It was a quiet affair in the stands but Luka Doncic dazzled as Slovenia eased past Ukraine to book their spot in the quarter finals of EuroBasket 2017. Emmet Ryan looks back on an impressive display by Doncic who is embracing his role alongside national legend Goran Dragic
Four years ago today was my first day as editor of BallinEurope. It was the middle of EuroBasket 2013 and Slovenia, the hosts, were hoping that Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran would lead them to a first ever medal finish. THey would eventually fall at the quarter finals. Fast forward and Zoran’s not here but the Dragon that breathes fire for the Miami Heat is lighting up EuroBasket 2017 and he’s working with the new generation’s brightest star, Luka Doncic.
Doncic nailed a three to kick things off in front of a sparse crowd in the Sinan Erdem Dome. Doncic drove, then the step back jumper. The 18 year old who is essentially a consesnus top three pick was delivering quickly in front of a crowd that would be more suited to a youth game. A finish at the rim and he had Slovenia’s first 7 points.
Four years ago Doncic wasn’t on this site’s radar. It would be over a year and a half before his name first cropped up as something more than just a prospect. At the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Madrid 2015, he was the star in front of crowds of similar size, although a touch livelier, as Real took the crown the morning before their grown ups won the Euroleague crown. Back then he was skinnier and shorter. Now, he was filling out as aman beating up Ukraine with ease.
Doncic wasn’t out of second gear and his cuts were still too quick for the Ukrainian defence. The court was his and he was going to give the few who had shown up a show. Ukraine didn’t expect to be here and only had a handful of supporters while Slovenia’s fans knew there were bigger games to come, they were waiting for the big clashes but right now they were missing a show from the youngster.
The toughest thing about covering Doncic since his explosion on the scene is remembering how young he is. Remembering that he’s 18 and yet to be drafted when he plays at times like he’s 25 with 6 years logged in the NBA. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s young despite what our eyes tell us. After a 9 minute stint he sat, with 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist.
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Doncic took a couple of games to hit full speed in this tournament before revving up through the last three group games. He came back in after 2 minutes of the second with Slovenia up 11. Finally he was slowed, by an inadvertent shot to the nuts from an apologetic Artem Pustovyi. A timeout was enough for him to gather himself again.
It's OK???????????????????????? pic.twitter.com/bO7exDKJQM
— Luka Doncic (@luka7doncic) September 9, 2017
We saw more of Doncic’s defence and creative side in this stint. He was looking for options constantly on offence, picking up a few of dimes including one whipped out from under the rim to an open Anthony Randolph, and rotated well in coverage to limit Ukraine’s space. Doncic doesn’t waste energy but he’s anything but lazy on D. It was all about timing. That closeout move was better on time and spotted than rushed and missed. At the half Slovenia were well on top and Doncic was rolling.
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The vision was so simple. An easy spot off the elbow and Doncic was off and running making things happen for Slovenia in the second half. With Dragic having a quiet day, it was the youngster running the show. A simple look to the right at the top of the key sent three Ukrainian defenders the wrong way when he opted to drive inside. This may not have been the strongest opponent, but Doncic was making Ukraine look silly out there.
The double double was hit midway through the third. Despite the big lead, Doncic was logging heavy minutes out there. It was as much to test his stamina as anything else. With Latvia likely waiting in the quarter finals, Doncic was going to have to get used to putting in some big shifts. With 10 minutes to play this one was long over as a contest, Slovenia up 68-43.
While flirting with a triple double, there were bigger fish to fry and Igor Kokoskov eventually decided to sit Doncic for the fourth. So determined were they to give Doncic a break that the Slovenian side didn’t let him stop for any questions with the English media. The last thing they need is a bunch of questions about Euroleague and the NBA, or at least that’s what they likely feared…when a dude flirts with a triple double in EuroBasket the game alone is worth talking about. Still, Anthony Randolph found time to say what everyone else in Slovenia is thinking about the prospect.
— Ball in Europe (@bie_basketball) September 9, 2017
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