By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Early into the second period of tonight’s (9/1) EuroLeague game against Unics Kazan, Real Madrid was trailing 20 – 17. No biggie, deficit-wise, yet the truth was that the “Blancos” faced some obvious productivity problems.
17 wasn’t much of a number after 11 minutes, especially given the fact that they average 21.6 per quarter in this season’s edition of the competition.
Also, with Sergio Llull being unable to facilitate his team’s battle plan for others, or create successful plays for himself as he usually does, plus the notable absence of Rudy Fernandez, Real was largely depended on Gustavo Ayon taking it to the basket. He had dropped 10 points after 10 minutes, either after high-low connections or second-chance opportunities.
But this mode wasn’t as effective as needed and it was becoming dangerously predictable for Real in a moment when Unics began adding more players in its scoring equation.
Then Luka Doncic, who had come off the bench in the last moments of the first period, began handling playmaking duties.
His presence rejuvenated his team and brought a complete metamorphosis to the way it attacked the basket. The sluggish caterpillar that was Real’s offense until that point, turned to a graceful moth with lateral motion, beautiful ball movement and, more importantly, increased bucket delivery.
In the next eight minutes, the 17-year-old guard dished out no less than six assists to his teammates, helping Real Madrid lead 43 – 36 at halftime.
Most of these passes came from long or mid-range. Being the tallest point guard on the floor (2.01 m./6.7 ft), his height enhances his already advanced court vision and allows him to work like an all-seeing, all-knowing panoptikon. With eyes everywhere and nothing escaping his vigilant looks, Doncic can scan the field, anticipating every move and, more importantly, knowing when and how to strike with a pass that will slice the opposing defense in half.
To be honest, it reminded me of the way EuroLeague legend Teo Papaloukas operated back in the day.
A two-time (2006, 2008) EuroLeague champion with CSKA Moscow, season (2007) and Final Four (2006) MVP, Papaloukas was also a tall (2 m./6.6 ft) playmaker who knew how to use his size to reveal the unseen, dish out assists (or “pre-assists” passes of equal importance), create scoring opportunities out of nowhere, and generally distribute the ball in an immensely influential manner for his team’s offense… and painfully harmful for the other squad’s defense.
Like Doncic, Papaloukas was rarely a starter, preferring to sit the first minutes of the match at the bench in order to study certain aspects of each game. He’d then use that knowledge to the benefit of his team, entering the floor with enough data to give him an edge over his opponents.
It was something innovative that practically transformed the way EuroLeague viewed the role of the “sixth man” and is now a practice employed by point guards such as Milos Teodosic.
These aren’t the only common elements between Doncic and Papaloukas. When the Slovenian player carries the ball for a penetration he uses large strides to increase the advantage he already has due to the size mismatch with his personal opponent, force the help and then immediately recognize the weakness he created to the opposing defense to feed a teammate for a bucket.
A momentary fake pass here and there to spread extra confusion before quickly switching to his next move is also in the mix.
Papaloukas, who was also far from the fastest or the most athletic guy around (much like Doncic) engaged his opponents with similar drives, first creating a rift and then delivering the assist after reading the defensive imbalance he shaped.
Same with the Doncic. Because each time the Real Madrid youngster spears through traffic in “5 vs 5”, half court situations, he makes sure he keeps his head high and his gaze alert to where everyone else is, in order to make a timely perfect decision.
Another attribute that connects these two, is their aptitude for being game-changers. Few minutes on the floor, one or two plays are enough for them to own the rhythm and tempo of the match.
Of course, none of the above would’ve been possible and such comparisons wouldn’t occur, if Doncic didn’t possess such an outstanding, inherent ability to visualize, project and ultimately understand the game with the powers of a savant. As if he’s not 17 years old, but someone who has spent aeons on basketball courts. As if the cells in his body are… “zitty”, colored in shades of orange, with black ribs engraved on them. Like the ball he so beautifully knows how to handle.
Doncic thinks and acts rapidly while funneling astounding patience and wisdom in his game. But when the desired offensive situation isn’t anywhere to be found, he won’t hesitate to fabricate or initiate it himself out of nothing. Without showing ball-hog tendencies, just by altering the rhythm to his team’s favor, assuming control of the pace then slash through the opposing defense, manipulating it per the demands of his squad’s offense.
We are talking about complete mastery of what is happening on the floor. Because that’s what he pretty much did against Unics Kazan.
In case you are wondering how the game progressed, Real Madrid beat the Russian team 81 – 77 and extended its winning streak to 8 – 0. The Slovenian guard successfully completed his floor-general duties by posting a EuroLeague career-high 11 assists to go with 7 rebounds and 5 points. All these in just 24 minutes.
While performing as the maestro of his team’s orchestra, he became the youngest player in EuroLeague history (post 2000) to have finished a game with 11 dimes.
A new exhilarating performance for basketball fans to marvel and, at the same time, simply another day at the office for Luka Doncic.