2018 NBA draft: Dallas Mavericks land Luka Doncic, the most accomplished young European prospect ever

NEW YORK — The “most accomplished European teen prospect in history” is officially on his way to the NBA … and he’ll be setting up shop in Dallas.

With the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, the Atlanta Hawks selected Luka Doncic, the 19-year-old Slovenian playmaker whose stellar performance and production against the best pros Europe had to offer made him, according to some draft evaluators, perhaps the best overall prospect to enter the draft since LeBron James came straight out of high school in 2003. But according to Marc Stein of the New York Times and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, prior to making the pick, the Hawks had reached agreement in principle on a deal with the Mavericks, picking at No. 5 in Thursday’s draft, to switch spots:

The trade will give Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk his first blue-chip prospect in Young, who led the NCAA in both scoring and rebounding as a freshman at Oklahoma, and provides a high-scoring, playmaking, long-range-shooting focal point around which to organize Atlanta’s rebuild, which began in earnest last season. And it lands the Mavs the kind of marquee talent they can pair with electric point guard Dennis Smith Jr. to base their rebuild around, and a potential signature star to carry the organization into the post-Dirk Nowitzki era. (Whenever that might start, that is.)

While most players hoping to hear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver call their names at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center were making the media rounds earlier this week, Doncic was back in Spain, leading Real Madrid to the championship of Spain’s Liga ACB. That victory capped an incredible year for Doncic, who won domestic and EuroLeague championships with Real Madrid, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the ACB, the EuroLeague regular season and the EuroLeague Final Four along the way.

All this came on the heels of Doncic’s work alongside Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic in leading the Slovenian national team to gold at the 2017 EuroBasket tournament, during which he squared off against squads featuring a slew of top European talent and players from NBA teams — including Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia, Lauri Markkanen of Finland, Evan Fournier of France, Pau Gasol of Spain, and Bogdan Bogdanovic of Serbia — and managed to shine brightly enough to make the All-Tournament Team after Slovenia’s first-ever EuroBasket win.

“Honestly, it’s like a dream. It’s like a dream,” Doncic told reporters in Brooklyn after being drafted. “I’ve been dreaming about being a EuroLeague champion, being a European team champion, being drafted. All this year has been like a dream.”

While there’s a temptation to consider any foreign-born player a “mystery man” as he crosses the ocean to play in the NBA, Doncic actually seems like something closer to a known quantity as he makes the transition. Though he won’t turn 20 until February, Doncic has already played nearly 4,000 total regular- and postseason minutes in the ACB and EuroLeague since cracking Real Madrid’s senior team in 2014, developing from a fringe rotation player to a bona fide star.

As a 19-year-old playing against grown men in the world’s best league outside the NBA, much of it spent as the top scorer and playmaker of a team that had lost star guard Sergio Llull to a torn ACL, Doncic averaged 20.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes of floor time. Along the way, he made a strong case for being the best player of any age in all of Europe, and helped one of international basketball’s great powers win its 34th Spanish title and its 10th European championship.

“I’ve been professional since I was 15,” Doncic said. “I played against EuroLeague stars, against ex-NBA players. I had four or five players on my team that played in the NBA. They’ve been talking about the NBA to me a lot through this year. So I think I’m prepared.”

At 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds, Doncic looks like a contemporary swingman, with the size and frame to guard multiple positions. In terms of his temperament and approach, though, he’s a pure point guard, a playmaking savant with the patience, feel and court vision to pick opponents apart in the pick-and-roll. He’s got a preternatural understanding of how to control the chessboard, maneuvering defenders into advantageous positions to get his teammates open one or two passes away from the initial action.

Doncic’s might not profile as a jump-out-of-the-gym athlete, but as you watch him, you see him consistently get where he wants to go when he wants to go there. He’s got a great sense of pace, with the handle and herky-jerky game to wrong-foot defenders to create space to either get to the rim, get to his step-back jumper, or get himself to the free-throw line; it’s tough not to feel similarities to the likes of James Harden and Manu Ginobili. His feel for the game, combined with that résumé of high-level success at this tender age, makes him perhaps the safest pick in this year’s draft class.

Slovenian playmaker Luka Doncic, perhaps the most decorated international prospect ever to enter the NBA draft, is on his way to the NBA. (Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)
Slovenian playmaker Luka Doncic, perhaps the most decorated international prospect ever to enter the NBA draft, is on his way to the NBA. (Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)

And yet, some evaluators have raised concerns. If Doncic is a point guard rather than a point forward — and, like fellow jumbo creator Ben Simmons before him, he’s made it clear that that’s the position he sees himself playing — then he’ll have to defend guards. Some worry that he doesn’t have the foot speed or lateral agility to stay in front of speedier offensive players in one-on-one situations.

Others wonder whether he’s got the burst and athleticism to finish at the rim and in traffic against the length and size of NBA rim protectors, and whether all those high-leverage minutes he’s already logged for club and country might come back to bite him — and any team that takes him — in the form of persistent nicks or increased injury risk. Those who followed his trajectory with Real have suggested that his play, and especially his 3-point shooting, did begin to tail off toward the end of the team’s run through ACB and EuroLeague play, perhaps given the accumulated toll of nearly two full seasons of high-level play in an 18-month span.

Despite those cons, though, the Mavericks seized the opportunity to take Doncic, believing that what looked like elite shot creation in the best league outside the NBA will look like elite shot creation inside the NBA, and that having a 6-foot-8 triggerman already capable of dropping dimes likes this will help make everybody else on the roster look better. Whether Doncic proves to be athletic, accurate and dynamic enough to live up to his unprecedented billing remains to be seen. We do know this much, though: the guy they call “Wonderboy” hasn’t failed yet.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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