The Dončić Dossier Vol. 4 — @ Zalgiris Kaunas

Image: EuroLeague.net

(Apologies if the video quality isn’t the greatest today. It’s a bit out of my control I’m afraid… Still trying to figure out the kinks of this whole process, definitely getting there but the video quality just took a step back this week.)

After a strong outing against Olimpia Milan, Real Madrid and Luka Dončić head on the road to take on Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania on October 26th. Madrid took their winning streak to four games in EuroLeague 17-18 (ninth in all competitions) as they won convincingly 87-66 against Kaunas.

For Luka Dončić, it was another strong game: 28 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, 4-of-6 from three, 6-of-6 from the line, nine rebounds, four assists, three turnovers and a PIR rating of 35 in 27 minutes.

Let’s break it down:

Offense/scoring

We’ll start with the three-point shooting again — 4-of-6 for Dončić behind the arc, making it another strong performance from the outside.

Unlike the last game against Milan where Dončić’s three-point work was done by the end of the first quarter, it was only in the third quarter when Dončić got on the board from three-point range.

Off of a miss, Dončić grabs the rebound and, as he likes to do, pushes in transition. He gets to the three-point line and the Kaunas defense doesn’t extend their defense as closely as they probably should. Dončić recognises the space that is given to him, rises and drains the three-pointer to put Madrid up by 14 points in the third quarter:

It wasn’t as if the Kaunas defense completely sagged off of Dončić here: it was just an enough amount of space that Dončić needed to pull up and hit the shot.

Here, the rare play where Dončić is planted off-ball and in the corner on the weak-side. Fabien Causeur and Gustavo Ayon work the pick-and-roll, Causeur finds Ayon, who takes a dribble inside and skips it over to Dončić in the corner for the corner three (after the friendly bounce):

We don’t normally see Dončić planted in the corner like that — a nice catch-and-shoot opportunity there. Again, having a big who can see plays and then pass like Gustavo Ayon really helps.

Dončić hit a few late threes when the game was pretty much over.

Here, just the standard stuff from Dončić: a jab-step and then hits the contested three:

He just makes it look so easy sometimes…

And just to cap it all off, a three-pointer to beat the buzzer after a bit of a broken play:

You’re probably thinking that’s a bit of a punk move from Dončić but no, you’d be wrong. In EuroLeague, every point counts and you have to keep on playing until the end. Cumulative score differential is a tiebreaker in EuroLeague, so every point matters.

Here’s a screenshot of the EuroLeague standings as of Jan 22nd:

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 18.28.40

Every point matters.

That wraps up another good three-point shooting display from Dončić, now let’s move on to the transition game.

We saw Dončić hit a three in transition in this game, and the transition game was where Dončić found a lot of success in against Kaunas.

Before we get to some actual field goal makes, there was this one play in transition that was interesting. Off of a steal, Madrid push with Facundo Campazzo. If you look to the left of the screen, you’ll see Dončić purposely hang back as Kaunas get back on D and try to ensure an easy opportunity doesn’t emerge in transition. Dončić will now spring into action and into the picture — completely catching out the Kaunas defense — and receives the ball from Campazzo, but can’t hit the three:

A sneaky and clever play. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in a basket on this occasion.

From then on, Dončić wasn’t so subtle in transition…

Off of a Kaunas miss, the ball ends up in hands of Causeur. Dončić streaks his way up the court (thankfully, with his uniform still on) and the ball is delivered to him. Between himself and the basket is Paulius Jankunas. Dončić takes it inside and uses a nice little eurostep to get by him and then displays some nice hang-time as he floats the shot home:

A nice set of moves chained together by Dončić for that basket, further exhibiting his offensive repetoire.

I included the reaction Kaunas head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius here because watching him react on the sidelines throughout this game was just hilarious. Very firey. Fantastic stuff. …Could you tell he’s a former player?

After an errant pass is intercepted by Causeur, he quickly whips it to Dončić who is already streaking ahead. Dončić takes it strong all the way to the rim and draws the foul, leading to free throws:

Dončić would hit all six of his free throws in this game.

Off of a miss, Dončić looks for the ball, wanting to push the pace quickly and try to exploit the Kaunas transition D. Felipe Reyes gives it to him and away Dončić goes. He gets inside the three-point line and slams the brakes before pulling up and sinking the mid-range J:

With many NBA teams looking for quicker pacing these days, it helps that Dončić can make things happen in transition (though, faster pace doesn’t always necessarily mean transition offense). The transition game was certainly effective in this game, however…

We saw Dončić work in the post again in this game.

Here, Dončić inbounds the ball and wants it back almost immediately so he can back down Vasijile Micic. After getting close to the paint in the post, Dončić then spins to his left and hits his hook home off of the glass, despite being knocked off his spot a bit in the air:

That’s an appropriate reaction, really.

Next, the Kaunas defense don’t communicate and this allows Dončić to be free in the corner (without the ball). Kevin Pangos comes over to cover him and Dončić receives the ball on the wing and goes to work. To the credit of Pangos, he gets his hands in there and does well to knock it out of Dončić’s hands and the turnover is forced:

Immediately after this, Kaunas can’t score in transition and Madrid and Dončić come again, attempting to post-up Pangos. Dončić was extra determined to back him down (almost too determined, you could argue?) and he spins and hits the, kind of, wild leaner:

A little fortunate here, it wasn’t the greatest possession in the world but it went in…

And to finish off Dončić’s offensive work in this game, he comes off of a nice curl and scores with ease at the rim:

Beautiful hand-off by Ayon too. Again — and I can’t state this enough — having a guy who can pass like Ayon is huge for Dončić.

Passing/playmaking

Things didn’t start too well for Dončić here.

The first possession he’s involved in — off of the knock-away from Ayon — the bounce-pass to try to find Causeur is a little too low for Causeur to handle and it leads to a turnover:

I could be being harsh here, this could be on Causeur, but I thought it was a tad too low. Dončić would get the bounce-pass right later on out of the pick-and-roll:

Too bad Reyes couldn’t convert the layup.

Again in transition, Dončić tries to make something happen but the Kaunas defense does a good job cutting him off from the rim this time. Dončić then goes to his post game and backs inside toward what would be the NBA restricted area (which, of course, doesn’t exist here but that general area). As he spins, he draws the attention of the second defender. In that split second, Dončić wraps a beautiful pass to Ayon, who scores the layup:

What a beautiful pass. Great recognition of the situation from the time of spinning to the time getting that pass to Ayon.

Similar to the last game against Milan, Kaunas tried to hedge some Dončić screens to extend a bit more defensive pressure on him. Again, he dealt with it well.

After a little bit dribbling beforehand, Dončić comes around the Ayon screen and Kaunas extend the defensive pressure to prevent Dončić turning the corner. As Brandon Davies tracks back to Ayon, Dončić fires an over-the-head pass to Ayon, who makes a very quick pass to Reyes for a layup that is goaltended:

Good pass from Dončić inside off of the hedge but, again, Ayon being able to make plays from the center spot really helps complete this play.

Kaunas did this again at the beginning of the second quarter only this time Dončić whips it to the corner where Jonas Maciulis hits the three.

Good to see Dončić remain calm in these kind of situations and, most of the time, makes the right pass.

Not a hedge this time from Kaunas, but Dončić finds himself in an almighty crowd coming off of a pick as he gets inside, adjusts mid-air to find the trailing Reyes for a layup:

That’s quite the crowd to draw and a nice pass to find the trailer.

Sometimes it doesn’t have to be so difficult.

After a pick-and-roll with Dino Radondic didn’t really open any doors, Dončić surveys his surroundings and makes the simple pass to the open Santi Yusta who hits the three:

A very easy assist…

Defense

Defensively, this was an interesting game for Dončić.

Just a few mental/fundamental/team defensive mistakes in this game, things like help defense. A few ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ here but you can decide…

Here, Kevin Pangos comes off a screen and gets downhill heading to the rim. Could Dončić have done something here as the help defender, maybe reach in or fully rotate?

Perhaps this is a better example in the second quarter, one where you might actually expect Dončić to rotate and help stop the drive:

Again, Pangos is the beneficiary of the lack of help defense as he gets to the foul line on this occasion.

In the fourth quarter — and maybe this one can slide a little more since the game is now a blowout — but maybe Dončić could slap a hand in there or something as the ball-handler goes past?

More defensive fundamentals: doesn’t contest the Axel Toupane shot:

These aren’t major issues that aren’t able to be fixed, so that’s the encouraging thing. Is it an effort thing? Yeah, you could make that argument. I’m not worried though.

In closing vs. Kaunas

Offensively, just another strong game. A bit of a quiet first half but really got going in the second quarter. Encouraging to see the three-point shot fall in this one again. Again, I’m all for Dončić going to work in the post, I love it, thought that second possession against Pangos wasn’t great even though he scored.

When it came to both scoring and passing, the transition game was huge and we saw Dončić take full advantage of the Kaunas transition defense. Again when it came to making decisions when the defensive extended the pressure off of pick-and-rolls, it was great to see Dončić not panic and make the right decisions/passing.

“…Doncic already played very good last year,” said Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso. He is a great decision-maker and that helps him. I think tonight he had a great game because he was hot shooting. But sometimes he helps us in so many things.

Defensively, it was an OK game but those fundamentals were highlighted a bit. I don’t think it’s to do with defensive limitations just more so an effort/awareness thing to make those rotations. Again, not worried about it at all…

With a 35 PIR to go along with his big stat line, Dončić was named MVP for Round 4 of EuroLeague, which marked his second in consecutive rounds.

The Dončić Dossier Vol. 3 — vs. AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan

(Yes, that is their official name…)

Image: RealMadrid.com via VÍCTOR CARRETERO

After a big win against CSKA Moscow last time out, Round 3 of EuroLeague 2017/18 saw Real Madrid take on Olimpia Milan, again at home.

After a somewhat quiet game last time out against CSKA, Luka Dončić bounced back in a big way: 27 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from three, 11-of-12 from the free throw line, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals, one turnover and a PIR rating of 41 (!!) in 28 minutes.

Offense/scoring

It was a bit of an off-game for Dončić last time out when it came to scoring the ball, and scoring the ball from the field: just 2-of-8 from the field with many of them being three-pointers.

This was a much better game shooting the three for Dončić, so we’ll start there.

Dončić shot 2-of-5 from three (40%) in this game and his first basket of this game came from distance, in a way that should be familiar by now: with a step-back:

That is a thing of beauty… That step-back is going to be a problem in the NBA.

They say save the best for last, and Donćić’s last three-pointer of this game was sublime. And deep:

The FIBA three-point line is a little shorter than the NBA three-point line, but that is legitimate three-point range…

This was a three he didn’t make, but it’s Dončić — as he likes to do sometimes — grabbing a rebound, pushing the pace and seeing what comes of it:

Usually, I personally don’t like shots that come with, kind of, no offense being run but it’s worth a try every now and then (and a nice little stutter-step). And we know Dončić can make things happen in transition…

Off of a miss, Gustavo Ayon grabs the rebound and Dončić wants the ball so he can push. He gets it, does so and draws the foul and heads to the free throw line:

Dončić would get three free throws here as a technical foul was called after this play. Dončić shot a few more technical fouls shots than normal (a lot more) and this was part of the reason why he shot 12 free throws, but he did a good job using his pace to exploit the defense in transition.

Speaking of dipping into his pace, how about this for a move? The quick left-to-right cross and burst to shed his man, the beautiful use of fake to allow him to drift by him, the shot is blocked by the help defender but it bounces right back into the hands Dončić who uses the glass to score the easy layup:

I love fakes like that because it really makes the opposition look, almost, silly as they sail on by. They are risky though — Dončić was blocked and was lucky the ball found its way right back to him — but when they come off they’re great…

In fact, we actually saw this come back to bite Dončić as he tried it again in the fourth quarter, the defender being able to recover to block the shot and Dončić didn’t get so lucky with the bounce this time:

That crossover, though… We’ve already seen in this short time covering him that it can be lethal…

Here, Dončić just toys with Vladimir Micov as he dribbles, steps back and then crosses over Micov before having a floater blocked by Marco Cusin:

Talk about being on skates… That is just nasty from Dončić. And that’s just a great block by Cusin, he goes way upstairs to reach that one. Great plays by both players there.

Some other nice things  from Dončić offensively in this game (and we’ll fly through these):

As the first half ticks to a close, Dončić is trapped after his teammate Facundo Campazzo flashes by Dončić (Campazzo’s man then comes to extend pressure on him) putting Dončić in a difficult position. He fires an awkward pass but it does reach Campazzo who takes the three. The shot misses, but Dončić sneaks in to claim the offensive rebound and gets the shot off before he hits the ground, aware of the clock and it beats the buzzer:

Great heads up play by Dončić: aware of the clock and getting himself back into the play and into a great position to claim the offensive rebounded after he was on his arse only a few seconds earlier.

Here, a nice curl coming off the screen leads to a layup plus the foul:

It’s a huge benefit to Dončić to have a big who can pass well like Gustavo Ayon can and hopefully the team that drafts him will have a center/big who can pass the ball well to make full use of Dončić’s game.

Here, a set play from Madrid as Dončić comes of the flex screen for an easy layup:

Again, it’s Ayon who’s making that pass. Good screen too. A beautiful set play from Madrid here.

There was really only one shot in this game from Dončić that, you can maybe say, wasn’t ideal:

It is a deep three with 13 seconds left on the clock — sometimes you’d prefer some offense to be run if a quality shot isn’t always on — but we saw him make a deeper shot than this earlier? I’ll let you decide on this one…

A little bit of Dončić in the post now, backing down Dairis Bertans here (yep, brother of San Antonio Spurs forward Davis Bertans), spinning and flipping the hook home for an ‘and-1’:

Keep working that post, young fella.

Playmaking/passing

There wasn’t much to show from Dončić against CSKA — he didn’t handle the ball an awful lot to create chances — but there’s a lot more to show here against Milan.

We’ve mentioned how Dončić likes to sometimes push in transition and this can lead/has led to scoring opportunities, whether it was outright or at the free throw line. Well, he can do it to create baskets for others too.

Off of the miss, Dončić claims the rebound and he’s off to the races. As he meets the defense, he fires a pass over the defense to find the streaking Jeffrey Taylor for the layup and the foul:

A nice heads-up play there by Dončić to find the right pass/make the right play and get others involved.

Again off the miss, Dončić looks to push it. He gets his head up and sees the right play and makes it (a pass to Campazzo), and the end result is a dunk:

An unselfish play, the right play. Not anything massive by any means but just Dončić getting his head up and making the correct play instead of looking to score himself/take it to the rim.

Off of a steal this time, Dončić — knowing the tightness of the space in which he was operating from — produces a wonderful behind-the-back pass to find Campazzo, who goes between his legs to find Ayon for the highlight play:

I was left in awe watching this play, but mostly the behind-the-back pass from Dončić. Absolutely fantastic.

Another great play from Dončić, just a bit less flashy: the beautiful bounce-pass executed to perfection to a rolling Gustavo Ayon:

He just makes those around him better and puts them in positions to succeed, here’s another example where a drive and kick to the corner sets up a good three-point opportunity:

Perhaps lucky to escape without being called for an offensive foul but a good opportunity here that wasn’t converted on this occasion.

Milan did something defensively in this game that other teams in EuroLeague hadn’t tried up until this point: extending extensive pressure on Dončić in pick-and-rolls. They hedged a lot of picks and this forced Dončić to have to make decisions in awkward situations and he responded very well, for the most part.

In the first quarter, Milan extend the defense to Dončić with the hedge. Dončić fires a pass to Gustavo Ayon as the last line of Milan’s defense leaves Ayon underneath the basket to go to cover the three-point shooter, for some reason, leaving Ayon open for the open layup at the rim:

Here, Dončić finds the open shooter off of the double with a skip-pass to the weak-side wing:

Though Jonas Maciulis missed the three, Dončić did well to make what was probably the best possible pass that led to an opportunity.

Milan hedge again in the fourth quarter, only this time Dončić’s overhead pass is deflected into the backcourt but gets bailed out with a bad foul by Jordan Theodore, who earns a technical foul for his objections, leading Dončić back to the free throw line:

A lucky break for Dončić here. The pass he was attempting was sure to result in a turnover as Ayon had slipped behind his man as Dončić begun to pass. This was probably the best outcome for Dončić here, actually.

Now in crunch time, Milan, again, extend pressure onto Dončić. As he heads to the right-wing, he gets his head up and sees the open man in Fabien Casseur and finds him with an overhead pass. Casseur takes a dribble to his right and hits the contested three for a hugely important basket:

Another good decision out of the defensive pressure by Dončić at an important time in the game.

We haven’t seen Dončić throw many lobs so fat but he had a go at a few in this game but the play wasn’t able to completed on both occasions.

Here, Dončič’s alley-oop to Ayon is just a tad long. Ayon gets his fingers on it but can’t guide it home:

In the third quarter, Dončić throws a better pass this time but Ayon is still unable to finish the play:

Almost…

Defense

Apart from the post defense, it was a pretty solid outing last time for Dončić defensively and it was another solid outing this time vs. Milan.

Early on, Milan tried to get at Dončić down-low but Dončić does a good job staying vertical and the shot at the rim falls short:

Here, Dončić does a good job staying in front of his man and contesting the shot but it was a case of ‘good-D, better-O’:

That’s just a good shot, not much more Dončić could’ve done here.

Here, a decent contest on the help D by Dončić shows his awareness of a dangerous situation:

Let’s talk about post defense… It wasn’t as much of a factor in this game but it did come up a few times.

On a switch, Dončić is beaten inside and is, kind of, dunked on:

To be fair, he shouldn’t have been in this position to begin with after Jaycee Carroll just abandons ship and leaves Dončić to have to switch onto Arturas Gudaits…

But Dončić, encouragingly, did show some fight in the post and denied this entry:

Again, encouraging… A little bit of fight…

We’ve talked about before about Dončić possibly struggling against quicker guards, we saw another example of this here against Theodore:

As for the mental lapses Dončić can be prone to have, there was only one major one from this game, coming in the third quarter: he just allows the roll-man to get to the rim for the ‘and-1’ dunk:

In that situation he should probably switch onto the roll-man and at least put some pressure at the rim. This kind of stuff is easily workable, though.

In closing vs. Milan

Overall, much better offensive game from Dončić here. Better shot selection, better quality of shots, more efficient shooting, got to the rim more, got to the free throw line often (more so because of the many techs that flew around in this game) and found other ways to score whether it was nice set-plays from Madrid or sneaking in for rebounds.

A great offensive game for Dončić here.

A much better game when it came to assisting/making his teammates better. That’s what great players do: make everyone around them better, and I think Dončić does this very well. He should’ve had the ball in his hands more than he did in this game to make plays for others…

Defensively, again, very solid. Not elite but solid. Some good stuff help D wise, some good contests… Just solid, man.

A PIR rating of 41… That is bonkers. And, unsurprisingly, earned Dončić MVP of Round 3.

It is hard to believe that he’s just 18 years old… When you watch him in EuroLeague, you look at him as a professional, playing with other professionals more so than looking at him as an 18 year o.d. With the NCAA/college ball, you watch it and you know immediately that these guys are just kids. For me watching these, I have to remind myself that Dončić is just 18 as he tears EuroLeague apart, and that says an awful lot..

The Dončić Dossier Vol. 2 — vs. CSKA Moscow

Image: Real Madrid.com via ÁNGEL MARTÍNEZ

Week number two of the 2017-18 EuroLeague season saw Real Madrid play their first home game of the season against EuroLeague juggernauts CSKA Moscow on October 19th.

For those who don’t know, CSKA Moscow are serious business when it comes to basketball.

Not only have they absolutely dominated basketball in Russia for almost three decades, they’re also one of top dogs in EuroLeague, winning the EuroLeague title in 2015-16 as boasting well as a bunch of runner-up and Final Four mentions since 2003. They usually have the best players on their side, currently including 2016 regular season MVP Nando de Colo, former EuroLeague MVP Sergio Rodríguez, and in the past until very recently, another former MVP in Miloš Teodosić.

CSKA are, more often than not, amongst the elite teams in EuroLeague, and as of writing this they currently top the EuroLeague standings with a 13-4 record.

So, a big early season test for Real Madrid and Luka Dončić, who started this game after his big performance in the last game vs. Efes.

Offense/scoring

It wasn’t as good of an offensive game for Dončić in this one as he scored 14 points on just 2-of-8 shooting, 1-of-6 from three, (but) 9-of-11 from the line, six rebounds, two assists, two steals, two turnovers, one block and a PIR of 21 in 26 minutes in a 82-69 victory.

Dončić only took eight shots in this game and six of them were three-pointers. Though he missed five of them, Dončić had worked himself into great positions to take those threes — the shots just didn’t fall.

Let’s look at the one he made first.

After passing out of a trap, Dončić reclaims possession of the ball well behind the three-point line before going behind the screen and is switched onto. He deceives the defender into thinking he’s going to drive by him, pulling back instead before hitting the deep three-pointer:

The FIBA three-point line is a closer in than the NBA three, but there’s no doubt that’s an NBA three-pointer made by Dončić here.

Dončić missed five three-pointers but how he worked himself into those positions was really impressive.

Gustavo Ayon sets a screen behind the three-point line but Nikita Kurbanov does well to fight over the screen and stay in front of Dončić. But he stands no chance of sticking with him when Dončić hits him with a lethal combination of dribble and step-back, and it leads to a good three-point look:

A little long on the shot, but a great move to create this opportunity on his own.

Again, Dončić chains that dribble-to-step-back move together to shape out a good opportunity from behind the arc:

A little short on this one but, again, the use of dribble and the step-back to create a good-looking opportunity.

I mean, that step-back is just nasty:

A thing of beauty, too bad the shot didn’t go in this time.

Here was Dončić’s other made field goal from this game, sneaking in for an offensive rebound and scores, plus the foul:

Will Clyburn could’ve done a bit more here to prevent Dončić from claiming this rebound…

One more thing to add before we get to the main part of Dončić’s scoring in this game… I liked this dribble and drive off of the closeout into a pull-up J, but the shot rattles in and out:

Loved the slight hesitation from Dončić as the defender commits to the closeout…

The majority of Dončić’s scoring came from the free throw line where he was 9-of-11. Part of that was Madrid being in the bonus but Dončić did a good job drawing fouls too.

Here, off of the miss, Dončić is handed the ball, pushes in transition, goes behind his back to beat a defender and gets to the paint where he draws a foul:

The transition game is something that Dončić likes to get involved in.

Off of a CSKA miss, he runs the floor, gets the ball and draws the foul near the rim after it’s deflected (and then proceeds to make a ridiculous layup after the whistle):

Just wanted an excuse to show that layup, really (and a layup that didn’t count, no less)…

Off of a Madrid miss, Nando de Colo rises to claim the rebound but as he comes down, Dončić is there to disrupt him and the ball is knocked away. As Dončić tries to gather the ball with his right hand, it flies out of his hand and into the hands of Semen Antonov, who can’t keep hold of it and Dončić is on-hand to capitalise and he draws the shooting foul:

A bit of a wild play but it was good to see Dončić cause a bit of havoc and stick with the play when it went wrong and he was rewarded with free throws.

In the last game we saw Dončić go to his post game but only in the fourth quarter. Against CSKA Dončić, again, waited until the fourth quarter to pull out the post game but when he did it was effective, leading to fouls and foul shots on both occasions.

Here, Dončić catches the ball on the right block, goes to work on Cory Higgins and draws the foul before the double comes, leading to Dončić to the free throw line:

Not long after this, Dončić goes to his post game again, this time being switched onto by Vitaly Fridzon. Dončić gets to his spot and gets to work. As he spins to go to his favoured right hand he draws the foul on the push and heads back to the free throw line for two more free throws:

I hope whichever team ends up drafting Dončić, they continue to work on his post-game. He’s clearly competent in the post, and it just adds another dimension to his offensive game. It’s always good to have another weapon in the arsenal…

So, that was the good from Dončić in this game. Really, there were only two possessions from him that weren’t ideal when it came to his offense (again, this does not include his assists/playmaking).

Here, Dončić dances behind the body of Gustavo Ayon but can’t get anything going as Cory Higgins defends this possession very well. In the end, no one else touches the ball as Dončić launches a three that misses but ends up making up for this by sneaking in for an offensive rebound and scoring, plus the foul:

This wasn’t a good possession because once Dončić gets the ball with 16 seconds left on the shotclock, no one else touches it. The defense of Higgins has to be praised here, but it’s not an ideal possession by Dončić, you’d like to see him involve his teammates here.

Here off of a CSKA miss, Dončić pushes in transition in hopes of finding a hole in the transition defense. He gets to the paint pretty quickly and as he gets to the center of the paint, he is cut off by the CSKA defense. With nothing possible at the rim, Dončić turns and fires a bit of a wild pass which a teammate eventually recovers before a timeout is taken to deal with a shoulder injury to Anthony Randolph:

There didn’t seem to be a ‘Plan-B’ for Dončić once the CSKA defense cut off the path to the rim, and Dončić was caught in a bit of trouble. He probably would’ve been better off going to his left side but went straight into the path of multiple bodies, wanting to keep to his right hand.

And that was really it for the ‘meh’ stuff from Dončić when it came to his personal offense. Dončić did play more off-ball in this game than he did against Efes, so this played a small part, but it’s still impressive that he has as minimal bad/less than ideal possessions — for someone who has the ball in his hands as much — as he does.

While Dončić struggled shooting from the floor in this game, he still found a way to be effective scoring the ball by getting to the free throw line a ton. The shots he did miss were mostly threes, but I think the thing to take away from that is not that he missed them — though, of course, you’d like to see him shoot better than 1-of-6 from three — but how he got into the positions to take them: that’s what you should take away here.

Playmaking/passing

Dončić didn’t handle the ball as much in this game as he did against Efes and he racked up just two assists.

But when he did get the chance to make some plays, they were delightful.

Here, Dončić catches the ball on the right block and he’s quickly doubled. As he uses his dribble and spins around, he sees the open Jeffrey Taylor and finds him for a dagger three:

What I loved here was how quickly Dončić made this decision as soon he felt the double team. Quick, instinctive thinking.

And this… This is nuts:

That is something LeBron James would do: that’s a LeBron James pass. And, again similar to a play in the Efes game, when the three goes up Dončić hustling to get into the fray for an offensive rebound should one come about, but in this case the shot went down.

And now for something a bit less sexy but a lot more solid (cc. Leigh Ellis). After spinning past Nikita Kurbanov, Dončić draws the attention of Othello Hunter, who was checking Ayon heading down the floor. Dončić then delivers a perfectly weighted bounce-pass to Ayon, but he is quickly swarmed at the rim and can’t convert at the rim:

Was it the right play to make? Would Jeffrey Taylor — who was pretty open — have been a better option? Possibly, but the execution of the bounce-pass from Dončić was spot on.

There was one particular pass that wasn’t ideal from Dončić in this game. As he prepares to set up in the half-court, he throws a bit of a tame pass that’s deflected and it leads to a difficult situation where CSKA could’ve easily scored:

Dončić finished with two turnovers but I wish the ball was in his hands to create a little more in this game. When he had the ball in his hands against Efes, Dončić made a lot of things happen and that sense of excitement wasn’t there in this one — he had in him but it just wasn’t called upon as much here.

Defense

Dončić wasn’t tested too much defensively against Efes but things were different here…

The main thing put to the test was Dončić’s post defense — he was tested a number of times by Nikita Kurbanov.

There’s a scrap for position between the two, and Kurbanov eventually gets the ball on the block. Once he goes to work, it’s a quick deal for Kurbanov — Dončić just doesn’t have the body mass that Kurbanov has to deal with him down there:

Kurbanov has been playing professional ball for a long time, since 2004. He’s got the experience and the strength to take advantage of this matchup.

Again, Kurbanov catches the ball on the right block and easily backs down Dončić for the ‘and-1’:

It’s a tough matchup for Dončić and CSKA went to it often in the first quarter.

By the third time this happens, I’d say Dončić is sick of it. On the left block this time, as Kurbanov goes to back him down, Dončić decides to reach around and this definitely unsettles Kurbanov, who stumbles into the path of Ayon and Kurbanov passes it to the man underneath the basket. Madrid’s good pressure eventually forces a turnover:

This was risky from Dončić, could’ve easily committed a foul. On this occasion it worked out and CSKA didn’t really go to Kurbanov in the post vs. Dončić in this game.

Outside of that, there were a few defensive possessions worth talking about.

We’ve seen before how Dončić likes the behind-the-back dribble move. Here, he had it unleashed on him, it beat him and it led to a score:

It’s a good move to beat him, but maybe you’d like to see Dončić move his feet a bit better to stay in front of him? I’m probably reaching…

Dončić’s defensive impact improved near the end of the first quarter.

Here, Dončić does a good job staying in front of Will Clyburn on the drive, blocks the shot, Clyburn ends up losing the ball and on the deck before a jump-ball is called:

Clyburn isn’t explosive by any means but it’s still good to see Dončić stay in front of someone like that.

Now for some D at the rim…

After a missed shot, there’s a scramble between Ayon and Kyle Hines. With the way the ball bounced, it eventually ends up behind Ayon and with Hines. Dončić comes over to contest the shot at the rim — arms straight up — successfully does so and a jump-ball is eventually called as Hines is tied up by Ayon:

In transition off of the turnover, Dončić proves to be the last line of defense, and he does a good job forcing the shot adjustment mid-air by Cory Higgins. The shot misses and there’s a foul eventually called on the rebound:

Again, solid. Didn’t get the block but forces the shot adjustment mid-air and that definitely contributed to this miss.

We looked at a clip already where Dončić came up with a steal off of the inbounds pass and got some free throws out of it. It wasn’t the only occasion where a Dončić steal has led to points.

Here, CSKA come in transition. After some bad defense from Randolph, Nando de Colo gets to the left block and arrives at the body of Dončić. Nando turns his back to Dončić, who reaches around and steals the ball from the unsuspecting de Colo. Randolph gets the steal, passes it off, gets it back and dunks it home:

A sucker-punch dunk to go up by 14 points just before half time made possible by the steal by Dončić.

So, the post D wasn’t great (and, look, it was a tough matchup to be fair) but pretty much everything else from Dončić defensively in this game was fairly solid, and that might have surprised you…

General/other

There’s two additional things to mention here and one of them is rebounding… I’m slightly concerned.

Multiple times in this game Dončić was just beaten when it came to rebounding… He was just out-jumped.

Here, Kurbanov travels from almost the three-point line and just leaps higher than Dončić to claim the offensive rebound:

Should Dončić have been more aware of his surroundings? Should he have backed up a bit before climbing for the rebound?

Off of the Ayon miss, Dončić slips in front of Clyburn for the boxout as the ball is in the air but, again, just loses out to Clyburn, who secures the defensive rebound:

You could argue that the bounce simply didn’t go Dončić’s way here but when something like this happens on multiple occasions you do ask yourself the question…

This one is more mental… He doesn’t go attack the rebound like Kurbanov does (who claims the offensive rebound) and then Othello Hunter  is allowed to sneak in by Dončić, who was right there underneath the basket but didn’t really fight for it:

This is worth monitoring going forward. It’s just one game but it was concerning watching it…

We also got to see a bit of fire from Dončić as he earned himself a tech for being demonstrative about not earning — I’m assuming this is what it was — an over-the-back foul after Othello Hunter climbs over him:

In closing vs. CSKA

He didn’t shoot as well in this game but still got himself in great positions, still got it done from the free throw line and still registered a game-high 21 PIR in a win against a quality opponent.

Not as much ball-handling in this one from Dončić in terms of creating offense but when he did it was sweet. Decision making could’ve been better in some spots.

Defense wasn’t great in the post but everything else was fairly solid and that’s encouraging.

The rebounding thing was concerning but we’ll see how that goes as we progress and find out if it was just the matchup/bounce or if it’s a trend.

The Dončić Dossier Vol: 1 – Vs. Efes

Image: Real Madrid.com

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?

Offense/scoring

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…

Playmaking/passing

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.

Defense

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…

The Dončić Dossier: A Preface

Welcome to a personal project of mine: The Dončić Dossier.

Real Madrid guard Luka Dončić promises to be one of the most exciting European draft prospects ever. His play for the Slovenian National Team and for Real Madrid in EuroLeague — the second best basketball league in the world behind the NBA — at age 18 is simply incredible, and it’s a surprise to absolutely no one (or perhaps it is, if you think the NCAA is the greatest league in the world and EuroLeague doesn’t exist/isn’t valid, which is complete bullshit on all fronts) that Dončić is touted to be one of the top overall selections in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Many fans, writers, analysts alike are all already familiar with the top prospects for this upcoming 2018 class in June, DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley for example. They will not only be aware of these players but have watched/are watching/will watch them, and will already have a fair idea of what they’ll bring to the their new teams when they’re drafted in June.

Of course, player breakdowns will still come from analysts and writers in the build up to the draft to help educate those who don’t know these players, or simply didn’t have the time during the college season to watch these guys play (heck, I’m going to be reading/watching those. I don’t have time to watch college basketball nor do I have the accessibility to do, since there’s not a college equivalent of NBA League Pass for college basketball).

But when it comes to European/foreign prospects, people aren’t as familiar. Sure, they know the names and they see highlights, but they don’t know them. The majority of basketball fans aren’t watching the likes of Luka Dončić or Dzanan Musa (who also plays in Europe and projected to go in the first round of the draft) play in the same way people didn’t watch New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis play when he was in Europe — they’re just not.

And that’s the objective here with the Dončić Dossier: to educate/show people Luka Dončić throughout his entire EuroLeague season with Real Madrid, highlighting his strengths, weaknesses and other things that stand out from each game so that when the NBA Draft comes around, you’ll know exactly what kind of player Luka Dončić is.

I’ve never undertaken a project like this and my basketball terminology isn’t always going to be perfect (I’m forever a student of the game) so I’m going to get some things wrong in the process — I’m only human and I continue to learn — and that’s OK because perfection is something that simply isn’t attainable.

It’s going to be a wild ride but I’m really looking forward to the challenge, and I hope you’ll join me for the journey…