An Early Look at Luka Doncic

Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver's signature on a basketball during the game between the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 113-110. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver's signature on a basketball during the game between the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 113-110. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Why should Philadelphia 76ers fans be secretly be hoping the Lakers pick doesn’t convey in the NBA Draft this year? The answer is Luka Doncic.

Philadelphia 76ers fans everywhere have been intensely watching the Los Angeles Lakers win record all season with the hope of cashing in that sweet, sweet top-3 protected pick. With a supposedly deep draft on the horizon, headlined by Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, the consensus is that it’s of the utmost importance that the pick conveys this year.

I’ve been secretly hoping for the opposite.

Let me introduce you to Luka Doncic, the 17-year-old, 6-7 Slovenian guard playing for Real Madrid in the Liga ACB. At the same age I was preparing for my Bar Mitzvah, the Slovenian phenom was signing a 5-year contract with Real Madrid. He made his Liga ACB debut at age 16, the third youngest ever behind Angel Robolo and Ricky Rubio, and continues to impress in his second full season averaging 8.2 points, 4.0 rebounds & 3.6 assists per game.

At 17 soon-to-be 18 years old, Luka Doncic already has an extremely versatile offensive game. As a ball handler, Doncic has shown the ability to create penetration off the dribble and either finish through traffic or kick to open shooters. His vision is incredible and is almost LeBron-like in the way he can drive and then zip cross court passes to the outside.

Off the ball, he is a natural shooter, currently sinking 39.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season. At his young age, there is still room for improvement on his already borderline elite shooting. In a league in which teams like Golden State and Houston seemingly take 100 threes a game, Doncic’s stroke is perhaps his greatest asset.

DraftExpress provided a great breakdown of Doncic’s excellent pick-and-roll play. Doncic’s 3-point range forces defenders to fight over screens which opens driving lanes. Doncic lacks elite explosiveness but he is a crafty ball-handler that plays with rhythm and patience that make his drives off pick-and-roll sets tough to defend. There are shades of James Harden in the way he uses hesitation to draw defenders in and then rifles passes to the roll-man for easy buckets. He also utilizes his height to look over defenders and find open passes or lobs.

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With his strong frame, Doncic has also flashed the ability to play in the low-post and bully smaller guards, albeit in a small sample size. His game down low is raw and underdeveloped at this point, but the potential is there.

As if everything else wasn’t enough, Doncic is also a terror in transition. He has the capability to either drive coast-to-coast, leak out as a shooter, or throw gorgeous half-court lobs. Doncic would be a perfect fit on this Sixers team that loves to get out and run.

On the defensive end, Doncic has shown solid skill as an on-ball defender. He lacks the quickness to handle faster guards but makes up for it with his solid length at the shooting guard position. He stays engaged on defense and will make strong recoveries when he does get beat off the dribble. There is potential for Doncic to become a versatile defender capable of switching onto larger assignments utilizing his solid, growing frame. He has proven to be a strong rebounder, especially at the guard position. With Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Doncic, the Sixers have the potential to be an elite rebounding unit.

Doncic is an insanely special talent and it’s fun to imagine him on the Sixers, but I will admit there are problems with banking on the Lakers pick to land him. Early 2018 mock drafts have him going as high as second overall.

Considering his age and tremendous skill, it would be no stretch of the imagination to see Doncic become the consensus top overall pick as we inch closer to next year’s draft. If the Lakers pick doesn’t convey, it becomes unprotected in 2018, and belongs to Philadelphia with no conditions.

Although the Lakers still project to be a below average team (really, really below average) they might not be the worst. The Nets, Suns and Kings are all going to lose A LOT of games.

Realistically, the best shot at getting the top overall pick would be to create a trade package centering on multiple draft picks. Some combination of Philadelphia’s 2018/2019 first rounders, Los Angeles’ 2018 first rounder, and/or the Kings’ 2019 first rounder should be able to get the deal done. (Note: Max 2 picks in this hypothetical package.)

This hypothetical plan hinges on Doncic’s intentions to declare for the 2018 draft, which at this time, are unknown. Furthermore, his NBA timeline might not sync up with the Sixers own internal timeline. The very real scenario in which Doncic’s NBA debut is delayed multiple seasons, à la Dario Saric, Ricky Rubio, etc., doesn’t fit with what the Sixers are trying to build with Embiid and Simmons.

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As it stands, Philadelphia’s chances of landing Doncic might be more pipe-dream than reality. However, it’s hard to not become enamored about the possibilities when watching him play. I’ve already fantasized about Doncic throwing perfect lobs to Richaun Holmes, or executing wildly fun bouts of passing between Saric, Simmons, and himself. His potential is limitless and the 76ers explore their options in acquiring Luka Doncic.