The 2018 NBA Draft class is being touted as one of the best of the past decade. Some analysts have even suggested it is superior to this year’s deep and talented rookie class. While the 2018 group features another star-studded crop of college freshman — plus a sophomore stud in Player of the Year front-runner Miles Bridges — the early favorite for the number one pick will not suit up for a blue-blood college program this year. In fact, he won’t play for any college hoops program.
Meet Luka Doncic, an 18-year-old Slovenian star who very well could make history as the first European perimeter player to be selected no. 1 in the NBA Draft.
BORN TO DO THIS
Luka is the son of Sasa Doncic, a small forward who played for the Slovenian national team, as well as Serbian and French squads. The elder Doncic raised Luka on the hardwood, putting a ball in his hands at just seven months. The result was a love for the game that bordered on obsession. His drive, and rare talent, were on display at an early age.
“Even at that age you could see he had a great feeling for the ball like his dad,” Miami Heat star Goran Dragic, who played with Sasa, told ESPN. “He would always sit under the basket. Every time at halftime when we came out from the locker room he would always be shooting the ball. I always have this memory.”
Before he could even grow peach fuzz on his face, it was apparent Luka was destined to be a pro.
Image via Mozzart Sport
Doncic played on his first organized team at age seven, impressing enough to earn an invite to practice with the Olimpija Basketball School. Before his first practice ended, he was told to go play with the kids three years older than him. While league rules prohibited him from playing games with the under-14 team, he starred against his own age group and played as a reserve for the under-12 team.
By the time he was 12, Doncic stood 6-foot-2 and possessed court vision you would expect from a grown man. With every incredible tournament performance, the buzz grew. With some calling him a child prodigy, the famed club Real Madrid took notice, offering Doncic an opportunity to play with the club during the Minicopa tournament. Several strong performances later, he landed a deal with Real Madrid despite being a few years younger than his teammates and opponents.
Image via EuroHoops
As a rising star for Real Madrid’s under-16 team, Doncic was offered the opportunity to practice with the club’s under-18 team, which featured future NBA first-round pick Sergio Rodriguez and Spanish star Sergio Llull. By the 2015-16 season, he was starring for Real Madrid in all competitions, including the EuroLeague. Just 16, Doncic held his own, setting the scoring records for a player under 17 in Liga ACB.
Last season, Doncic truly broke out, playing a key role for Real Madrid during its run to the EuroLeague Final Four. Along the way, he captured four EuroLeague MVP of the Round awards, along with the EuroLeague Rising Star award. It was his performance at EuroBasket 2017, however, that solidified his status as one of the NBA’s top class of 2018 prospects.
As a member of the Slovenian squad, Doncic impressed against Europe’s top talent, routinely producing against the likes of Kristaps Porzingis, Marc and Paul Gasol and the Hernangomez brothers. A EuroBasket All-Tournament team selection, Doncic lead Slovenia to its first gold medal win in the tournament’s history.
Doncic’s experience in EuroLeague and EuroBasket puts him light years ahead of previous European prospects who made the jump to the NBA as youngsters. Despite being just 18, he plays like a seasoned vet. At 6-foot-8 and 228 pounds, he has an NBA-ready body, as well. While current Utah Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio came to the league with similar experience as a Euro child prodigy, Doncic is much bigger and a more complete player than Rubio was when he declared for the draft.
While he doesn’t possess elite athleticism, Doncic boasts a mature understanding of the game comparable to Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. However, he’s also proven he has a reliable outside shot. In 80 combined games between the Euroleague, ACB, and Spanish Cup, he shot 33.3 percent from three-point range. As long as he can continue to force opponents to respect his outside shot in the NBA, he has the ability to be an elite player despite his limited athleticism.
While freshman Michael Porter Jr. of Missouri and Marvin Bagley III of Duke will be in the running for the top pick, neither will have the professional experience Doncic boasts by next year’s draft. Not only has he played with pros, but he’s done so for several years, and consistently produced. As long as he can dispel the notion that he’s not athletic enough to be an NBA superstar, he’ll be every team’s safest bet with number one pick.