Prior to the EuroLeague Final Four in Belgrade this weekend, Luka Doncic’s 2017-18 season already approached the best pre-draft campaign ever for a European prospect. Winning the Eurobasket with Slovenia in the summer and dominating NBA players along the way, Doncic’s EuroLeague season with Real Madrid matched the same level of success.
Doncic was named EuroLeague Rising Star and also took home the EuroLeague MVP for a stellar regular season. Without star point guard Sergio Llull, Doncic took over the reigns of the Madrid offense and kept them near the top of the EuroLeague with a fifth-place finish.
After defeating Panathinaikos in the Euroleague playoffs – a team led by former NBA point guards Nick Calathes and Mike James – Real Madrid faced a daunting task in the Final Four. Madrid had to get past first-place finishers CSKA Moscow to secure a place in the championship game, before facing defending champions Fenerbahce after the Turkish giants defeated Lithuanian underdogs Zalgiris.
Against CSKA, Doncic continued his consistently solid season with a 16-point, seven rebound performance as he and Llull shared the workload in a 92-83 upset of the favored Russians. Doncic 4/12 shooting hampered his scoring effort, but he made up for it by getting to the line and helped boost Real into the title game.
Luka Doncic and Real Madrid won today and advanced to the EuroLeague final against Fenerbahce on Sunday. Doncic had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Used his signature step-back jumper a few times. pic.twitter.com/RZ2Bx2iTRK
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) May 18, 2018
In the final, Doncic played a similar game and dialed back his shooting, with more of a focus on getting to the free-throw line. Still, Doncic ensured his one made three-pointer mattered: He sank a crucial, transition bomb in the third quarter that sparked a Madrid run from which it never looked back.
Quite the sequence for Doncic – almost put on a poster then pulls up and strokes a 3 in transition with no numbers. The 19-year-old not lacking in confidence. pic.twitter.com/54Z76nrLGS
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 20, 2018
Doncic finished the weekend as the highest scorer in the Euroleague Final Four and was awarded the Euroleague Final Four MVP in the process. At 19, Doncic became the youngest ever Euroleague Final Four MVP and finished a season where he guided Slovenia to Eurobasket gold in international play and won every major award at the highest level of European basketball with Real Madrid.
Luka Doncic in the last eight months:
Euroleague Rising Star award
Euroleague Final Four MVP
No. 1 pick next? pic.twitter.com/brtyPxUYUF
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) May 20, 2018
As it stands, Luka Doncic could end his career today with what could be the most successful pro tenure among most of the 2018 NBA draft class.
It sounds like a hot take, but the type of success Doncic has found since cracking the Real Madrid senior team at 16 is a level of success most college prospects would be lucky to achieve. Backed by a major international title and one of the best EuroLeague seasons of all-time just 19, Doncic has already stuffed a career’s worth of accomplishments at the pro level into less than one calendar year.
By the very nature of the NBA draft, Doncic is the most successful and proven player at the pro level.
NCAA players are not afforded – or choose not to pursue – the opportunity to prove themselves at the second-highest level of professional basketball before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft. That makes for an interesting debate as to who is truly the best player, or what is the best route for pre-NBA development of a top prospect.
However, none of Doncic’s draft rivals have proven themselves against true NBA talent in the way Doncic has on the way to a fairytale potential end to his EuroLeague career. Beating up on the future accountants of Loyola Chicago in the NCAA Final Four is fine and makes for great pageantry for the American audience on CBS. Ultimately, though, the amateurism of collegiate basketball weakens the playing pool. Future NBA studs match up against guys who will be selling insurance in five years instead of playing high-level professional basketball.
The real professional basketball and proving grounds for top prospects are over in European pro leagues: Where grown men, former NBA players or former NCAA stars who have developed to a high professional level, test you on a weekly basis. Luka Doncic dominated a gauntlet of NBA-caliber talent to a special season.
The NBA draft awaits, but Doncic’s legacy as a successful professional basketball player has already been cemented on Europe’s biggest stage.