Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic led Slovenia to its first ever European basketball championship, scoring a EuroBasket-high 35 points in a 93-85 title-clinching victory against Serbia and capturing MVP honors in the process, but he deflected praise in the postgame to 18-year-old teammate Luka Doncic.
“Mark my words,” said Dragic, “he’s going to be one of the best in the whole world.”
We have covered Doncic in this space before. He’s a 6-foot-8 point forward who can drill step-back 3-pointers on command or whip no-look cross-court passes that defy his years. He’s arguably the best prospect in European basketball history, and he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Doncic is also seldom heard from in the media, because his club team (EuroLeague power Real Madrid) holds reporters at arm’s length from the teen phenom. But few know him better than Dragic, who played three seasons with Luka’s father Sasa Doncic. This photo of Dragic celebrating the 2008 Slovenian League title with a 34-year-old Sasa and 9-year-old Luka is making the internet rounds:
Dragic’s postgame praise on Sunday was no in-the-moment smoke-blowing, either. The nine-year NBA veteran and 2014 Third Team All-NBA selection also told a Slovenian newspaper recently, “Luka in my opinion is the best European player under 26 years old.” That’s no small praise, since EuroBasket was filled with 25-and-under NBA players like Kristaps Porzingis, Dennis Schroder and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
An ankle injury cut Doncic’s championship game performance short 23 minutes into the game against Serbia, but he was instrumental in getting the Slovenians to the title game. He amassed 27 points and nine rebounds opposite Porzingis in a quarterfinal win over Latvia, and then collected 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in an upset semifinal win over a Spain team littered with NBA talent, including the Gasol and Hernangomez brothers, Ricky Rubio, Sergio Rodriguez and Alex Abrines.
Doncic finished the tournament with averages of 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists, becoming the youngest player to earn All-Tournament honors since Lithuanian legend Arvydas Sabonis in 1983.
“I don’t want to give him a big head, but I think he’s probably one of the best talents that I’ve ever seen, especially at his age,” former NBA player Anthony Randolph, a naturalized Slovenian citizen who has played with Doncic on both Real Madrid and Team Slovenia, told ESPN.com. “It’s unbelievable. Just for his size, the way that he handles the game, the way that he carries himself on and off the court. He’s just so versatile. I mean, the kid can damn near average a triple double when he figures it out.”
For reference sake, Randolph played with a rookie Stephen Curry on the Golden State Warriors, a 26-year-old Carmelo Anthony on the New York Knicks, a young Kevin Love on the Minnesota Timberwolves and both a veteran Andre Iguodala and age 24 Danilo Gallinari on the Denver Nuggets.
So, no pressure, Luka. But for NBA scouts waiting for Doncic to cave under the strain of facing top-tier talent, it’s now impossible to argue he doesn’t belong. Playing opponents a decade his senior as a rotational player for one of the best teams outside the NBA, he averaged 14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.7 combined blocks and steals per 36 minutes in 80 games for Real Madrid in 2016-17, with a highly efficient 57.9 true shooting percentage and a respectable 18.2 player efficiency rating.
EuroBasket was merely the latest test, and Doncic passed with flying colors:
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