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.
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.
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.
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…
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.