Wünder Kid: The Story of Luka Doncic

By Harris Hicks

It was the second quarter. Real Madrid was down 37-30 and head coach Pablo Loso called timeout. As the players sat down, Loso absolutely tore into them, shouting and screaming with nearly religious fervor.

Then, Loso directed his focus at the sixteen-year-old on a team of pros, and said, “ONE PLAY! THREE! ONE PLAY!” The kid nodded back at Loso confidently. After the timeout, Luka Doncic calmly dribbled up the court, and casually pulls up, splashing a triple right in the face of the future NBA guard, Milos Teodosic.

After a miss by CSKA Moscow, Doncic snatches the rebound and glares at the coaching staff, who were all yelling at him to set up a play. He responds by putting his hand out and says “Yo lo Pago” which means “I Got It” in Spanish.

Luke proceeds up the floor and passes it to his teammate, K.C. Rivers. Doncic then rotates off the screen to the perimeter and demands ferociously for the ball. Rivers saw the hungry Doncic with antsy hands and passed him the ball. Without any hesitation, Luka takes yet another three. BANG! Right in the face of Euroleague defensive player of the Year, Kyle Hines!

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Immediately after his two threes and another stop, Doncic sets out at the defense again, all the while with the coaches looking at him with their jaws down to the ground and their eyebrows raised to the sky in pure shock. He gets a screen from his teammate, Gustavo Ayon, stops at the perimeter, settles his feet, and waits for Teodosic to recover from the screen. As Milos catches up and puts a hand in Luka’s face, Luka pulls up from beyond the three-point line and smacks in another trey. Luka had buried his third consecutive triple.

After that third shot, he pumped his fists while looking at the crowd with a mambaesk mask. The building was erupting. CSKA Moscow, having had enough of the sixteen-year-old kid, calls a timeout. A possession after the timeout, Doncic gets a pass from his teammate, Sergio Rodriguez. The defense, which has just plotted on how to slow Luka down in the previous timeout, is absolutely draped all over him expecting him to shoot. Knowing that, Luka does a jab step and stares down the defender. He takes a couple of dribbles and blows by his man yet again.

Finding himself having created some penetration, Doncic attacked the rim with tenacity. He jumps up and finishes an acrobatic layup and screams. The refs blow their whistle and call a foul. After the whistle, Doncic yells at the top of his lungs “AND ONE!”. Oh yeah, he speaks English too. In just five minutes, a teenaged kid, who can’t even drive yet, has scored 12 points in a professional basketball game and his team has reclaimed their lead.

Fast forward from that moment to today. Luka Doncic is a Eurobasket Gold Medalist, the youngest Euroleague MVP in league history, and a projected high lottery pick in the NBA draft and all of this before he turns twenty! If you were to attend one of his games, you would see a huge crowd of fans standing out in the arctic cold weather, waiting anxiously for teenage phenom sign autographs. So how did he get to this point?

He doesn’t wow you with LeBron James like athleticism, nor does he have the limitless range of Stephen Curry. Some people try to compare him to others like Manu Ginobili or Joe Johnson. Others like to say they see a little bit of Paul Pierce. But Luka Doncic is 3 inches taller than Manu, and he can play three positions. Unlike Paul Pierce, Doncic has the court vision of an elite NBA point guard, but in a 6’8”, 230-pound body. And unlike Joe Johnson, Luka has a much more broad, all-around game.

Simply, when asked to find an NBA player that he reminds me of, my answer is frankly nobody. Luka Doncic is Luka Doncic.

Luka is a complete menace on the court. Off the court- he’s just like an ordinary teenager. He loves to play Fifa and loves American rap music. He is often seen quoting lyrics to popular Migos bops like Bad and Boujee, or blasting base busting trap songs from the stereo in his car. He likes to play call of duty, often with former teammate and current NBAer, Willy Hernangomez.

But on the court, Luka’s fun loving, carefree, young and reckless persona dissolves. It is as if he is a totally new person. Everything off the court leaves his mind and is replaced by a symbiotic link between himself and the game. He evolves from a call of duty stick jockey into a Slovenian assassin.

What stood out to me when watching Luka Doncic was his confidence. Even as the youngest player in the entire Euroleague, he wasn’t afraid to go at anybody. His passion for the game is endless. In the gold medal game of Eurobasket this past summer, Luka injured his ankle. The training staff wouldn’t let him back in the game- not wanting to risk his NBA future. Doncic lost it. He started bawling. In that moment, Slovenian Head coach, Igor Kouchelov recounted “I was like oh yeah, he’s still a kid.” However, to me, this moment serves as not a realization of Luka’s immaturity, but rather a talesman of his pure dedication to his team and his love of the game itself.

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People may be able to question Luka Doncic’s athleticism and people may even be able to criticize his composure, but his passion and drive for the game can never be challenged. Luka Doncic shares something in common with the greats. He holds the relentless drive to be the greatest at what he does.

He’s had a ball in his hand since his Dad, Sasa Doncic used to cradle him with a basketball as an infant. Luka was born to a family sewn into basketball royalty. Doncic’s Dad played in the Euroleague until he was in his mid 30’s. His godfather, Rasho Nesterovic, had a lengthy 13 year NBA career. Luka Doncic has had the love for the game since he was just a young child. NBA All-Star, Goran Dragic, who played with both Luka and Luka’s father, said: “Even at that age you could tell he had a great feeling for the ball like his dad.”

At just the young age of seven, he handled the ball perfectly, his court vision came naturally. At that age, Luka started playing organized basketball. He played for local powerhouse Union Olimpija, in Slovenia, under his dad’s longtime friend, Grega Brezovec. It only took fifteen minutes before the coaches were in awe. Quotes from the likes of Union Olympia’s youth director, Lojze Sisko characterized Doncic’s natural skill. Sisko has claimed that “He had this from the moment he was born.” and
“You can’t learn this, what he was doing. No way you can teach some players or somehow give them this knowledge.” in regards to Luka.

Subsequently, Luka’s proggresion through the youth ranks was accelerated. Doncic was moved up to the ten-year-old division to play with kids three years older than him. But in Doncic’s mind, age was just a number. He ended up ripping apart his competition once again. After almost every single play, you would see a skinny seven year old perform tricks the coaches had never witnessed. “

He reminded me of a young Drazen Petrovic, he was a killer with a baby face, it was so easy for him.” exclaimed longtime Olyimpija basketball chief, Sreko Bester. After each and every play, you would see a scrawny seven-year-old look back at the bench and jump and scream with a thrilling joy. The coaches, on the other hand, would look back at him utterly flabbergasted.

On the court, Doncic was an killer, but off the court, Doncic was just like any other energetic seven year old. “The most unbelievable thing for me was how he could change his personality. He was always very confident on the court. (He) always had a desire to win. (He) was very focused on the court. But when the match finished he was an amazing little boy. He was always smiling, joking with the kids. He had a magnetic personality at that age.” said Sisko.

Clearly, the love between basketball and Luka Doncic was monumental. When his dad would be playing in a game, Luka would often be on the first row tapping his feet, itching to shoot shots. “He would always sit under the basket. Every time, at halftime, when we came out of the locker room, he would always be shooting the ball. I always have this memory.” said Goran Dragic, his dad’s former teammate. Almost all of his father’s games, you would spot a young kid, smiling and laughing, while holding a basketball and a broom brushing the hardwood floor. Even in the middle of Sasa’s games, it would not be uncommon to spot a stringy blonde shock of hair run up to the rim as fast as he possibly could while cradling a basketball at any and every stoppage in play.

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Goran remembers Luka Doncic as a young kid. He had a photo of himself and nine of his teammates raising the Slovenian League Trophy. In the background stood a nine-year-old Luka, gazing in pure bliss whilst surrounded by his childhood idols. He had a gold medal wrapped around his neck and was as happy as a kid can be.

During his “days off”, Luka would often beg his mom to take him to practice with the pro teams. Sometimes, the players would have to force him to go home. “Be at home, play with your toys or something, you have to rest,” remembered Jernej Smolnikar, his select team head coach. However, the extra work proved valuable as Luka’s game expanded more and more rapidly.

As Doncic would grow older, his development didn’t slow, either. At one point, coaches tried to move seven-year-old Luka up to the fourteen-year-old age group. This was shot down due to league rules, so Doncic had to settle playing in the 12-year-old select team division.

As a preteen, Luka reached childhood fame. Doncic towered over everybody, standing at a gigantic 6 foot 2. A video went viral of the young Luka getting a 54 point triple-double. After that video, people started calling the Luka, “Wonder Boy.” As his fame put him in child celebrity status, the Real Madrid basketball team started to recognize him as a potential childhood prodigy.

A year later, at the spry age of 13, Luka Doncic signed a contract for Real Madrid’s pro team.

This proved to be a tough transition for the kid. “It was really hard, especially the first two or three months, I didn’t have my parents there.” Doncic said. When he first moved to Spain, he didn’t know squat about the Spanish language or the culture that came with it. But when adversity gives Luka a slap in the face, Luka doesn’t flinch. He learned Spanish and revised himself to a Madrid perception. He did all of that while constantly dismantling his competition.

As Luka got older, his development reached new heights. At just age 13, he was practicing with Olympians such as silver medalists Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez. He later became the third youngest player in Euroleague history to step on the court. His mom was still taking him to practice.

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When Doncic joined the senior Real Madrid team, the triples starting going in like someone had turned on a faucet. Luka’s first pro basketball appearance was highlighted by three triples and his and one. However, Luka didn’t receive much playing time. He played in just 3 games that season. But again, Doncic is no stranger to adversity.

Instead of putting his head down, Luka worked harder than ever before. The next season, Doncic came back stronger, faster, and more elusive than anyone could’ve ever thought. His minutes catapulted up to 13.3. He put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per 36 minutes. His shooting numbers were absolutely absurd not just for a 17-year-old, but for any basketball player. He shot a marvelous 50% from the field and an elegant 40% from the three-point line.

Doncic carried on his success in front of a vast variety of NBA scouts in Eurobasket, a tournament organized by FIBA to crown the best team on the European continent. This tournament featured NBA All-Stars like the Gasol brothers and Kristaps Porzingis, among many other elite NBA players, but Doncic, true to form, excelled in the face of elite competition. “For him it’s natural.” said Slovenian head coach, Igor Kokoskov, “He’s fearless, he loves to compete, He loves to be on the biggest stage.”

During the Slovenian national team’s first practice, forward Anthony Randolph remembered what it was like playing with the young Slovenian Doncic. “It was like the first practice, he came down the lane and dunked it out of nowhere.” elaborated Randolph, “I was like, God d***, he’s only 17!” “It was pretty amazing,” said Randolph.

Randolph, who played in the NBA for six years, has played against such ilk as of former MVP’s like LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, among countless other NBA studs, had this to say: “I don’t want to give him a big head, but I think he’s probably one of the best talents I’ve ever seen, especially at his age. I mean the kid can f****** nearly average a triple-double when he figures it out.”

Randolph would go onto further credit Doncic stating “It’s unbelievable, Just for his size, the way that he handles the game, the way that he carries himself on and off the court.” Luka Doncic would not just live up to the expectations, he would shatter them. He and Goran Dragic carried Slovenia to heights they’ve never been before, winning the tournament for the first time in the nation’s short history. Doncic and Dragic combined for nearly 39 points per game en route to a Eurobasket gold medal.

Luka also showed that he’s not afraid of the big stage. Against Latvia, Slovenia had the lead in a close game. Luka Doncic had the ball, matched up on the perimeter against NBA All-Star, Kristaps Porzingis. When he got the ball, the entire building got quiet and stared at the direction of the two, anxiously waiting on what would happen next.

The wunderkind picked up Porzingis in the post. After a couple of dribble moves, Doncic took the Latvian giant back up to the perimeter. After feeling out Kristaps a little longer, Doncic took some hesitation dribbles, and WOOSH! Before Porzingis could calibrate what was going on, Luka had darted past the 7-foot-3 All-Star and put in a layup.

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In the wake of that layup going in, the entire arena absolutely erupted. There chant “Wonder Boy” began to emanate from the crowd. Luka ended the moment off by giving Porzingis a cold glare. Kristaps remembered the moment. “I wanted to kill him,” said Porzingis.

After the tournament, the Slovenian national team flew back home. As they got out of the plane, there stood a crowd of about 30,000 people going absolutely ballistic. Doncic embraced the spotlight. He raised his gold medal and commenced into a cacophony screaming, while holding his hands up in victory.

Reveling in the Eurobasket gold medal win, Doncic continued his already illustrious European career into the 2017 season. In that season, his game took another massive leap. At just 17 years old, he was playing more minutes than Kristaps Porzingis or Giannis Antetokounmpo ever got. But the difference is, Porzingis and Giannis were 18 and 19 years old, Luka on the other hand, wasn’t even a legal adult yet. Oh, and to put a cherry on the top, he had a PER over 20!

Following his insane statistical upsurge, he got the attention of many NBA draft scouts and analysts. Global ESPN NBA Analyst, Fran Fraschilla, was quoted in saying “For an 18-year-old to do what (Doncic) is doing in the second best league in the world is remarkable, he’s always one play ahead.”

NBA Statistical Analyst, Mike Schmitz, who specializes in studying the analytics of upcoming NBA draft prospects was quick to praise the teenage wonder boy, saying “My model has him as the second-best player in the world outside of the NBA. If I was running a team at the top of the draft, I’d be doing everything in my power to get him.”

In 2017, Luka became the only player in the entire Euroleague to average at least 15 points 9 rebounds and 8 assists per 40 minutes. After an outstanding season last year, the hype grew massive for the young Wonder Boy. Day after day, people would often walk the streets of Madrid with the name Doncic and the number seven stitched on their backs. Elan Vinokourov, the president of EV Hoops, was in complete and utter astonishment after watching the Slovenian star play. “We have never seen a player like him before, in terms of what he’s done in Europe at his age. I’m usually a guy who’s quick to come up with comparisons, but no one really comes to mind,” remarked Vinokourov. “He’s a one of a kind.”

Doncic continued to ride the momentum into the 2017-2018 Euroleague basketball season. Despite the hype for Luka Doncic, the idea of an eighteen-year-old teenager winning the Euroleague MVP seemed preposterous. Luka completely abolished those thoughts.

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His play was completely impeccable. The 2017-18 Euroleague season might have been the most hyped season in the league’s history, and at the center of the hype, was Luka. Not only did he live up to every bit of this billing, but he annihilated all expectations. Just when you thought he couldn’t possibly get any better, Doncic averaged a mind-boggling 20.9 points per game on a superb 57 percent true shooting percentage per 36 minutes. Doncic was especially proficient from the paint, shooting just over 59% from two-point range. Furthermore, these absurd shooting figures came accompanied by a lofty 8 rebounds and 7 assists per 36 minutes as well.

Luka Doncic finished in the top five in the entire Euro League in Points, Assists, and defensive boards. He also finished top ten in steals, field goals made, free throws made, and three-pointers made.

Adding to this feet is the fact that most of those even in the same statistical stratosphere as Doncic were playing 30-35 minutes per game, but Luka, he only needed 25 minutes a game to do what he did. To top it all off, Luka Doncic became the youngest Euroleague player ever to lead the league in PER at 22.9.

So you should know Luka Doncic by now. He is the youngest MVP of the Euroleague ever, a gold medalist, the second-best basketball league on earth’s youngest PER leader ever, and he’s truly Europe’s Wonder Boy. In the immortal words of fellow Dynasty’s staffer, Adam Dreyfus, “He’s the best European prospect I’ve ever seen. When comparing him to other European prospects, most of them were raw and unproven, but Luka has already dominated the second highest level of basketball in the world.”

Dreyfus continued: “You don’t need to wonder if he’s going to be good or not, he’s already proven that. The question is how good can he be?”

I also asked Adam Dreyfus on how high his ceiling is and he responded by saying, “If he reaches his peak, I think he can be in the MVP Discussion!”

Despite the bundle of accolades and achievements, there are still haters. Some like to call him a European stereotype and compare him to the next Darko or Andrea Bargnani. Others like to point to his lacking athleticism, and others even say he gets too emotional at times. But Luka Doncic is definitively and objectively worlds ahead of any European NBA Draft Prospect ever. Yes, that includes Rubio, Kristaps, and even the future hall of famer, Pau Gasol. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at how Luka compares to other highly rated European prospects by the numbers.

 

Per game Euroleague Statistics 

 

Player Name Age MinPG PPG APG RPG SPG FG% 3PT% FT%
Luka Doncic 18 Yrs 25.0 14.5 4.6 5.2 1.1 45.6% 31.0% 80.1%
Kristaps Porzingis 19 Yrs 21.4 11.0 0.5 4.6 0.9 49.6% 35.9% 75.2%
Pau Gasol 19 Yrs 24.2 12.6 0.8 5.3 1.2 57.2% 37.3% 62.7%
Ricky Rubio 20 Yrs 20.3 6.8 4.2 2.9 1.4 40.2% 38.5% 82.6%
Andrea Bargnani 19 Yrs 22.1 11.6 0.4 5.0 1.4 49.8% 39.8% 75.0%
Luka Doncic 17 Yrs 19.9 7.8 3.7 4.4 1.0 44.6% 34.7% 81.9%

Per 36 minutes Euroleague Statistics 

 

Player Name Age PPG APG RPG SPG
Luka Doncic 18 Yrs 20.9 6.6 7.5 1.6
Kristaps Porzingis 19 Yrs 18.5 0.9 7.7 1.5
Pau Gasol 19 Yrs 18.8 1.1 7.9 1.8
Ricky Rubio 20 Yrs 11.8 7.6 4.8 3.1
Andrea Bargnani 19 Yrs 18.9 0.7 8.2 2.3
Luka Doncic 17 Yrs 14.1 6.7 8.0 1.4

 

Are you not convinced yet? While being just 18 years old for

(The following statistical data was provided by basketballreference.com)

While being just 18 years old for most of the season, Doncic absolutely thrashed other high rated European prospects. Doncic also has the highest projected VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) of any prospect since LeBron James in 2003, with a striking 5.8.

Luka’s numbers don’t lie. His accolades aren’t deceiving. Luka Doncic might be the most decorated draft prospect since the great Lou Alcindor from UCLA. That guy now goes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, FYI. So the question is this: why isn’t Luka Doncic a clear lock for the number one pick?

The answer is that he fullfills a stereotype like Andrea Bargnani, or Dragan Bender, or all of those European busts that have absolutely haunted NBA general managers. The fear of drafting Doncic is he is just another slow, unathletic European with nothing to show.

Luka Doncic is no stereotype, he is truly Europe’s golden ace. And yes, he can play some call of duty as well. If GM’s want to think that he’s just another tick time bomb of disappointment from over the pond, they can. They are just being naive and they aren’t looking at who Luka truly is- an MVP, a champion.

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Trust me, if they pass on him, years from now, they’ll remember the mistake. But to this day, Slovenia’s twelve-year-old walking triple-double has not faded in the spotlight, he’s blossomed. He is staring history right in the face. He could become potentially become the first top 3 European pick since the horrendous bust, Andrea Bargnani.

When draft day comes, and Adam Silver announces Luka Doncic’s name, expect there to be some boo’s and grunts from the crowd, but Luka will be ready. He may even get emotional knowing that his dreams are coming true. He may just sit there and smile. Or he might be on his phone playing Fortnite mobile with Willy Hernangomez. That’s who Luka Doncic is. He’s just going to do him, and he’s pretty damn good at it.

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