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Luka Doncic a low risk in NBA Draft, though ceiling leaves questions

Real Madrid's Luka Doncic vies the ball as Fenerbahce's James Nunnally tries to block him during their Final Four Euroleague final basketball match between Real Madrid and Fenerbahce in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, May 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Empire of the Suns has covered the strengths and weaknesses of potential top selections Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic. After breaking down the pros and cons of their games, we now look at potential outcomes for the two, specifically their floors and ceilings as prospects in relation to the Suns’ decision with the No. 1 overall pick.

Assessing risk is the name of the game for NBA teams in the lottery.

Jump several tiers down, and it’s about filling needs, finding solid role players or picking high-upside projects who won’t be the team perception-wise or investment-wise if they don’t pan out.

But the Phoenix Suns have to get it right with the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Deandre Ayton is regarded as the safest and likely choice due to his high upside and ready-to-go athleticism and build, but Luka Doncic garnered buzz as a No. 1 pick because he’s the only player in his class who has proven dominant against professional basketball players by winning MVP and a championship this year playing for Real Madrid.

Now, let’s dive into what Doncic could be if all turns out well and also consider the risk: What’s the disappointing outcome for his development if his skillset and physical stature don’t improve?

Doncic’s ceiling

The biggest question regarding Doncic is about his likelihood for superstardom.

Where Ayton could easily be seen as a physical savant, Doncic comes with complexity about what he will develop into thanks to his already diverse skillset but limited athleticism.

Let’s say the 6-foot-8, 228-pound wing devotes himself to a strict diet, hits the weight room and adds a little more explosion and a more compact triple-threat position to cover concerns about his explosiveness.

If his pretty shooting stroke blossoms and the more spaced NBA game helps him become an elite shooter, then what we have is something unique.

A more fine-tuned Doncic is able to defend smaller power forwards and slower shooting guards, can run an offense and wreak havoc on pick-and-rolls. He has enough shake and is a big enough threat to drive that he’s able to get off jumpers off the bounce a la another oversized ball handler Suns fans are familiar with: Joe Johnson. Doncic has the potential to be an elite stand-still shooter and that stepback ability complements his advanced handle.

And with that scoring threat, he can easily average eight assists a night and be a triple-double threat on his best outings.

Even imagining the best for a player like Doncic, it’s hard to expect that he becomes an elite scorer. Maybe he averages a low-efficiency 25 points per game one or two seasons over his career, but it’s more likely Doncic finds himself as a B-class star — productive as an all-around player like Andre Iguodala or Johnson but not efficient enough as a scorer to take teams deep into the playoffs by himself.

Elite defenses can slow his scoring down, but they’re never able to shut him out from positively impacting a game on a cold shooting night.

Doncic’s floor

Comparing the spectrum of Doncic’s floor and ceiling to Ayton’s, it becomes apparent that it’s the Slovenian guard who has a smaller range of outcomes.

Ayton may never develop a defensive feel but could overwhelm opponents on the offensive end. If he’s a limited offensive player and never learns to play defense, he’s still a double-double guy and starting-caliber player.

Doncic’s 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists with 2.2 turnovers per game as the No. 1 option in Europe is enough evidence that he too should be a long-time NBA contributor. Again, that’s why it was a win for Phoenix to get a top-2 pick because it doesn’t feel like either player will be a flop.

Doncic’s worst-case outlook could arguably be better than Ayton’s. In this theoretical situation, Doncic never develops a first step and his bad shooting habits turn out to be self-inflicted by shot selection. Plus, he’s not as good of a shooter as advertised.

Like O.J. Mayo coming out of USC in 2008, Doncic was rightly rated as the best young player wherever he went prior to arriving in the NBA — but as they say, he “is what he is.”

That’s still a pretty darn good NBA player.

Doncic is a career 35-percent three-point shooter and his passing instincts get undercut by his affinity to look for his own shot too often. Even if he’s able to get off jumpers, his lack of a first step limits efficiency, and opponents bait him into long stepbacks.

The good news is that the floor of Doncic can be accentuated by the right role. The team that drafts him puts playmakers around him, and he learns to play off the ball as a small forward or small-ball power forward.

Doncic needs to be run off screens to catch the ball on the wing with defenders already out of position, and he’s able to score or make the crosscourt pass to help set up his other teammates.

Defensively, he avoids taking athletic wings but is smart enough to play in a team defense and gives effort when he’s forced to switch.

All-in-all, Doncic is more than a glue guy. He’s a do-it-all type of player who will make the right plays, take pressure off stars and create a mismatch in one way one night and do it another way the next.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, Doncic’s best skill at the moment is his passing. He’ll be at his best with other scorers at his disposal, ceiling or floor, and that likely outcome is what perhaps has him behind Ayton the most as the likely No. 1 overall selection.


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