Luka Doncic has been a machine for Slovenia at EuroBasket 2022. That was expected but the load has been even greater than anticipated. Emmet Ryan on how the Dallas Mavericks superstar has been more than just the man for his nation.
This is a very different EuroBasket for Luka Doncic. In 2017, he was part of a double act with Goran Dragic. Goran, the veteran, was the man for Slovenia and eventual MVP but Doncic showed in all of his side’s knockout games that the mantle would soon pass. Even while carrying a hand injury in the Olympic semi-finals, he nearly got them to the gold medal game. We’re used to Luka being the key player for Slovenia but, even with the highlight reel moments expected, EuroBasket 2022 has been another story.
Through 6 games he’s averaging 32.9 minutes* per game, 9th overall in the tournament, but that includes the Hungary game where he was deliberately restricted to just 19 minutes as Slovenia won comfortably. Remove that game and his minutes per game average jumps to 35.8, the highest of any player left in the competition.
*A reminder for NBA fans, games are 40 minutes here not 48, so that’s a bigger proportion than it looks.
In those minutes he has delivered and then some. Doncic is 2nd in scoring on 28 ppg, 13th in rebounds on 7.2 rpg, 9th in assists on 6.5 apg, and 1st in steals on 2.2 spg. The only major statistical category where he doesn’t lead his side is blocks, where Mike Tobey and Vlatko Cancar both edge him into third.
The relatively low contributions of Cancar and Goran Dragic is the big surprise here. Cancar’s role has been as an alternative option but Slovenia haven’t really sought that alternative as much as might have been expected with him averaging just 7.2 shots per game and he’s on an even 10 ppg average through the first six games.
Dragic, understandably at 36, isn’t the man he was five years ago but he’s still playing extremely heavy minutes (his 26.5 mpg is wildly skewed by just 6 against Hungary) yet his 11.2 shots per game is far behind Doncic’s eye-popping 19.3.
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The two man power trip of 2017 brought a balance to Slovenia that isn’t there in 2022. Doncic is unquestionably a greater player but Slovenia managed to win that final despite him hopping out injured early. The idea of Slovenia winning against any serious opponent without not just Luka now but Luka doing wildly mad things is laughable.
His role is only comparable to Lauri Markkanen’s with Finland but those should be wildly different situations. Markkanen has a visibly less talented roster around him with even more ageing bodies in key roles, Shawn Huff (38) and Petteri Koponen (34), and also lower expectations.
The main tale coming out of the breathtaking Group B in Cologne was how battle tested all four of the teams to make it through were for the knockout stages yet it hasn’t exactly gone to script in the knockout stages. France looked like they underestimated Turkey, Lithuania just plain lost to Spain, Germany fell apart in the second half but survived Montenegro, while Luka and company got a father tougher test than expected from Belgium.Battled tested or war weary? This has already been a long tournament for Luka and he’s got to get through three games in five days if he’s going to make it back to back championships. If nothing else, his performances at this tournament have made the comments about his weight laughable. For all of his immense talent, Luka simply couldn’t perform at the levels demanded of him here so far if he wasn’t in the condition required to do so.
If 2017 was his coming out party, 2022 would be his coronation as the king of European basketball. One of the two other claimants to that throne, Nikola Jokic, has already fallen. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the other, survived a scare from Czech Republic.
They have a combined 4 NBA MVP titles to Luka’s none but, on this continent, Luka would be undisputed king if he could lead Slovenia to a second straight EuroBasket title. That’s enough to drive him forward, he just needs the rest of his team to step up when it counts.
Poland awaits on Wednesday. That’s the job for now. Just get to Friday.