Welcome to the first volume of The Dončić Dossier. If you missed the preface or don’t know what’s going on here, here you go. It’s not long, I promise.
Let’s get stuck in.
The first game of the 2017-18 EuroLeague season saw Luka Dončić actually come off of the bench as Real Madrid took on Efes in Istanbul on October 12th.
It wasn’t a matter of how things started but how things finished for Dončić as he scored 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from three, dished four assists, grabbed four rebounds, committed two turnovers and posted a PIR of 32 (Player Index Rating, you can find out how it’s calculated here. It’s very simple to understand and a performance measurement I like a lot) in just 26 minutes as Madrid won convincingly 88-74.
For each of these games, we’re going to break down Dončić’s game into a few categories: ‘Offense/scoring’, ‘Playmaking/passing’, ‘Defense’ and ‘General’ for everything else, should that be necessary.
Let’s not waste time, shall we?
It shouldn’t take you long to figure out that Luka Dončić is a fantastic scorer who can get it done in multiple different ways — he has many different tools in the toolbox with which to work with, and we’re going to take a look at how Dončić got to 27 points and some of the other offensive things Dončić did well at in this game.
Here, Dončić drives inside, Josh Adams does a solid job sticking with him until Dončić hesitates slightly, freeing him from his man and Dončić can get off the one-legged bank shot which goes in:
Not spectacular defense here but this is a nice move to shed the defender to free up some space, and to hit it off one leg too…
As the shotclock winds down to finish the first half, Dončić gets the ball and sizes up Ricky Ledo before just toying with him: dribble, dribble, cross, see you later. He gets into the paint but his runner is just a tad long as the half ends:
Loved the confidence from Dončić here and I loved the, almost, savagery too. He really was just playing games here before just breezing past Ledo.
Sometimes Dončić will do that: size up his man and hit him with either a blow by (as you saw with Ricky Ledo) or he’ll just hit a shot over you as he does here with Errick McCollum:
You can also see the size difference that Dončić is likely to boast over his defenders if he’s playing either guard position. Dončić is listed as a guard (point guard on Real Madrid’s official website) and is listed at just under 6’5″. However… Errick McCollum is listed at 6’2″ and look how high Dončić rises above him.
Now, sometimes we know not to take all official height listing seriously. Kevin Durant, for example… There is no way, no way, Dončić is 6’5″. Wikipedia lists Dončić as 6’7″ and DraftExpress actually lists Dončić at 6’8″.
Dončić’s size is elite at either guard position, his size also optimal for a three, possibly even small-ball four which is something we see in the NBA quite a bit of today (though he might lack the raw strength right now for that position). It all depends on the team that drafts him, of course, and what how they want to utilise him.
Now for some pick-and-roll action, where Dončić is quite handy, you could say.
Coming off of the pick-and-roll with Gustavo Ayon, Dončić has Vladamir Stimac back-pedalling but he stops briefly just inside the free throw line, and this allows his man (Dogus Balbay, number 4) to get back into the play before Dončić leans in between Balbay and Ricky Ledo and hits the floater:
You can actually see the strength of Dončić somewhat here as he creates the contact and, kind of, bursts through his man as he rises to hit that floater.
Some more pick-and-roll action: again, Dončić has the big on skates as he gets to the paint off of the pick, goes behind his back to get to his left side, steps back and swishes the mid-range J:
Poor Stimac was absolutely bamboozled by that combination of the behind-the-back dribble and then the step-back.
And again — this time on Josh Adams — at the end of the first quarter: crossover, step-back and swish:
It really doesn’t take long to see why executives are foaming at the mouth to select this guy in the draft.
This crossover of his is borderline nasty. You’ve already seen a numbers of instances where the crossover has freed Dončić up for a shot. Here’s another example. He sizes his man up again, crosses over, gets to the free throw line, steps back and rises:
The shot misses (and you could argue that there’s a slight push-off here) but that combination of crossover and step-back to shed his man created this open opportunity — he won’t miss all of them.
Dončić is shot maker, and a tough shot maker at that. Here, Dončić uses the screen, goes to his left, rises and hits the contested three:
In this situation, maybe you’d like to see Dončić get this shot off a little bit quicker (since his defender is actually able to get back and get his hand up to contest) but a good shot nevertheless, and one of three threes Dončić sunk in this game.
Dončić can mix things up when it comes to his scoring: here he is grabbing an offensive rebound and, again, leans in a bit before floating it home on the second chance opportunity:
What I liked about this play was as soon as Anthony Randolph fired that shot, Dončić was on the move. He doesn’t know that this shot is going to miss but he gets himself in the right position to get the rebound because he doesn’t give up on the play. Some players, and Bismack Biyombo instantly comes to mind, grab offensive rebounds but don’t have the offensive talent to do anything with it once they have it apart from toss it back up if they’re outside of dunking range. Not a problem for Dončić, who has the skills to make the most of these second chances.
He uses that elite size not only on the glass but in the post as well. Here, he backs down Krunoslav Simon in the post, gets near the restricted area, spins to his right and flips it off the glass and in for the ‘and-1’:
To be fair, Simon didn’t really put a lot of physical pressure on Dončić here but this is more about Dončić actually going to that post game and making something happen from it.
So, those were the good things that Dončić did on offense in this game. There’s quite a bit to be impressed by. What about the bad/less than ideal things from the game?
These were pretty infrequent in this game but there were a few things you’d like to see Dončić do better when it came to his offense (we’ll get to playmaking errors in the next heading, this is just when it comes to Dončić’s personal offense/scoring. And, look, some of these, I’ll probably be reaching somewhat and that goes for the highlights too — it’s just what I see when I watch these — so use your own discernment when it comes to these. The objective here is to show you, and you can make up your mind after that).
Sometimes (and it didn’t really happen much at all in this game to be fair) some of the shots Dončić took were a bit meh.
Here, Dončić launches a less than ideal and very deep three when he probably should’ve looked for other options (Ayon in this case):
To make the case for the shot: the shotclock was winding down and Dončić had made a few already threes already but it still wasn’t fantastic. It’s not the range I have an issue with — he can hit it from that range — but maybe something better could’ve been worked with nine seconds on the shotclock remaining when he receives it. Looking at Ayon’s body language after the shot, he wasn’t too plussed with Dončić’s decision.
Here, just some bad offense from Real Madrid in general but Dončić is a part of it. Anthony Randolph does no favours here by wasting four of the 14 seconds left on the shotclock but in his defense there’s no movement going around him to encourage him to pass it. Eventually, the ball ends up in the hands of Dončić with about seven seconds left on the shotclock. When he gets the ball, Dončić should probably do something with it right away but he hesitates instead. By the time he looks to make his move, the shotclock has ticked just below five and now there’s a sudden pressure to get something done quickly. He doesn’t really get help with the pick from Ayon, who slips it instead of making contact with Dončić’s man. The pass to the rolling Ayon really isn’t there and Dončić’s defender is still with him. In the end, Dončić has to settle for a contested three which hits the backboard and a shotclock violation is called:
Again, it’s a bit of a stretch, but maybe Dončić could’ve been a tad more aware of the clock in this situation. Solid defense from Efes though to not allow the Dončić penetration and keep him on the perimeter.
And those were really the main things that maybe Dončić could’ve done a bit better when it came to his offense/his scoring in this game. You can see early on that he has a variety of moves/ways to score, he’s efficient, his crossover is great — dare I say, near lethal — and he can shoot the ball from the outside.
Not a bad set of skills…
Let’s move on to the thing that blew me away the most in this game and the best thing (I think, anyways) that Dončić did in this game: passing, playmaking.
THIS. MAN. CAN. PASS.
Where to begin… How about with his first offensive possession of the game when he checked in near the end of the first quarter?
He operates the pick-and-roll with Ayon, who slips the pick, and Dončić gets into the paint with the Efes big, Bryant Dunston, back-pedalling. Dunston stops and decides to hold his ground, preventing Dončić from forcing him to back-pedal all the way to the rim but the size and length of Dončić means he can just jump and drop a pass over Dunston to the rolling Ayon, and Ayon scores the layup:
The play itself isn’t spectacular but it’s Dončić coming in straightaway and impacting the game in a positive way with his ability to make plays for others and make others around him better.
Let’s stick to the pick-and-roll game. Here, Dončić and Ayon pair up again. There’s nothing world-beating here: a pick, a roll, and a nice bounce-pass that leads to a scoring opportunity:
Ayon isn’t able to complete the play on this occasion, but Dončić put him in a good position to make something happen.
More pick-and-roll action as Dončić and Ayon (noticing the trend? Get used to it, these two do a lot of good things together) link up again.
After the pick, Ayon allows Dončić to journey ahead of him before trailing Dončić on the play as he rolls to the basket. As Ayon heads to the paint, Dončić surveys his options. He gets his head up and recognises that Ledo is cheating somewhat on Facundo Campazzo, who is chilling behind the three-point line. Dončić finds Campazzo and by the time Ledo gets to him it’s too late — Campazzo’s ultra quick release means the ball is already gone and it hits nothing but net:
Good recognition of what the defense was showing and good decision-making on this play by Dončić. Again, nothing world-beating but just the right play.
Dončić’s overall vision and awareness — and then ability to execute what he sees in his head — are fantastic.
As I went to prepare this clip, even though I’ve already watched this game, I thought Dončić was going to pass to Ayon after this screen. After all, his eyes are pointed in that direction. But no, Dončić, aware of his surroundings, fires a no-look pass to Chasson Randle in the corner as soon as Randle’s man, Errick McCollum, begins to commit as the help defender in the paint and off of Randle. Randle fakes the shot and drives inside, and the play eventually ends with Anthony Randolph making a shot:
Just fantastic vision, execution (it’s one thing to see the pass, another to execute it) and patience to let the play unfold/the defense to cheat/commit off of the corner three before skipping it out there.
More ridiculous passing.
After getting caught in no-mans-land (his drive having gone all wrong and leaving his feet) Dončić throws a bit of a desperate pass in the hope one of this teammates will claim it. Ayon’s size advantage proves to be his rescue, and Dončić comes out top to claim the ball and try again. Ayon and work the pick-and-roll again, and Dončić drives inside. The Efes big defending this pick-and-roll, Vladamir Stimac, extends the pressure on Dončić and sticks tight to him as he tries to get to the rim. Efes pack the paint and Dončić sees the open Anthony Randolph in the corner. Dončić finds him with an over-the-head pass with his right hand and Randolph hits the three:
The pass is just a tad below where Randolph would want but it’s basically as good as are you’re going to get. Great vision to see the pass and fantastic execution to actually find Randolph: that’s almost perfection.
You can already see Dončić’s natural feel for the game and he definitely made those around him better. But what could Dončić have done better in this game handling the ball?
There was a play in the first quarter… Dončić pushes in transition off of the Madrid stop, gets to the paint before wheeling around to find the trailing Ayon behind the three-point line. Ayon isn’t a three-point shooter, so Dončić and Ayon set up again. Off of the screen, Dončić delivers a bounce-pass that’s a bit too low and a bit behind Ayon. Ayon, however, is able to gather it, control it, put it on the floor and score the layup:
First of all, in the NBA, the big-man trailing that play as Ayon did there… More than likely that’s going to be a big who can shoot a three-pointer. After that, it’s the good hands of Ayon that prevent this from becoming a turnover, so in this situation you’d like to see Dončić do a bit better with his bounce-pass (and he would get it right later on, in a clip we’ve already looked at).
Dončić finished with two turnovers. Here was one of them, as he attempts to fire a pass into the rolling Jeffrey Taylor, Krunoslav Simon does a good job to get a hand on it and gains his team possession of the ball:
Nothing major here, just a good deflection from Simon.
Dončić finished with four assists but that doesn’t really tell the full story of Dončić as a ball-handler/creator in this game: his ability to not only see plays but actually execute those passes (both simple and extraordinary) and put his teammates in positions in which they had the opportunity to succeed was great. Everytime the ball was in Dončić’s hands, you knew something — more often than not — was going to happen, whether he would score himself or set a teammate up for an opportunity…
This ability to create offense/create opportunities — without blatantly ball-hogging and turning it over at a high rate — and his ability to score take his game to another level and his ability to influence a game on the offensive end cannot be understated enough in this game and how it propelled Madrid to a win on the road.
Defensively, Dončić is not awful, I wouldn’t even say he’s bad, but he’s not spectacular. And that’s fine. Many All-Stars are adequate defensively and explosive offensively. Sometimes that’s all they need to be defensively: adequate.
Nothing huge to talk about here in this game when it came to Dončić’s defense, just a few small things to note.
If Dončić is playing point guard, PG’s with elite quickness could give him a problem. He’s not slow as molasses, but could have difficulty keeping up laterally off of the dribble. Here, Errick McCollum is able to get by him and get to the hoop but he can’t convert the layup:
Hard to get a proper sense at Dončić’s 1-on-1 defense here with the screen possibly wrong-footing him slightly but it could be a concern. Something we’ll have to keep an eye on.
Against the slower Ledo? That’s a bit more like it:
After doing a good job staying in front of Ledo for pretty much all of his drive, Dončić is shifted away from Ledo near the end of the play, and this meant that Ayon had to complete the defensive play with the blocked shot. Dončić will obviously get stronger with time and he’ll be able to complete defensive plays like this in the future.
He did make up, sort of, with this good contest on Ledo:
Not a great shot by Ledo, but doesn’t change the fact that Dončić is right there.
After that, a lot of Dončić’s defensive slips are either some fundamental error (which he’ll get better at with time) and some mental things, like not paying attention for example.
Here, you’d like to see Dončić contest this shot in transition but after the miss, look at how Dončić climbs the ladder to claim the rebound and draws the foul after the fact:
Would’ve been nice to see a contest but the rebound equalises that error on this possession.
One mental lapse that was noteworthy was in the second quarter. Dončić is caught ball-watching somewhat as a three is launched from the corner. From the unsuspecting view of Dončić skies Dogus Balbay, and he snatches the offensive rebound right in front of Dončić’s eyes, leading to multiple second chance attempts before a foul is called:
Besides a screen where Dončić went a little too high on, this was pretty much all the negative defensive stuff that came out of this game from Dončić but he wasn’t really tested, so it’s impossible to make any defensive conclusion from this one game…
In closing vs. Efes
However, what you can conclude from this game is that Luka Dončić is a special, special talent, especially on the offensive end.
He can change games directly with his scoring abilities and indirectly as a facilitator. You have to remember that Dončić is just 18 years old, and he’s making professionals look silly in the world’s second best basketball league.
With 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from three, four assists, four rebounds, a 32 PIR and just two turnovers in just 26 minutes.
“It was a great win,” said Dončić postgame. “This is a great team and we played on their home court. So it was hard work, but we did a great job. It was a lot of ups and downs, especially in the end of third quarter, but we stayed together as a team, worked hard, and we will take the win. I feel great. It is anything I can do to help my team, and help my teammates, but also the teammates help me on the court, and coaches help me, that’s why I am here. ”
Dončić’s impact on this game is obvious and his hand-print, everywhere. He’s the man who makes Madrid tick.
And there’s plenty of more where that came from…