Luka Doncic is in the MVP conversation. I love the guy, but even I didn't see it coming this early into his career. Be honest, has anyone?
Looking at his scouting reports, it's safe to say Doncic took everyone by surprise. Bleacher Report projected the All-Star role for the Slovenian, describing him as a highest-floor prospect in the draft. NBADraft saw him as a prodigy, conditioning his stardom with how well he would compensate for his athletic and defensive limitations.
And you know what? Those are all fair criticisms. But the scary part is, Luka is one of the best players in the league with those still being his weaknesses. It seems like he had just scratched the surface of his unlimited potential, and he's already challenging for the MVP award. Who could've predicted that?
It's by far the smoothest adjustment the European player has ever made coming to the NBA. Even more than that. Luka has taken his game to another level. The most optimistic ones maybe would've expected this from him during his prime years. But to put up these types of numbers, and play at the level he's playing at in his second year - it's unprecedented.
The part of his game that has made the biggest jump since entering the league is his scoring. In his last year playing in Euroleague, Doncic averaged 16 PPG on .572/.329/.816 from the floor. Going from that to 28.7 PPG in his sophomore year is mind-blowing. So what's the catch?
“Here in the NBA, it’s easier to score compared to Europe, of course. In Europe, the court is smaller, and here there is the defensive three seconds rule. I think it’s easier to score here.”
Luka Dončić, The Washington Post
So that's the catch; the court size and defensive rules. It sure makes sense. An NBA court is 94 feet by 50 feet, while the FIBA court is roughly 92 feet by 49 feet. If you've ever played basketball, you know a few feet can make a huge difference. The court is much more open, with more space to operate.
The European style of play is much more scheme-oriented. Coaches don't allow as much offensive freedom as NBA coaches do. In fact, most of the plays in Europe are called by the coach. It limits the creativity of an offensive player, putting them within the boundaries of coaches' authority. And you better do what they say, because if you don't - you'll get an earful.
Another thing, on the more obvious note, is minutes played. Europeans use 10-minutes quarters, compared to the NBA's 12 minutes. It may not sound as much, but over the course of four quarters, it's a significant difference for the individual. Compared to his last year in Europe, Luka is seeing eight more minutes of playing time this season. It's almost the equivalent of playing another quarter in Europe. It's something that has to be taken into account.
Luka also mentioned the defensive three-second violation, and that may be the biggest game-changer for a European player. The lane in the NBA is wide open, and seven-foot giants are not allowed to camp in it. It makes driving to the basket so much easier because most of the time, you don't get challenged at the rim.
You see how the induction of the rule changed the NBA. Scoring has risen dramatically. In 01-02, the season of instituting the rule, the league average for teams' points per game was 95.5. Today, no team is scoring less than 100 points per game. The defensive three-second rule is not the only reason for it. It's the removal of hand-checking and the emergence of a three-point shooting that have teams scoring at a historic rate, and Luka has fit into it seamlessly.
What Doncic is doing is historic, not only for European standards. Without the unlimited potential the Slovenian possesses, all these factors wouldn't play such a significant role in his transition to the NBA. But they do because Luka is once in a generation type of talent—the one who will set new standards for players coming from overseas.