Luka Doncic has been lighting up the NBA to start his sophomore season but he has also, rightly, been nominated for the Euroleague team of the decade. In the return to normal operations here on BallinEurope after the big break for the book, Emmet Ryan on how it’s best to just sit back and enjoy it
It happened in Philadelphia with Brian Seltzer, telling me about the numbers Luka had put up. Then in San Francisco when Scott Carey, a tech journo of all people, brought him up. Everybody knows that Luka Doncic is putting up eye popping numbers for a sophomore player.
He’s either shattering records or finding new ones to be broken. European basketball Twitter has been ravenous in reminding everyone who ever doubted Doncic how wrong they were. The US media is on board too, wondering why the Kings in particular passed given their Balkan links in the front office.
There’s talk of him already being a top 10 player. Everything about Luka in the NBA is prefaced with his extraordinary ability for his youth. It all makes sense because he is really young.
Yet, here were are in Europe wondering if he’s legitimately an All-Decade player already for the top competition on our continent. Across 80 games, that’s all he actually played in those three seasons because he was still working his way into the Real line-up the first year, he averaged 10.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. Now those are good but not eye-popping but when you slice off his first season (where he only had 11 minutes a night across 12 appearances) they go up fast.
That’s how Doncic is in the mix because his MVP season, which also saw him pick up the Final Four MVP, to close 2018 saw him go for 16 points, 4.8 boards, and 4.3 dimes. NBA observers may not be blown away by those but they line up very well against the immediate prior winner Sergio Llull and last season’s MVP Jan Vesely. That and a prodigious second season in between is why he’s in the conversation.
Now, he really shouldn’t win and that’s not because of talent. It’s longevity that hurts him badly. Nando de Colo, Sergio Rodriguez, Milos Teodosic, and Vassilis Spanoulis all* have stronger cases than him for a first team slot but if the call goes with three guard looks, and it’s entirely plausible, there’s a very strong case for Doncic to be on the second team.
*I’m extremely torn on Dimitris Diamantidis on this list as he opened the decade amazingly but the slippage of age hit fast.
More relevant, that’s an incredibly weird way to talk about a kid. European fans, especially those in Slovenia, have long accepted that they are never going to see him playing regular ball over here again nor will most of his games be at convenient hours. Oh how I long for the NBA to embrace Saturday afternoon games a lot more, a lot, lot more.
No seriously, we have a book and it’s a great Christmas present. Buy it for yourself or your friends now to support the work we do here.
We’ve also accepted, especially those of us in the media, that he is a story that North American fans are still learning and, indeed, the one he is writing in the NBA is a weird one.
The thing is, we’re watching along with all of this knowledge in our heads yet at the same time we can have serious conversations about his legacy in the second strongest competition on the planet.
Luka has already played more games in the NBA than he did in his entire Euroleague career, surpassing the mark in a 24 point, 14 rebound, 8 assist night as the Mavs won 138-122 at the Grizzlies on 9 November. That was his 81st NBA game. It’ll be a few seasons before his total for Real Madrid gets passed but not that many.
We’re at a stage where, when it comes to everything European outside of a Slovenian national team jersey, it makes sense to talk about Luka in the past sense. Now, having started the season almost averaging a triple double through 16 games, we’re just going to sit back and enjoy him dominate.
All-Decade? Well he may not make the Euroleague list but he’s already in the discussion for the 2020s in the NBA.