Prior to the NBA draft lottery, the Memphis Grizzlies had the second-best odds of landing the #1 pick. When you saw most pre-lottery mock drafts, you saw Luka Doncic at the 2nd pick to the Grizzlies. It’s seemingly a match made in heaven.
A wing that could become a secondary playmaker and scorer next to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol? Didn’t they pay $94M for a (injured) one?
The tank gave them a chance to fulfill their wish for a perimeter player to slot next to Conley and Gasol. However, when they received the fourth pick, that idea became more dream than reality. Doncic was considered a unanimous top-2 pick, which obviously was out of the Grizzlies’ range.
However, recent news and mock drafts suggest that the Grizzlies could still somehow land European sensation Luka Doncic. While there’s immense hype from analysts, blog boys (like me/us), and European NBA players, we don’t really know how Luka will fare in the NBA. Will he be the greatest European prospect of all time — like many suggest? Is he another case of Darko Milicic? (Note: Like the Thabeet-Bamba case, suggesting Doncic will be another Darko Milicic is insulting. Doncic has way more pure basketball skill than to bust as a prospect like that.) Or will he fade out to become role player?
He’s heralded for his playmaking, shot-creating and ball-handling for his size. While those are all intriguing facets of his game, his lack of athleticism and speed might hinder him from being great.
Is Doncic to be a NBA point guard or a wing? Does his subpar 3-point percentage prevent him from becoming a reliable downtown threat? How much will his lack of speed and athleticism hurt him? What’s his true NBA comparison?
Is he a point guard?
The quick answer to this question is simple -
Luka Doncic possesses many traits of a great point guard. He’s a solid ball-handler that can operate in the pick-and-roll — where he’s a deft passer. His ball-handling looks simple, yet advanced. In addition, he’s skilled at dishing cross-court passes — a trait mastered by elite “point guards”, LeBron James and Ben Simmons.
Also, at 6’8” and 228 pounds, Doncic would be a nightmare matchup for most point guards. However, he lacks the quickness necessary to play against NBA point guards on a nightly basis.
Yes, he may look like James Harden in Europe. How will he look though against freak athletes like Russell Westbrook or John Wall? How can you expect him to contain Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, or Chris Paul? I’m not suggesting he’d be a bust at point guard, but that position wouldn’t maximize his potential.
Doncic would thrive best on the wing, where he can be a darn good secondary playmaker. In such a position, he could prove himself as a capable knockdown shooter, as he was forced to take difficult, contested 3-pointers at the end of the shot clock with Real Madrid.
If Luka can prove himself as a good secondary playmaker and a reliable 3-point shooter, he’ll quickly find himself in the top 10 among shooting guards or small forwards.
Should we be worried about his 3-point percentage?
A big topic of conversation surrounding Luka Doncic is his 3-point shooting. This season, Doncic shot a mediocre 30.9% from deep, which is concerning for a perimeter prospect.
But is it all kind of flukey?
The past two years with Real Madrid, he shot 39.7% (58 attempts) and 34.7% (193 attempts) percent from beyond the arc, respectively. These percentages suggest that he’s at least capable of becoming a reliable 3-point shooter. In addition, his free-throw percentage (80.1 for his career) indicate he can improve his outside jumper.
Doncic’s low percentage this past season could easily be a product of having the ball in his hands a ton. He’s relied on for both playmaking and scoring responsibilities, which in turn leads to many crazy shots off the dribble and at the end of the shot clock — a shooting percentage nightmare.
His mechanics suggest he can become a solid shooter. You’ve seen highlights from games where he’s hit multiple 3-pointers — an indicator that he’s capable of becoming an outside threat.
In the NBA, unless he’s on a team that lacks a legitimate playmaker (Hawks are only one in the top 5 that arguably does), he’ll find more opportunities to prove himself as a good 3-point shooter.
How much will his speed and athleticism hurt him in the NBA?
This is where some of Luka Doncic's limited wiggle and flexibility with the ball shows up. Plays a bit hunched at times. Improving his body and conditioning once he gets to the NBA should help. pic.twitter.com/Ewj7pTe1UK— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 20, 2018
We’ve sort of seen where Luka Doncic’s lack of a quick burst of speed and athleticism could hurt him. For starters, he can’t do a lot of the excessive dribbling at the next level, as the defenders in the NBA are more tenacious and physically gifted.
His struggles against former NBA point guards Nick Calathes and Mike James were heavily noted, as he was having a hard time getting around them. It won’t get much easier in the NBA, as the players are much quicker, bigger, and stronger than the Euroleague competition.
To compensate for his lack of speed, Doncic will have to simply rely on quick decision-making to get where he wants on the court. Whether that’s simply immediately making a move when catching the ball on the perimeter or using existing momentum against a charging or stagnant defender, Doncic will have to find away to get past NBA defenders.
Though he lacks the ideal speed and athleticism of a NBA perimeter player, it won’t hurt him that much. It’s simply the difference between being James Harden and Manu Ginobili. He has a high enough basketball IQ to counteract that weakness, but it’ll surely be something to keep an eye on next season and beyond.
True NBA comp (Ceiling, Realistic, Floor)
People have said that Luka Doncic could evolve into James Harden or Ben Simmons, but I don't see that happening. Speed and athleticism are his only barriers in attaining that status...but they are real barriers that are near impossible to break through.
However, his ceiling is Manu Ginobili, as both players are deft playmakers and scorers that use their craftiness to get where they want on the court. If he plays more of the 3 instead of the 2, he can be another Gordon Hayward — a solid combo forward that can serve as a secondary playmaker and scorer on a good team.
Realistically, Doncic will likely be a 6’8” Ricky Rubio with a slightly better jumper. It doesn’t sound all that great, but he shouldn’t be labeled a “bust” if he follows this path. Though he’s not the quickest or most athletic, Rubio is one of the most underrated playmakers in the past decade and has improved his offensive game each year. Doncic is ahead of the curve when in terms of scoring. However, his basketball IQ and playmaking resemble Rubio, as they both use it to counteract their deficiencies in speed and athleticism.
Finally, his floor is Mike Miller with a worse jumper. In his prime, Miller was a fine basketball player that could score from all 3 levels (outside, mid-range and inside), put the ball on the floor, get other teammates involved, be an average defender, and rebound. Doncic is simply too skilled and has too high of a basketball IQ to suck at the next level. He can do all of these things pretty well, but if the speed of the game is too much for him, “Mike Miller with a worse jumper” seems like a safe bet for his floor.
Fit with the Grizzlies
Luka Doncic is a hand-in-glove fit for the Memphis Grizzlies, as they have an everlasting need for his skillset. For years, they’ve thirsted for a secondary playmaker and scorer on the perimeter since Rudy Gay’s departure. They’ve looked at filling this gaping hole with Tayshaun Prince, Jeff Green and Chandler Parsons, but to no avail.
Next to Mike Conley, he won’t be thrown into the fire, as he’s not going to be entirely responsible for facilitating the offense. Despite this, I still think he could potentially lead the Grizzlies in assists next season, since Conley has never really filled it up in that category.
Doncic gives the Grizzlies another addition next to Dillon Brooks and Wayne Selden Jr., creating a sneaky nice wing core in the process. It also gives them a franchise cornerstone that can help next year and beyond, as they look to usher in a new era of Grizzlies basketball.
Luka Doncic won’t be a bad NBA player by any means. He’s too skilled and has too high of a basketball IQ to bust. However, how great can he be?
Only time will tell, but if he slips to the fourth pick, the Memphis Grizzlies could potentially find themselves a very special player to lead this franchise for years, following the path that other European players Pau and Marc Gasol blazed for him.
Stats found on basketball-reference.com.