Luka Doncic, Slovenia’s Wonder Boy, is the wild card in NBA draft
He has marveled many with his array of basketball skills while becoming a legend in Europe, leaving an abundance of NBA personnel folks intrigued about drafting the wondrous Luka Doncic.
Yet the question NBA people wrestle with is how Doncic’s talents will translate from the competition he faced as a force with Real Madrid to the NBA, with its more athletic and talented players.
The Slovenian playmaker nicknamed “Wonder Boy” did not withdraw his name from the NBA draft early entry list as the deadline arrived Monday, an encouraging sign to teams that Doncic is ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean to ply his craft against the best in the world.
Doncic has been linked to the Phoenix Suns, who have the first overall pick, because newly hired coach Igor Kokoskov coached Doncic on the Slovenia national team.
Doncic has been linked to the Sacramento Kings, who have the second overall pick, because of team President Vlade Divac’s affinity for European players.
Some mock drafts have him going fourth to the Memphis Grizzlies or fifth to the Dallas Mavericks.
Doncic even has been linked to the Clippers, who reportedly have been dangling their No. 12 pick in the June 21 draft and any player on their roster to move into the top 10. According to several league officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, the Clippers, who also have the 13th pick, have failed to find any takers.
Either way, Doncic is expected to be drafted in the top five.
“He definitely is going to be a good NBA player. The question is how high is the ceiling that he has,” said a Western Conference executive. “But right now, he has been playing pro in Europe for a couple of years and he’s a little bit ahead of everybody.”
NBA executives loved what they saw from a 19-year-old kid they insist will continue to develop his game.
And that teenager already has impressive credentials.
Doncic was named the Euroleague most valuable player after leading Real Madrid to the championship last month, and he earned the Final Four MVP in the process, making him the youngest player to receive that honor.
In 69 games in Europe this season — 50 as a starter — he averaged 14.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists, displaying an all-around skillset NBA people find attractive.
Along with the Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic, Doncic helped Slovenia win its first European basketball championship in 2017.
Few expect Doncic to be a sensation in his first season in the NBA, or even his second. But they see loads of potential and that’s why they rave about him.
“Whoever gets him in the draft is going to steal him,” said another Western Conference executive. “Nobody in the history of the game in Europe has accomplished what he has at 19 years old. The kid can play.”
Doncic has been listed anywhere from 6feet 6 to 6-8. He has played point guard, shooting guard and point forward.
Most NBA executives don’t see Doncic as having the quickness or athleticism to play point guard. They don’t see him as a knock-down shooter: He made only 31.6% of his three-point shots.
For all his promise, they also notice some holes in Doncic’s game.
“He’s not that athletic. He can’t really get by people on the bounce,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “But if you draft him up there high, expecting him to be a franchise player, you’ll be disappointed because he’s not that kind of athlete. He can’t carry the day like that. But if you put him on a good team, with a good system, he’ll look good. He’s a good player that way. But to stand alone and be the dude, I don’t see that.”
There are other international players that have the NBA on high alert as draft prospects.
Elie Okobo, a 6-2 point guard from France who could be a late first-round draft pick, has been compared to San Antonio’s Tony Parker.
“He’s kind of a sleeper that has started working out in the United States and people are starting to catch on to him,” said a Western Conference executive.
Dzanan Musa, a 6-9 forward from Bosnia-Herzegovina, also could be a late first-round pick.
“He’s an offensive scorer,” said a Western Conference executive.
Goga Bitadze, a 6-11 center from the Republic of Georgia, Isaac Bonga, a 6-9 swingman from Germany, Karim Jallow, a 6-6 swingman from Germany, and Arnoldas Kulboka, a 6-10 forward from Lithuania, are projected as second-round prospects.
Another interesting prospect is Billy Preston, a 6-10 forward who departed from Kansas amid a financial investigation and wound up playing in the Adriatic League last season.
After working out Preston recently, a Western Conference executive said he is a “three-and-D guy,” meaning he can hit the corner three-pointer and play solid defense.
“He’s an athletic stud,” the executive said. “He was a big-time guy out of high school in Southern California. But everyone knew about him. He could go in the late first or he could go in the late second. It’s the eye of the beholder.
“But that’s the way it is with all these guys. Just like with Luka. Some people love him, some just like him. It’s all about what you like. Me, I’m a Luka fan.”
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