Luka Doncic is well-known around basketball fans and draft analyst as the most accomplished European prospect in recent memory, but teams have started to question a few key areas of his game. The Dallas Mavericks should look past these concerns.
Luka Doncic has just won the Euroleague and Liga Endesa ACB MVP awards, the Euroleague final four MVP, and the Euroleague Championship. His skill set is so advanced that he will be able to contribute right away at the NBA level. The level of all-around offense that he brings is absolutely marvelous, especially when considering his age and the level of competition he’s been playing against. Yet, teams and scouts alike have become very cautious about drafting the young prodigy for two, mayor reasons: athleticism and defense.
Although he has an incredible skill set, great size/strength, and the basketball IQ/intangibles that scouts could only dream of for a young player to have, his defense is between above-average (at least in my opinion), and borderline sub par. He is also missing that tantalizing athletic ability that usually means high upside.
Even though Doncic has great size and strength and good length, he has average to pedestrian lateral quickness, good not great open court speed, and a below-average vertical. It’s more than clear that there are questions about how he will handle NBA caliber athletes and if he will be able to defend most of the guys he will need to in the league. But is it really that concerning?
Doncic has played in the two best leagues outside of the NBA since he was 16 years old. He has faced and defended all sorts of opponents that have one or more NBA ready traits, including NBA size/strength, length, and athleticism. So if you’re worried, don’t be. Doncic can handle himself on the defensive end, and can compete with NBA athletes. Here’s why.
Size and Tools
Doncic has great size for a guard/forward, plain and simple. It is better if I compare his size with Marvin Bagley and Jaren Jackson, two of the top big men prospects.
Marin Bagley III: 6’11″/234/7’0.5″
Jaren Jackson Jr.: 6’11″/236/7’5.25″
Luka Doncic: 6’8″/230/6’11” (reported)
As you can see above, Luka Doncic has enough size to play the power forward position, especially if he bulks up a bit. Doncic is only 6 pounds lighter than Jackson, and 4 pounds lighter than Bagley. While Bagley and Jackson possess athletic frames, Doncic has a very sturdy frame with a very thick lower body. A lot of scouts have undermined Doncic in terms of strength, but that should really not be an issue.
Doncic is able to rebound at a high rate for a guard due to his size and strength, as well as score through contact at the rim. His height allows him to see the floor over the defense, which makes it easier for him to make a play.
He could take advantage of his size by posting up smaller, weaker opponents, enabling him to either score in the paint or get the ball to a shooter or cutter, allowing an inside-out offense. If it wasn’t for his finesse style of play, Doncic could easily play bully ball on guards and wings. If Doncic learns to combine his finesse style with bully ball, he’ll become a mismatch nightmare on the offensive end.
On defense, his size also allows him to bump smaller players off their path, and with his length he can get into the passing lanes on a consistent basis. He can also use his sturdy, strong frame to bother opposing forwards in the post, and with added strength, he can become an effective post defender in time.
I don’t believe that there has ever been a prospect with his basketball IQ. He is always two steps ahead of the play and is very competitive. He is also very committed on the defensive end, with a lot of understanding of angles, rotations, and most importantly, team defense. This means that, even though he might not put on big defensive numbers individually, he will be able to make his team better on defense.
With that said, Doncic still has a few issues on defense, and it doesn’t have much to do with athleticism. According to The Stepien, Doncic has a tendency to play from behind instead of working to get in front of his opponent after getting initially beat.
This means that he needs to tighten up his defensive decision making. Even with this issue, it is more than clear that he has potential on the defensive end, and most of it has to do with his basketball IQ.
It Can be Fixed
Luka Doncic has potential on both offense and defense. He can also improve athletically with proper training. Think of players like Klay Thompson, who were expected to struggle on defense. Today, he is one of the best two-way wings in the league.
Don’t forget about the two-time NBA MVP, Stephen Curry, who fell to number seven in the draft because of defensive and athletic concerns as well. Even John Stockton of the Utah Jazz wasn’t even close to other players in terms of size, length, strength and overall athleticism, but to this day, no one has gotten close to his steals record.
Teams are sleeping on maybe the most NBA ready player in a long time. While his concerns are understandable, he is more than capable of making an impact on both ends of the floor. Although he doesn’t possess Mohamed Bamba’s defensive upside, or Miles Bridges’ athleticism, he’s going to be perfectly fine. So NBA teams, if you are concerned, don’t be. Because with Luka Doncic, you have nothing to worry about.