The NBA is a star-driven league. Precedent is set as players build their legacies and make their mark on the sport. With so much young talent in the league, fans have a lot to look forward to, but there is one player whose impact is going to be felt for years to come even after his career is over. Luka Doncic is going to make players think twice about joining the NCAA and destroy upcoming NBA drafts.
Scouting talent is arguably one of the hardest jobs in the basketball industry. In the age of hoop mixtapes and social media marketing, it is easier than ever to hype a player’s strengths to the point that it feels as if there are no flaws in their game. Additionally, players now come from a variety of backgrounds making it harder to judge their relative competition to properly evaluate their individual talent. Players are now selected from one-and-done collegiate programs, small-town colleges with four years of playing experience, the NBA G-League, overseas, other basketball leagues and more.
While American basketball programs continue to dominate the sport, there has been a large influx of young promising players from abroad recently who now constitute about 25% of the NBA. Players like Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobli paved the way for many of these players to find success in the NBA and the Mavericks couldn’t be more thrilled with their decisions to draft the now twenty-one-year-old budding superstar Luka Doncic two years ago.
Doncic earned a professional basketball contract at the age of 15 and began participating with fully grown professionals in the EuroLeague at 18. Division 1 of the EuroLeague is highly competitive and features players who have been in the NBA and/ or competed at the highest level of basketball such as in international play at the Basketball World Cup or Olympics. The talent disparity in the NCAA is far greater than that of the EuroLeague because it still features amateur basketball players who haven’t fully developed physically or talent-wise. Doncic has won the EuroLeague Rising Star award at both 18 and 19, won the 2018 EuroLeague MVP, Final 4 MVP and championship at age 19 and was labeled as the most promising talent in EuroLeague history.
Multiple NBA All-Stars have spoken on his greatness including Dirk Nowitzki who said “I could shoot a little bit, but I never had the court vision, the savviness and the stuff that he brings to the game” (at his age of 19). He did all of this before averaging MVP numbers this past season while hitting one of the most cold-blooded game-winners in NBA history on a night where he went ballistic for 42 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists against the vaunted defense of the title favorite Los Angles Clippers.
Watching Doncic is like watching a seasoned veteran. He has a polished game with phenomenal footwork, a great cerebral understanding of the game and the experience to lead while maximizing the potential of his team. These skills aren’t honed to that degree in an NCAA format where players are trying to showcase their talent to improve their draft stock. They are developed in a system where the only focus is winning.
With more and more players being given opportunities who did not play in the traditional NCAA-then-NBA format, what does this mean for the NCAA? Could it become a norm that players choose to play overseas after high school and apply for the draft from there? Even Lamelo Ball, a likely top 3 pick in the upcoming 2020 NBA draft, did not play any NCAA basketball. I believe Doncic sets an example that will be followed, for better or worse, by people trying to emulate his formula for success. Part of greatness is innovation, but the other part of greatness is adapting successful practices to benefit yourself and Donic might have just opened the floodgates for tons of young prospects to consider options aside from the NCAA.
Moreover, speaking of the upcoming NBA draft, Doncic’s success is going to heavily influence the decisions of drafters. Since the first year that there were 30 teams in the NBA in 2004, only 6.2% of NBA draftees have gone on to become all-stars. Doncic is about to lower this already abysmal rate in finding premiere talent. As discussed earlier, competition is one of the best ways to identify talent but with the variation in different playing platforms, it is pretty easy to become enamored by an unknown mercurial talent.
There is no better example of this than what happened in 2003, known to many as the greatest NBA draft class ever which featured superstars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and others. The second pick in that draft was a guy named Darko Miličić. He was tall, could shoot, and gave everybody Dirk Nowitzki flashbacks and multiple scouts said there was “nothing that he couldn’t do on the court”. Doncic is going to revive the “Eurocraze” as coined by NBA commentators of the 2000s after witnessing the bust Miličić turned out to be because everyone is going to be trying their luck to find the next international sensation.
While the Mavericks season ended quite unfortunately with both Doncic and all-star center Kristaps Porzingis being hobbled by injury, the six-game series had several flashes of greatness from a talented young Mavericks team that has discovered its true champion potential and leader in Luka Doncic.