It was the best game of the Olympic tournament. Slovenia against France gave us everything we love about basketball, and it ended in the most dramatic fashion possible. Luka Dončić had the ball in his hands with 20 seconds on the shot clock, down one point. These are the kind of moments legends are made in. The French version of the story will celebrate Nicolas Batum and his amazing block. The Slovenian iteration will go something like this – “Why the F**K was Klemen Prepelič taking the last shot?!?!?”
To be perfectly clear, Prepelič is getting a lot of love and respect in Slovenia right now. The Valencia Basket shooting guard showed up big time in crunch time and was the only Slovenian player willing to take the difficult shots when it mattered most. Tim MacMahon would definitely give him the Cojones Factor Player of the Game award; the most prestigious podcast award out there. When the game ended, everyone had only one thing on their mind – Luka should’ve taken the last shot.
“Luka Dončić just proved he is not a killer, unfortunately. You can’t pass that last ball.”unnamed Basketball Network team member
I can’t share which member of our team wrote that, but let’s say he’s so competitive there was a three-month hiatus on table tennis in the office after a passionate dispute over a single point. Obviously, a lot of people were going to go down the Skip Bayless/Stephen A. Smith route and simply said, ”Luka proved he’s not a killer.” Here’s what the man himself said after the game.
“My shots weren’t going in today so I was looking for my teammates. Prepelič had an open lane to the basket so I think the pass was a good decision, but Batum had an amazing block. You can’t always make the best decision, but I trust my teammates as much as they trust me. I’ll say it again – the pass was the right decision.”Luka Dončić, postgame press conference
His shots weren’t going in – Dončić was 5-18 from the field, 2-9 from behind the arc. It made sense not to force the issue and pass the ball; Luka’s 18 assists prove he was right. Passing the ball in that situation doesn’t immediately make you a player without a killer instinct. The myth-building of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as the guys who will take the impossible shot over three guys (and make it, at least in the myth) creates an illusion the best always take the last shot. An alley up to Shaq, and a couple passes to Steve Kerr and John Paxson would say otherwise. I guess MJ and Kobe weren’t killers as well. I know we forget quickly in the 21st century, but this happened less than a year ago.
43 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists, and all the Cojones Factor in the world, on a twisted ankle!! The kid has the killer instinct, but he also has a lot of basketball IQ. Passing the ball was the right decision in that situation, Luka’s formula was right. To ascend to the next level, he has to change the numbers that go into that formula. The reason that pass was the right thing to do was kind of Ben Simmons-ish. Everyone has a bad shooting night, but what separates the best from the rest is that they can overcome that. We know Luka can get by anyone and efficiently attack the rim, so why didn’t he do that? Fatigue and free throws.
This is an old one with Luka – conditioning is a 365-day commitment. If Luka wants to get on that LeBron, Kawhi, KD level, he can’t get gassed in 4th quarters. I’m not saying he has to look like those guys; genetics obviously says he can’t. But Dončić obviously needs losses like this one to realize he gets 10-14 days of vacation, loose eating (and drinking), and then it’s back to the gym and following whatever a nutritionist says. Nikola Jokić didn’t get ripped, but he was obviously in much better shape in his MVP season.
Then we come to the free throws. Luka’s been struggling with the charity stripe for a while now, and it’s obviously getting to him. Dončić was 6-8 from the free-throw line in yesterday’s game, but he was reluctant to attack the rim because he didn’t trust his free throw shooting. That’s what happens when you know your free throws are a liability.
A guy with more energy, willing to go to the free-throw line, would have had different variables in those last 20 seconds, and the formula would say “attack the rim.” Conditioning and free throws are well within Luka’s control and a part of the next step in his evolution, one I hope we see next season.
One last thing to everyone ready to pile on Luka. This was the first time Slovenia was playing in the Olympic basketball tournament – they wouldn’t even be in Tokyo without Dončić, let alone playing for a medal. He is now 17-1 playing for Team Slovenia, literally his first defeat in the Slovenian jersey. Let’s not forget the big picture. Luka took a country with the population of Nebraska to the Olympic semifinals. I’d say he’s quite good at basketball.