Once the NBA Draft season comes up, there are certain buzzwords analysts and scouts use every time they break down prospects. There’s a dictionary filled with their definitions, but here are the ones used the most: wingspan, athleticism, ceiling, floor, upside.
These are used the most because the Draft obsesses over possibilities more than finished products. At the end of the day, basketball is a sport for athletes. Those who can jump the highest, run the fastest, and have the most power have a larger possibility of becoming special. And that’s exactly what the draft is for; a stage for teams to pluck out young, fresh talent so their organizations have an anchor to build on for the future. The only way teams can have that leverage is by getting a player with high potential.
Luka Doncic did not fit the mold of an athlete who jumped the highest, ran the fastest, and had the most power to show. His physical tools weren’t what he showcased as a prospect coming into the league.
Even before the 2018 NBA Draft, Luka Doncic had already emerged as one of the most polarizing prospects for NBA fans. He was a teenage kid who won MVP in the Euroleague, easily the second best league in the world. His skill and feel for the game were what made him stood out to talent evaluators and at the same time, it was what drove his floor as a player. He looked like a sure thing, someone who wouldn’t be a bust.
Yet at the same time, he didn’t fit the profile of a prospect NBA fans should have gotten excited about as a potential transcendental talent. He did not have an overwhelming wingspan, nor did he have athleticism that was off the roof. Because he couldn’t run as fast, jump as high, or exhibit the same amount of power as other athletes, people found his ceiling to be quite limited. It’s why players like DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr., and even Marvin Bagley, garnered more interest than Luka. Why aim for a low ceiling player in Doncic, when teams can bet big on someone who can potentially give them a larger return?
Fast forward to November 2019 and Doncic finds himself being mentioned alongside LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden as one of the best players in the league today. As a sophomore, he’s putting up ridiculous numbers of 30.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 9.6 assists per game. He’s also leading the once cellar-dweller Dallas Mavericks to a 13-6 record, currently good enough for the fourth seed in the bloody Western Conference. His achievements over the month of November have put him in conversations with the likes of Oscar Robertson and James as one of the best monthly performances in the league.
How did this white kid, perceived by many as unathletic and limited, suddenly achieve so much in a limited amount of time?
While basketball is clearly an athlete’s sport, here’s an underrated fact; it’s also a sport which forces players to think more than just using mere instinct. It’s the perfect display of human excellence; where naturally gifted beings are able to maximize their gifts thanks to their wide intellect.
Yet for Doncic, he hasn’t just merely maximized whatever limited physical gifts he has. He’s straight up broken whatever ceiling that was placed upon him thanks to the very things which drove his floor up in the first place: his skill and feel for the game.
Here’s a gentle reminder about Doncic: he’s a 6’8”, 230 pound man-child that plays point-freaking-guard. His physical tools allows him to play as a forward but the strengths of his skill set allow him to play the 1. The beauty with Doncic is, his offensive game is quite complete, even for a 20 year old. As an elite playmaker, he’s learned how to handle the rock well even against quicker and stronger players. At his height, he’s blended in a decent enough post game that’s complemented by elite finishing around the rim.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Doncic currently has an efficiency rate of 73 percent in the restricted area. Among those with more than 5 field goal attempts per game in that area, only Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Jarrett Allen, and Thomas Bryant have better percentages than Doncic. Those four are centers. Doncic is a guard.
More than his sheer skill, what makes Doncic special is his feel for the game. His skill in scoring the basketball is extraordinary, but how he blends in great timing to his attack is what makes the game look so easy for him. Basketball is a game of inches and Doncic shows that with how well he uses angles for his passes and with his footwork when finding scoring opportunities.
All of that excellence has resulted in actual wins. Those aren’t just empty numbers. The Mavericks are sitting at fourth in the West and Doncic has established himself as a top MVP candidate. He ranks second in Win Shares just behind Harden, but he does lead the league in terms of Box Plus Minus (14.3, a full two points more than the next player), Offensive Box Plus Minus (12.0), and Value Over Replacement Player (2.5). In layman’s terms: Luka Doncic is REALLY good. The numbers prove it.
There will those that will continue to questions Doncic. From the looks of it, his defense will continue to be limited and teams with multiple elite athletic wings (like the Clippers) will give the Wonder Boy trouble when executing in the offensive end. Yet, the one which sticks in everybody’s minds is this: just how much better can Luka get? After all, he’s only 20 years old.
Even if he doesn’t run the fastest, jump the highest, nor show the most power, he’s been showcasing himself as a transcendental talent. No one knows what exactly his ceiling is. He’s only starting to touch the peak of what he’s truly capable of. Doncic broke the ceiling and is setting new heights for him to reach.