Luka Dončić once said that scoring in the NBA would be easier than in the Euroleague, citing NBA defensive rules as the reason for his claim. The NBA is by far the most popular basketball league globally, mainly due to its playing format and rules that deviate from the standard FIBA regulations imposed on basketball leagues across the globe.
One major difference between the NBA and international play is the implementation of the zone defense; the NBA has a defensive three-second rule which requires that each defender is within one arm's length of an opponent, making it impossible for a player to simply stay under the basket protecting the rim. Due to the presence of this rule in the NBA, Luka imagined it would be easier to score there than under FIBA rules.
However, it seems as if Luka has now reached a whole new level of scoring ability as he has put up some impressive numbers in the Olympic qualifiers and carried this on to his Olympic debut. Dončić came within seven points of the single-game scoring record by pouring in 48 points for Slovenia, the closest any player has come to the record set by Brazilian Oscar Schmidt in decades. The Dallas Maverick added eleven rebounds and three blocks while shooting 62 percent from the field to lead Slovenia to a 118-110 victory over Argentina.
Slovenia blew the game wide open, leading 62-42 at the half. In just sixteen minutes of play in the opening half, Doncic scored 31 of his 48 points in a masterful display of skill. Luka was getting to the rim early, and once he got the defense on their heels, he started draining his patented step-back three from deep. There was absolutely nothing that Argentina could do to stop him.
Members of the international basketball community reacted to the fantastic performance, sighting this as another sign that the rest of the world is catching up to the level of the Americans in the sport. Luka is doing things that even some of the NBA greats have yet to do in international competition - it's just a joy to see how far he has come and how much mastery he has of the game at such a young age.
Even Manu Ginobili had something to say about the show Luka put on today, choosing to tweet it in his mother tongue versus in English, probably out of his excitement for the international basketball community. The Olympics has always had its challenges drumming up excitement for its basketball event due to the sheer dominance by the United States in this event, but a performance like this from non-US stars is precisely what the Olympic Committee needs to be able to change that.
It was indeed a fantastic start for Slovenia, obviously carrying the momentum from beating Lithuania in their home country to qualify for a spot in the Olympics. The USA, on the other hand, has had a rough start to these games, dropping their opening match with France. Somehow, the feeling in Tokyo seems to be that this USA team is vulnerable, and teams are going in for the kill.
Due to the shortened off-season, Team USA was assembled in haste, and the lack of chemistry is showing early on. Other national teams have played together for the international teams since they were kids, with some members now taking their game to the next level in the NBA. USA Basketball is still the overwhelming favorite to bring home the gold, but perhaps the international world has closed the gap in terms of talent. Only time will tell, but for basketball fans worldwide, exciting Olympic games are exactly what we need after being away from the game for so long.
It is refreshing to see that excitement comes from performances by international stars looking to take their nations to the next level. One can only hope that we have a few big upsets in the Olympic tournament, giving the basketball world the excitement it has been looking for since the end of the NBA finals. If I were to bet on one team to provide us with those moments in these games, it would be Slovenia, led by the mastery of young guard Luka Dončić.