euro game is not easy at all. With Luka, he grew up playing against tough competition and dealt with a lot of physicality from a young age. He’s a tough guy who is fine playing games where you have to grind out a win.”

Shane Larkin: “What he has done in Europe at his age is just unbelievable. In a lot of ways, experience beats talent in Europe. It is very, very difficult for kids at his age to even make a Euroleague roster much less be the MVP of the league and win MVP of the Final! You can compare it to a senior from high school jumping to the NBA and then just dominating. It’s very impressive.”

Kyle Wiltjer: “Even if he was a veteran, this would have been a special season. At 19, it’s crazy.”

Nikos Zisis: “The Eurobasket did wonders for him [along with] the opportunity opened up by the injury to Sergio Llull. You can work on stuff 24 hours a day, but there’s really nothing that comes close to accumulating playing experience in actual games. He had the opportunity to have a lot of responsibilities and it helped him reach another level. Also, his one-on-one [abilities] got so much better. He’s doing these crossover moves and unreal step-backs and stop-go moves now. Sometimes, you think you’re able to stay in front of him because he’s not this unbelievably explosive player, but he finds the way to finish plays.”

Dorell Wright: “In Europe, it’s all about team basketball and there’s not too much one-on-one. But I asked my teammates a lot of questions about Luka and from what I heard, he was playing for a great coach who was an ex-player [Pablo Laso], who recognized what he had on his team. He knew he had a guy who could get a basket whenever he wanted to, so he let Luka do his thing a lot of the time. He put the ball in Luka’s hands and he always made excellent decisions with it, whether it was scoring a basket or making plays for his teammates. He always made the right play – every time.”

Aaron Jackson: “He shot 31.1 percent from three-point range this year, but he has all the right mechanics and size to improve that percentage. He also has the size and strength to develop a go-to post move. And Doncic’s athleticism will only get better once he’s in the weight room with his NBA team. I just got to experience the difference between Euroleague strength and conditioning versus NBA strength and conditioning, and it’s night and day!”

Matt Lojeski: “Defensively, you can tell he has matured every year. He really got stronger. Maybe lack of speed is his biggest weakness. Although I think he’s a good athlete, perhaps [he’s] not up there with other guys in the NBA.”

Adam Waczynski: “His main weakness, I would say, is his defense and reading the defense. But the more he is playing, the better he [will get] so I’m not worried about it. In the NBA, you need to play good, hard D. [I think] he will improve, for sure.”

Dorell Wright: “He faced tougher competition [than the other top draft prospects]. But when you’re playing Euroleague basketball, you don’t really have guys isolating you and going back at you on the other end. When he gets to the NBA and he scores a basket or two on somebody, you best believe that guy is coming back down the floor looking to score on him. I think he’ll have to deal with a lot more head-hunting next year than he did in the Euroleague because, like I said, it’s more of a team game. In the NBA, guys can break away from the offense to iso you and attack you one-on-one, especially if they sense you’re a weak defender. He’s going to find himself in a lot of those situations from day one. He has to get better on the defensive end; that’s probably going to be the toughest part of his transition to the league. Guys are going to go at him and try to find out what he’s made of from day one.”

Aaron Jackson: “He lacks the quick change of direction that’s necessary to attack switches (and the NBA is becoming all about switching) so that takes away from his advance pick-and-roll skills.”

Nemanja Radovic: “I think all the skills that he has mean way more than his lack of athleticism. With that kind of talent, nobody will notice his lack of athleticism.”

Nikos Zisis: “He reminds me a little bit of Dejan Bodiroga. He’s a different type of player. Dejan was even slower and less explosive [though]. But there are similarities to their games. I think Luka is pretty fast with the ball. He’s not the quickest player, but it’s underrated how well he moves with the ball, especially in the open court. But also in one-on-one situations. In order to reach the All-Star level, you need to have good athleticism for sure. The kid must work on this. But keep in mind, he’s still 19 years old and he has done so much stuff already that many guys my age would only dream to do. I think that he can work on his explosiveness… When he goes to the States, he can only get better.”

Shane Larkin: “Doncic is very mature for his age. He plays the game at his speed and never really seems to get flustered. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the size and athletic ability of NBA guys.”

Kyle Wiltjer: “From my perspective, having played against him three times, what makes him special is his size at that position combined with his pace. A lot of young players play so fast and rely on athleticism, but he’s unique because the game slows down for him. If he keeps working hard, I could see him being a guy who can not only score but also help run a team at the next level. I can see him being really good at getting others involved.”

Dorell Wright: “He’s really skilled and has a lot of intangibles. He may be a really tall point guard, but I could see him having trouble guarding point guards in the NBA. I’m not sure what position he’s going to be in the league. He may just be one of those guys who you throw out there and he’s going to make something happen [regardless of what position he’s playing]. There will be some nights when he scores 20 points. But there will be some nights where he’s [not scoring as much] but he’ll have 10 assists and seven rebounds. He’s one of those kind of guys.”

Aaron Jackson: “It’s very tough to break down his game and his potential because it’s hard to tell if he can get better. Like, his game is already advanced and polished, so can he get better? If so, how much better can be get? He’s definitely not at his ceiling, but I think he’s close. It’s not like he’s a raw talent and he has so much upside. I think that’s the tough part for GMs.”

Brad Wanamaker: “I think he’ll do great in the league.”

Nikos Zisis: “He’s one of these guys who come into basketball once every 15-to-20 years. He’s really special. I think it’s amazing he’s doing these things in such a big club like Madrid and the pressure that comes with it. The combination of his size and ball-handling with that knack for crossing people over and [hitting] step-backs, plus his ability to shoot and create for others, it makes him unbelievable. He has the ability to take advantage of his size in the post too. He really is the complete package.”

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: “Can he be a star? If he keeps working hard, anything is possible.”

Matt Lojeski: “As far as him becoming an All-Star or a superstar in the NBA, I don’t think it’s going to be as much about athleticism; it’s going to be about how much he develops. That’s the real question. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be a very good player there. Perhaps his potential is not as high as a couple of other guys in the draft, but he’s going to be fine.”

Colton Iverson: “Obviously, it’s never an easy transition when someone goes from European basketball to the NBA or vice versa, but I believe with time he could develop into a big-time player in the league.”

Adam Waczynski: “[With] his body, IQ and dribbling skills, you don’t need to be crazy athletic to be a superstar. I believe he will be a great player in the NBA. I wish him all the best!”

Shane Larkin: “From playing against him overseas, I’ve seen that he has all the skills he needs. He can shoot it, pass it, dribble it. He has a point forward vibe to his game. That alone, I think, will make him good in the NBA. The league is transitioning toward players who can do it all at every position. And he’s definitely one of those players who I can see playing point guard through power forward, switching and creating match-up nightmares.”

Nemanja Radovic: “I think that he will be an NBA superstar. For sure. I never played against anybody who plays like that. He doesn’t have any limit. He is the type of guy who is going to surprise you in the moment when you think that he has already done everything.

Dorell Wright: “He’s more of a do-it-all kind of player who will fill the stat sheet. It all depends on your definition of ‘star’ or ‘superstar.’ Some people in the States feel like, ‘Oh, if you can’t score 20 points per game, you aren’t a superstar!’ You know what I mean? He’s one of those guys who do a lot of things well and finds different ways to help him team, so he may not be a 20-point-per-game scorer.”

Jorge Sierra contributed to this story.

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