NBA journalist Chris Lierly discusses the European basketball player’s potential as an all-around shooting threat for the Dallas Mavericks.
Luka Donćič’s stardom in the NBA resembles other young stars because of where he comes from, but unlike those players, Doncic is in the shadow of another European great and does not really break with convention. In the 2017-18 season, Slovenian basketball player Dončić was winning an MVP in the EuroLeague Final Four as he tore up the competition with Real Madrid. Not long after the Atlanta Hawks drafted him at third overall in the NBA Draft, they traded his rights to the Dallas Mavericks for fifth-pick Trae Young and a future first-rounder. It is probably too early to accurately assess that trade now, since Young looks talented in his own right and the other pick has yet been drafted, but for the meantime, it looks to have been a masterstroke of draft trades for the Mavs.
With his rookie season not even halfway over, Dončić has become the biggest young name in basketball. He is averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game, and he has become the centerpiece for the Mavericks. When All-Star Weekend rolls around, he will participate in the Skills Challenge, where the entire country will be able to witness the incredible play that Mavs fans have been raving about. Still, there are two key components to Dončić’s situation in the NBA that will make his one of the most compelling stories in the NBA as his career goes on.
First, he is from Slovenia and thus will always get compared to other stars that came from Europe. The list includes names like Vlade Divac, Pau and Marc Gasol, Peja Stojakovic, Tony Parker and Drazen Petrovic. However, what makes this almost too cinematic is that the man widely recognized as the greatest European basketball player of all time is Dončić’s teammate Dirk Nowitzki. The German big man is in the twilight stage of his career, but those who saw him in his prime, especially the 2011 Finals, know just how dominant of a player he was. His incredible jumpshot and facilitating led him to a Finals MVP and the Mavs to their first-ever NBA Championship. It also meant that Nowitzki cemented himself as the best player Dallas had ever seen. Dirk’s shadow will be cast over any good player for the Mavs, let alone one player from Europe. To be the best Maverick and European NBA player, Dončić will be chasing one of the greats.
The other interesting components about Dončić is his play style and position. If we look at two other players in the NBA who received the kind of early-career hype that Dončić is currently receiving, we see how the Slovenian has created uniqueness by being conventional. Kristaps Porzingis (“The Unicorn” to many) hails from Lithuania and is easily one of the most unguardable players in the league. Standing at seven-foot-three with a wingspan of seven-foot-six, Porzingis can impose his height in the post, but what has made him become a fan favorite across the league is his shooting ability. Like Dirk before him, Porzingis has no trouble playing down low, but if a guy taller than Shaq can shoot the three-ball, then who is going to tell him not to?
The other example is Giannis Antetokounmpo (the Greek Freak). Antetokounmpo plays the court, and by that, I mean the man can really play whatever position he wants at any given moment. Though nominally a small forward, at six-foot-eleven with a seven-foot-three wingspan, he has one of the most athletic builds in the game and uses it to torch defenders. He lacks the kind of consistent jumper typically required of a star wing player, but that does not matter when he can fly by defenders and cram over centers of equal or greater size. Both he and Porzingis break convention in different ways and that is where Dončić stands out.
Luka Dončić stands at six-foot-seven, has a good jump shot, can pass, rebound and drive efficiently. If you were drawing up a prototypical high-quality small forward in the ‘90s, you would have found yourself with a Dončić-like player. In an NBA where General Managers are constantly looking for convention breaking young stars like Porzingis and Antetokounmpo, Dončić is a highly conventional player with incredible potential. Whether he stays on the Mavericks and tries to surpass Dirk or eventually leaves for a franchise with another star, Dončić will be one of the most important players in the NBA in the coming decade.