NBA First Half Awards
With the season just over halfway done, let's look at the major awards. Feel free to disagree but it's James Hardens world right now and we're just living in it.
Many NBA drafts include one or two elite foreign prospects with whom casual basketball fans are not terribly familiar. Some of these mystery men live up to their lofty potential—such has been the case with Kristaps Porzingis—but there are of course plenty of players who failed to make the transition from overseas, such as Jan Vesley and the infamous Darko Milicic. For Slovenian guard Luka Doncic, however, all signs point to him landing in the former category. We now know for certain that the 19-year-old will be on the board when the first team goes on the clock the evening of June 21, as Doncic has officially submitted his paperwork to enter the 2018 NBA Draft.
At 6-foot-8 and 228 pounds with a wealth of well-polished skill, Doncic could remind some of Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons. Despite his swingman-type size, Doncic plays a lot of point guard and is an elite passer, but he also uses that size to crash the boards and make plays in the paint. Perhaps the biggest difference between him and Simmons is that Doncic has a solid jump shot, allowing him to beat defenders in a wider variety of ways.
Playing for Real Madrid, Doncic averaged 15 points per game (46.5 field-goal percentage, 30.2 from three, 80.1 from the line) during the 2017-18 regular season, adding 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.1 steals. The numbers are particularly impressive when considering that he managed them in just 24.9 minutes per game.
Doncic has drawn comparisons to players like Toni Kucoc and Hedo Turkoglu as a tall player who can penetrate, spread the floor, and make plays for others. What is most impressive about his game is how polished he appears to be—even Porzingis had merely flashed his upside when playing for Real Madrid, averaging fewer points, rebounds, and three-pointers per game than Doncic in his final season with the club. Doncic's skill is consistently on display. He sees the court incredibly well and makes plays that indicate an uncommonly high basketball IQ.
Any NBA team that wants a shot to land Doncic will have to hope to be one of the three draft-lottery winners, as Doncic is expected by many to be one of the first three names off the board on draft night. Big men DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley are candidates to be drafted ahead of Doncic, but the Slovenian has a strong case over every other prospect. If scouts see a Ben Simmons-type impact as a possibility, Doncic could end up being the first name off the board, especially considering that the league has transitioned to a style that often features perimeter players more heavily than big men.
Where Doncic lands will be one of the more interesting stories on draft night, and he'll certainly be one of the more interesting rookies to watch next season. He'll likely be one of the more exciting rookies to watch, as well.