It is less than an hour into the 2015 NBA Draft, and boos already ring out at Madison Square Garden. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has just announced the New York Knicks are drafting Latvian Kristaps Porzingis. ESPN zooms in on a crying kid in a Knicks jersey. Just a few months later, Porzingis turned these boos into cheers. Porzingis is the best thing that could have ever happened for Luka Doncic.
Porzingis is far from the first European player to have success in the NBA, but he is the most recent one do so after being selected with such a high pick. Porzingis’ stock rose after a killer workout in the United States in front of NBA executives. Doncic enters the NBA with a better resume after playing professionally for Real Madrid for over three seasons, and dominating much older players. College prospects are often more exciting to fans because they are more familiar, but the competition Doncic consistently faced in Europe is more difficult than any American player has faced coming into the draft.
Doncic is from Slovenia, but moved to Spain to play for Real Madrid. Doncic also shined for Slovenia in international competition. Suns coach Igor Kokoskov, who coached Doncic in the recent EuroBasket tournament, noted his introduction to the spotlight at a young age has helped his development.
“Leadership and presence on the court — you can’t coach it,” Kokoskov told ESPN. “He kind of missed some parts of his life — his basketball childhood. He had to grow up fast.”
Learn more about the European point guard who could be the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
1. Doncic Is Originally From Slovenia, But Moved to Spain After Receiving an Offer From Real Madrid at 13
Doncic grew up in Slovenia, and his play on the court garnered attention at a young age. According to Slam, Doncic received an offer at 13 to play for Real Madrid. Despite not knowing anyone, Doncic moved to Spain after much deliberation, and his family’s willingness to allow him to take a risk. Doncic spoke with SLAM magazine about the difficult transition.
“Not just once [thought about going back],” Doncic told SLAM. “All my friends, school, family—everything was in Slovenia, but after I learned Spanish it was easier to communicate, to make new friends.”
Doncic enters the NBA with a strong handle on the English language.
2. Doncic Was the Youngest Player to Ever Play For Real Madrid at 16
According to SLAM, Doncic was the youngest player to ever play for Real Madrid at 16. Doncic will enter the NBA at 19 years old, the same age as the majority of freshman prospects declaring for the draft. The difference is Doncic already has three years of professional basketball experience. After appearing in three games during the 2014-15 season, Doncic got his first meaningful minutes during the 2015-16 season in Liga ACB and EuroLeague.
He’s improved every season, but took a major jump from last season to this year. Doncic nearly doubled his scoring, and is averaging 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists for Real Madrid in 2018. Considering most European prospects enter the NBA having played sparingly, Doncic is the exception to the rule.
“When we recruited him when he was 15 years old,” Doncic’s agent Quique Villalobos told SLAM. “We already knew we had something in our hands, which was going to be very different from other players we’d had before in Spain. We weren’t 100 percent sure, but we had the feeling we had some kind of gold in our hands.”
3. Doncic’s Mother, Mirjam Poterbin, Was a Dancer & His Father, Sasa Doncic, Played Professional Basketball in Europe
According to ESPN, Doncic’s mother, Mirjam Poterbin, was the main caretaker after her relationship ended with Doncic’s father, Sasa Doncic, when Doncic was just eight. Poterbin is a former model who operates a beauty shop. According to SLAM, she is also a former dancer and hurdler.
Doncic’s father played professional basketball in Europe. According to ESPN, he played for a top team in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and now coaches a club in Slovenia. ESPN reported Doncic does not discuss his relationship with his father, but it appears he is much closer with his mother. ESPN also reports Doncic took trips to the United States with his mother and girlfriend to get a feel for the area.
Poterbin believes it is her son’s poise that has allowed him to have success at such a young age.
“That’s what’s really good with Luka,” Poterbin told SLAM. “He’s here. He doesn’t think about the next game. He’s thinking about the game today. Also in his life he’s like this. He’s not thinking about what might happen or how it’s going to be.”
4. Doncic Has Been Described as Having the “Skill Level of Gordon Hayward & the Mind of Manu Ginobili”
Doncic does enter the NBA with a great deal of hype, something that is somewhat unusual given the general skepticism that often surrounds European prospects. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla advises fans not to overhype Doncic, but cannot help but compare the Real Madrid point guard to two great NBA players.
“This kid by NBA standards is not a great athlete,” Fraschilla told The New York Daily News. “I’d say he’s average. But where he makes up for it is in his skill and in his IQ. My comparison for him is that he has the skill level of a Gordon Hayward and a body type of a Hayward and the mind of the Ginobili. Now, that’s pretty good. If that in fact is what he turns out to be he’s going to have a very successful career.”
Despite the comparisons, Franchilla feels some of the discussions are a bit overblown as he projects Doncic to be more like a very good starter, rather than a superstar.
“I don’t think it’s fair to put on him this moniker the best young European to ever come over here. Because I think that’s going to be terribly unfair to him,” Fraschilla told the New York Daily News. “I think he’s going to be a very good NBA player. If I were to rate him the way teams rate guy — which is All-Star, starter, rotation player, fringe player, etc. — I would say he’s going to be a very successful starter in the NBA. With a chance, at times, to be an All-Star. But I do not see him as a transcendent talent in the way we would look at Dirk over a 20-year career or even potentially (Pau) Gasol or even (Manu) Ginobili.”
5. Doncic Helped Slovenia Defeat Kristaps Porzingis & Latvia in the 2017 EuroBasket Tournament
Doncic and Porzingis made a 2017 EuroBasket quarterfinals matchup between Latvia and Slovenia one of the top international competitions in recent memory. Doncic scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Slovenia’s win over Latvia. Porzingis dropped 34 points in a losing effort. Porzingis has been glowing in his praise for Doncic since that performance.
“I wanted to kill him [during the EuroBasket game],” Porzingis joked with ESPN. “I don’t know any other European kid that plays at such a high level.”
Heat guard Goran Dragic was Doncic’s teammate for Slovenia. The two stayed in touch, and Dragic is also complimentary of Doncic’s game.
“I was kind of skeptical at first — how am I gonna play with Luka, we’re both ball-dominant guys? But in the end, we coexisted perfectly,” Dragic told ESPN.