News surfaced Thursday that potential #1 overall pick Luka Doncic will miss at least two weeks with a thigh injury, which will likely keep him out for at least a small portion of the Euroleague season stretch run. Doncic’s club -- Real Madrid — had already been struggling of late, due in part to a rash of other injuries, including top scorer Sergio Llull and ex-NBA big men Gustavo Ayon and Anthony Randolph.
Will this hurt Doncic’s draft stock? The short answer is no, probably not.
However, this news certainly doesn’t help Doncic, who has been in a bit of a slump lately, drawing criticism from a few draft pundits who have been looking to shoot holes in the presumptive top pick(we won’t name names; you know who you are). Doncic scored a season low 3 points against FC Barcelona in late February, just the second time he’d been held to single digits.
I’m not the first to point this out, but those who are quick to jump off the Doncic bandwagon should take a look at Doncic’s workload the past eight months. He has played a ton of basketball. After making the Final Four in the 2016-17 Euroleague championship with Real Madrid in May of 2017, Doncic then played for the Slovenian senior team in the FIBA championships in August-September (winning gold), before beginning the 2017-18 Euroleague season in October, which is still ongoing.
That means in the same amount of time he’s played nearly twice as many games as our favorite college prospects, and (because it can’t be said enough) against vastly superior opponents. In fact, if you want to look at this way, he’s already got over 150 professional games under his belt, going back three seasons. Four year college seniors won’t even play that many NCAA games, and keep in mind, Doncic only just celebrated his 19th birthday a little over a week ago.
Let’s not mince words: Doncic is still the best prospect in this draft. He is still one of the best prospects in recent memory. His historic production make him by far the most NBA-ready draft eligible player. Even if you think he doesn’t have the upside of a DeAndre Ayton or Mo Bamba, it’s hard to imagine someone who’s this good already at 19 won’t get better. His recent play may make for quality draft-talk fodder, but I have a hard time seeing him slip too far in the actual draft. So, to Maverick fans with Luka-fever, if you want Doncic you’re still going to need a top 2 pick.
One last anecdote about fatigue: for those who were not full-fledged adult basketball fans back in the year of Two-Thousand and Seven, you might not remember just how insanely dominant one Dirk Nowitzki was. Back then, Dirk was a 28 year old unstoppable flame throwing monster, who blitzed the league en route to his first and only MVP award.
However, a fact that got lost in prevailing sports media narrative was that Dirk seriously ran out of gas down the stretch. His MVP campaign was largely propped up by an absolutely insane run in January and February, where he averaged 28 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block and a steal per game, on 52% shooting from the field, 45% shooting from three, and 92% from the line.
Then, suddenly, Dirk went cold, dropping in April to just 20 points and 6 rebounds per, and making just 27% of his threes. This carried over to the playoffs, where Dirk struggled and the Baron Davis led Golden State Warriors beat the Mavs in the first 1-8 series upset of the expanded playoff schedule era. For years, Dirk carried the “choker” label from the sports media world (take my word for it, it was there), as he was lumped into the lazy category of soft Euro who couldn’t handle tough playoff basketball. It’s hilarious to think about now, but back then it was absolutely infuriating.
Of course, it wasn’t just a cold streak for Dirk. He was running on empty, having played an insane amount of basketball in the previous calendar year. Dallas had made a Finals run the year before, playing well into June. Then, Dirk carried the load as basically the entire offense for the German team in the 2006 FIBA championships, before starting training camp back in Dallas shortly thereafter.
Fans expect players represent their country and compete in international tournaments without hesitation, all for the “honor” of doing so, but understand that the extra play can tax them, just as it’s perhaps done with Luka Doncic. It took Dirk years to undo the damage done from that ‘07 fiasco; hell, I think I probably needed therapy from all the times I heard casual fans say that Dirk couldn’t perform in clutch moments. For the same reason that was utter madness then, Luka shouldn’t be dinged on your draft board now.