Many were confused when the Atlanta Hawks drafted Luka Doncic with the third overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Whether it was due to fit, a preference for Trae Young, or other reasons – the number of people scratching their heads was plenty.
The doubts didn’t have a chance to creep up too much, though, before it was announced Doncic would be traded to the Dallas Mavericks and the team would, in turn, select PG Trae Young with their pick. After the dust had settled, both teams got the players they think will lead them as franchise centerpieces for the next 10+ years.
It appears as if the draft night trade between the two teams ended up being perfect. While Young has settled into his role as the starting point guard for the Hawks and played well, Doncic has flashed the immense offensive potential he was so highly-touted for coming from Europe.
The winner of the Liga ACB MVP award while with Real Madrid a year ago, Doncic’s draft stock soared. Scouts raved about his maturity, playmaking ability and potential to truly change how the game is played overseas. Leaving some to be desired in both the defense and athleticism departments, the 19-year-old’s eye-popping offensive numbers (20.9 PPG/7.5 RPG/6.6 APG per 36 minutes) were more than enough to keep NBA executives interested.
Contrary to what many believed would be the case heading into the season, Doncic has transitioned to the NBA game perfectly, looking like a hand-in-glove fit as Dennis Smith Jr.’s running mate in Dallas. In four preseason games, Doncic averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest, displaying his versatility. These would be very solid statistics for a rookie, and that’s without considering just 19 NBA players put up those numbers over the course of the 2017-18 season.
Little did we know Doncic could (and would) outdo his preseason self through 13 regular season games. A stat line of 19.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 4.4 APG on 47% shooting from the field & nearly 39% from deep has shown Doncic to be a model of efficiency thus far. Let’s compare his numbers to some other top rookies this year:
Doncic leads his peer group in points per game, grabs more rebounds per game than Marvin Bagley (a PF) and nearly doubles Collin Sexton (a PG) in assists per game while shooting one of the more efficient clips in the league. Here is a list of players 30 or under who are currently putting up at least what Doncic is, regardless of how well/bad they shoot:
- Kevin Durant
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Anthony Davis
- Russell Westbrook
- Blake Griffin
- Victor Oladipo
- Paul George
- *Luka Doncic*
That’s pretty good company to be in as a rookie. What Doncic is doing on the offensive end hasn’t been seen by a rookie in quite some time. Is it fair to compare Doncic’s 13-game sample size to LeBron James’ entire rookie season (20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 APG)? Absolutely not. Is it fair to suggest Doncic is the next *insert player listed above*? Again, absolutely not. Nevertheless, the numbers are staggering early on.
This isn’t to say Doncic will continue having these kinds of games. Being that he just had his worst game as a pro and still managed to score 11 points, grab 6 boards, assist on three baskets and snag a steal should say at least something, though.
We haven’t even touched on Doncic’s average athleticism which could put a cap on his ceiling at “star” instead of “superstar,” should he ever get to either level. The jury is still out on his defensive capabilities (his 109.7 defensive rating currently ranks 45th among starting guards with at least 10 games played). He’s not a perfect player on the offensive end, averaging 4.1 turnovers per game. It isn’t the end of the world by any means, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Luka Doncic has flaws. Every NBA player does, especially rookies. What sets him apart from the rest of his draft class is that so far, he’s hiding them pretty darn well. Making up for subpar defense by putting up some scary offensive numbers helps. Who knows what the rest of the season has in store for Doncic or what his ceiling as a player is. One thing is for sure, though: his rapid adjustment to the NBA has been one of the best storylines of the young season and will undoubtedly be something to keep an eye on moving forward.