Just one month ago, Al Menedez, legendary NBA scout, who served as a Director of player personnel and scouting for New Jersey Nets and Indiana Pacers, was upset with the idea of how much today's game lack the poise game had back in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
“I get dizzy watching them play; they're running up and down too fast. It's like watching the Indianapolis 500. I went there once and said that's enough, I'm never going to come again.” Menendez explained “There's too much noise; my head is spinning around like watching these cars go around. It's too fast for me. I want to see you make a good play. And if it's too fast, I'm probably going to miss it.”
Menendez, whom many already forgot, broke the silence and released this exclusive statement on Dončić from his home in Brooklyn, New York.
“I want to be on the record. Luka Dončić might be the best player I've ever seen. I mean, he is so skilled; he's not the best athlete I've ever seen, and that's why in the days we finally started talking about the GOAT, he might not be included. Just like Larry Bird is never going to be included when we're talking about LeBron James, Michael Jordan. Now Kawhi Leonard is slowly entering that, and Kevin Durant, if healthy, would be included.”
Dončić had performed admirably this season by averaging near triple-double - 28.8ppg, 9.4rpg, 8.8apg. In his first four postseason games of his career, against the mighty L.A. Clippers, Dončić is currently averaging 31.5ppg, 10.5rpg, and 9.8apg.
“He's not the athlete that those guys are, but I'm talking basketball skills. He has the greatest basketball skills I've ever seen, and even though you might tell he's a step slow, he knows how to use his body better than anyone I've ever seen,” Menendez said. “And he doesn't get certain shots blocked which the other guys do. And he just gets through; it's not instinct - it's years and years of practicing.”
A huge compliment comes from a man who was one of the historical pioneers in drafting and trading for international players such as Oscar Schmidt (1984), Fernando Martin (1985), Rik Smits (1988), Detlef Schrempf (1988), Žan Tabak (1999) and Dončić's fellow Slovenian Primoz Brezec (2000).
“He certainly had practiced more at his game, starting when he was a little kid more than just about everybody else who is playing in the league. He is phenomenal. I would pay to see him play! And being a scout for thirty years who never paid a penny to see anybody play that's a kind of sacred.”
“Dončić shoots well as Dražen did; he's bigger and stronger. So, he's able to do things that Dražen sometimes might get physically overwhelmed. But, certainly, he is in that category. He's a Hall of fame player! There's no doubt in my mind that he will eventually be in the Hall of fame.”
Seeing Dončić's 43-point Monday's triple-double outburst of the mighty L.A. Clippers, which quickly came to focus all over the sports globe, made Menendez even more delighted with Doncic's postseason performance.
“Unbelievable. It's one of the greatest performances I had ever seen, and I was in the NBA for thirty years, and about seventy years of being involved or watching basketball. This forces the referees to respect and protect him a little more than they had been until now when he gets a cheap shot from somebody. But, he is very good; he doesn't react. He can control himself; he's not dumb enough to start a fight; he has been brought up well. Now, I know for sure the referees will give him a chance.”
Menendez is particularly impressed by one of Dončić's offensive moves - Luka Eurostep. His Eurostep move, which is as efficient as Manu Ginobili's (either he was a lefty), gives him the decisive advantage over anyone who is defending him or waiting for him in the paint, each time he decides to go inside for a lay-up.
“Luka's Eurostep move that is UN-STOP-ABLE! He can do that to Leonard, and Kawhi will not be able to block his shot, as long as he's going away from Leonard. As long as he starts the Eurostep with his left foot, and then goes right, his shot CAN NOT BE BLOCKED. He's getting lay-up, after lay-up, after lay-up.”
Now, with stakes even higher, and the whole world preparing to watch the decisive clash of two powerhouses on the neutral ground, Menendez continues to rave about Dončić. Moreover, he doesn't envision anyone on the Clippers who could stop Luka from doing his triple-double thing all over again.
“Patrick Beverly is the best defensive 1-on-1 guard in the NBA. They have to put him on Luka, and tell Beverly 'You can't foul out. You have to stay in this game.' Just stay in front of him and make him rush a shot, which I haven't seen him either, by the way, he (Dončić) has a perfect balance when he shoots.” Menendez elaborates “That's my best chance because I need Kawhi Leonard to play offense if I'm the Clippers coach.”
But if any of the Clippers guards don't succeed in their mission of containing Doncic, Menendez envisions Clippers head coach Doc Rivers reaching for his ultimate defensive weapon - Kawhi Leonard. However, this might come at a specific price, eventually bringing the Clippers offensive woes.
“They might give to put him (Leonard) on Luka. If they do that, keep in mind that Leonard doesn't have enough energy to do both, play defense and offense, on the same level. That also sometimes happens to LeBron James, when too much effort on defense affects his shooting a lot. It's a risk; Clippers need Kawhi for his offense.”
Bearing all this in mind, 77-year-old Menendez proudly looks at his copy of Monday's New York Post with Doncic all over the back cover, anxiously awaiting Tuesday's night Game Five showdown in The Bubble.