It’s not OK: Luka Doncic might be an All-Star and the Suns passed on him

Jan 14, 2019, 2:50 PM | Updated: 4:29 pm
Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, left, of Slovenia, drives as teammate DeAndre Jordan, right, sets a ...
Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, left, of Slovenia, drives as teammate DeAndre Jordan, right, sets a pick on Minnesota Timberwolves' Josh Okogie, of Nigeria, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

As someone who firmly believed in the basketball abilities of a 19-year-old Slovenian kid playing for Real Madrid translating seamlessly to the NBA, it’s hard to believe what Luka Doncic has done halfway through his rookie season.

Doncic is already one of the NBA’s stars on a global level. He is currently second among Western Conference frontcourt players in All-Star voting, a nod to his stardom overseas but also to how much he has captivated fans elsewhere in such a short amount of time.

When Devin Booker was impressing at the end of his rookie season, the thing to say around the league was, “Hey, you know, I really like that Devin Booker kid. I think he could be something. Like the way he plays.”

Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert held that title last year, and it will keep getting passed down from one promising young player to another.

With Doncic winding up in Dallas on the Mavericks, I thought it would be him this year. Bad team, small market, learning the league, lack of big-time buzz, etc.

Nope. He has already transcended that.

Like all NBA Draft prospects, Doncic succeeding in the league was only a projection. To me, by spending so much time watching these guys in college or overseas, it’s a bit surreal to even see them in NBA uniforms for their first season. Takes some getting used to.

So to that effect, when I see Charles Barkley — one of the most influential voices in basketball — not only become a supporter of Doncic but make claims that Doncic is an All-Star, my head starts to self-combust.

Wow. LaMarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozan have been playing at an All-Star level since Doncic was 14 years old but Barkley has seen enough.

Chuck isn’t alone. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and three-time All-Star Draymond Green agree he’s at that level. Former league MVP Stephen Curry called Doncic “unbelievable.”

Is an All-Star nod deserved? Debatable. Doncic is the best player on a team slightly below .500 and when compared side-to-side with others having an All-Star case like Booker, for example, there’s an argument against Doncic’s case.

But this is something different. Basketball fans are infatuated with him. Doncic is reminding guys like Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal why they are basketball fans and why they love the game with the way he plays.

My close personal friends ragged on me for months — and when I say ragged, I mean RAGGED — about ranking Doncic ahead of Deandre Ayton as a basketball prospect, and now they can’t stop talking about him.

Be wrong and claim biases, but there’s a reason any clip or highlight of Doncic explodes on NBA Twitter more than any other player in some time. He’s special and you can see it when you watch him. He plays with a delightful mix of unique tempo, style, strength and swagger that is unmatched.

Doncic is already taking over games late and winning them. He was one of the most efficient players in crunch time this season prior to the NBA’s action this past weekend.

That included a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves where he decided the game was his and over.

Yes, if you were listening, that’s Dallas’ color commentator Derek Harper calling the last shot good before Doncic even let it go.

At 19 years old, Doncic is having a rookie season that is almost incomparable. At his current mark of 20.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, those averages have only been done two other times by a rookie: Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.

His latest January as a first-year player has not been seen in quite some time.

Doncic is not a future star. He already is a star and one of the four or five best young basketball players in the world.

And the Suns passed on him for Ayton with the No. 1 pick.

Now, there are several immediate counters, one of which goes something along the lines of, “look at Ayton’s stats! He’s been great! Centers! You need ’em and they are hard to find!”

This is not about Ayton. This is about the caliber of player Doncic has already become and will transform into through his maturation as a basketball player.

This is not the case of Doncic having a jumpstart playing professionally in Europe, a hilarious and chef’s kiss of a 180 from a pre-draft criticism of him being in a league with suboptimal opposition. He’s clearly getting better already, with his numbers rising each month while he’s got loads of smaller parts in his game he needs to and will improve on.

There was no debate within the Valley as to whether Ayton or Doncic was the right choice with the No. 1 overall pick. That was dead-wrong at the time and we need to bury the “there’s no argument” point to the Earth’s core because it’s even more dead-wrong now.

The glimmer sparkling around Doncic’s play that has snatched up the attention of the basketball world absolutely was there when he was playing internationally and in the EuroLeague. Some watched and saw it. Some watched and didn’t. Some wouldn’t watch so they couldn’t.

I’m sure whoever made the decision for Phoenix at the top of the draft recognized Doncic’s talents, but he was different and they didn’t realize it.

Yes, Rick Carlisle is a sorcerer of a coach and there are other parts of Doncic’s fit in Dallas that are rather cozy. But look me in the eye and tell me that his best teammate probably being DeAndre Jordan — and the fact that we can’t definitively say that tells you something — isn’t an insurmountable difference when compared to being Booker’s running mate.

That’s the most important part of this. Booker is playing two different positions at once right now to make up for flawed roster construction and somehow succeeding at it. Doncic would have solved that problem short- and long-term.

The two would have made each other better right away, sharing the offensive load together while setting each other up in the process. Sure, maybe the averages go down, but again, I dare you to not break eye contact with me and deny head coach Igor Kokoskov would have gotten the most out of Doncic because of his past familiarity.

The Suns had an opportunity to 1) draft a once-in-a-decade draft prospect who fits well, 2) address their biggest roster hole and 3) make life easier on their future superstar.

Instead, they grabbed a center who is going to be very good and has a strong chance of at least being great, if not more.

That’s a mistake that is going to haunt the Suns for a long, long time.

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