They Looked at Luka Doncic and Saw the Future of the NBA

The Americans on his European team knew that Doncic was a superstar. Now they have something else to say: We told you so.

The NBA team with the greatest offense in the history of the game is not the Warriors when they had Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. It’s not the Rockets teams built around James Harden and math. It’s not Magic Johnson’s Lakers or Larry Bird’s Celtics, and it’s not a team with Michael Jordan or LeBron James.

The team with the most powerful offensive machine the league has ever seen is this year’s Dallas Mavericks. They don’t have Steph, Michael or LeBron. They have Luka.

Luka Doncic is already one of the best players on the planet, and the only thing more impressive than his 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game is his age: He is 20 years old. There has never been anyone so young with such outrageous numbers. The last time a player had comparable statistics was Oscar Robertson—before Doncic’s parents were born.

It has been a stunning ascent by any measure for someone in his second NBA season. But it’s not surprising to the handful of Americans who knew the name of Luka Doncic before almost everyone in the U.S. They had to. They were his teammates.

The former college and NBA players who moved to Spain to play for Real Madrid between 2015 and 2018 had the odd feeling of sensing that something was about to happen years before it really did. They were among the first people to look at a shy teen with a baby face and see the future of basketball. But when they told people back home about Doncic, every one of them encountered resistance. They had to convince the Americans in their lives that a Slovenian teen was as sensational as they claimed.

“They were skeptical,” said Jaycee Carroll.

“None of my friends in the States believed me,” said Trey Thompkins.

“Of course the first response was: Aw, no European can be that good,” said Anthony Randolph.

Luka Doncic is 20 years old. It’s the only number more impressive than his stats.

PHOTO: JEROME MIRON/REUTERS

The first time that Randolph realized that his precocious teammate really was that good was in a practice scrimmage a few years ago. It was hard for him to ignore the kid who was attempting to throw down a tomahawk dunk on him. Randolph looked around in disbelief. Who is this guy, he asked, and how old is he? That’s when he found out Doncic was only 17.

“He told me his age,” Randolph said. “I was in shock.”

Anthony Randolph is no longer in the NBA. But in that way the NBA has become a league full of Anthony Randolphs.

There was nothing that Doncic hadn’t accomplished by the time he came to the U.S. He won the EuroLeague with Real Madrid. He won EuroBasket with Slovenia. He won the MVP of the EuroLeague and he even won the MVP of the EuroLeague Final Four—which means he was the best player in the biggest games in the top league outside the NBA.

But he was still the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft. The Suns passed on him after hiring Slovenia’s national coach, the Kings passed on him despite having a European general manager and the Hawks passed on him by trading back and drafting another point guard. His fans in Europe couldn’t wrap their minds around these decisions. They had never seen anyone at that age better than Doncic.

No one else comes close,” said Dan Peterson, a legendary American coach who has worked in Italy since the 1970s. “Everyone knew. Everyone in Europe, that is. If the NBA had doubts, that’s their problem.”

Luka Doncic in 2014—when he was a youth player for Real Madrid.

PHOTO: GUILLERMO MARTINEZ/NURPHOTO/ZUMA PRESS

The question of how so many people could have been so wrong about Doncic will haunt the franchises that passed on him for a very long time.

It’s tempting to blame the behavior of NBA snobs on a distrust of international basketball even at a time when the game has never been so cosmopolitan. The U.S. no longer has a monopoly on talent.

  • The league’s Most Valuable Player is Greek.
  • The centers on last year’s All-NBA teams were Serbian, Cameroonian and French.
  • The face of the Mavericks used to be Dirk Nowitzki (German), and
  • now it’s Doncic (Slovenian) and
  • Kristaps Porzingis (Latvian).

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has another theory.

The NBA doubts every player coming in until they prove they can play,” he said.

Some of the only people who weren’t saddled by this bias happened to be the ones who had watched him play basketball more than anybody in the world. They were Americans in Europe who remember telling anyone who would listen that he was the real deal. They also remember what they heard in response. That he would be good, but not that good. That he’ll play against bigger, stronger and faster guys and he wasn’t big, strong or fast enough. That he’s not athletic. That he’s not in shape. That he’s too… Slovenian.

“Wait and see—just watch,” Randolph said. “Because I knew that Luka was a once-in-a-generation talent.”

“You’ll see,” Thompkins said. “You’ll see.”

“He did everything in Europe already,” Marcus Slaughter said. “It’s just that Americans now see it.”

Luka Doncic, then and now. PHOTOS: ZUMA PRESS; USA TODAY SPORTS

They saw it for themselves on the practice court. In the European system of basketball, Real Madrid’s players mingled with the players on Real Madrid’s youth team, which would be like Bronny James practicing with LeBron James. But when the stars of Spain’s best team studied the younger guys coming for their jobs, there was always one who stood out. Doncic was 15 and making players his own age look like toddlers. “What he’s doing now is what he was doing at that age,” Slaughter said. “He was completely dominating.”

But he was also holding his own on the senior Real Madrid team. His teammates noticed a complete lack of fear in someone who could have easily been terrified. When the Boston Celtics visited Spain in 2015, for example, Doncic played 16 minutes off the bench. He was 16 years old.

  • By the time he was 17, he was the best young player in Europe.
  • By the time he was 18, he was the best player in Europe.

“This guy is a cross between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird,” thought Bill Duffy, his agent, as he watched him.

But his last few months in Madrid were a bit of a Rorschach test. Cuban and Mavericks executives were among the people who saw a team of grown men deferring to Doncic with games on the line, but others saw a pudgy body and signs of inconsistency as Doncic fell into a slump toward the end of a long season.

His teammates knew which ones would be proven right.

They Regret Their Defense on Stephen Curry. Will the Raptors?

Brian Rudolph still remembers the raspy voice instructing him to do something that sounded so extreme, so preposterous, so insanely radical that he was almost positive he would never see it again.

Loyola University Maryland was done with its morning shootaround before a November 2008 game against Davidson College when coach Jimmy Patsos realized the strategy that he’d devised for that night wasn’t going to work. Loyola was about to play the leading scorer in college basketball. Stephen Curry was already a problem without a solution. Patsos decided to scrap the game plan. Instead he wanted Loyola’s players to double-team Curry for the entire game.

“Huh?” Rudolph thought. “We just spent an hour at shootaround and didn’t work on this one time. But all right then. I guess that’s what we’re going to do.”

It backfired in spectacular fashion. Curry stood in the corner perfectly content to let his teammates play 4-on-3. Curry scored zero points. Davidson won by 30 points. Loyola’s players have regrets.

“I would’ve rather taken my shot against him and lost than play the way we did and lose by 30,” said Brett Harvey, a commercial real-estate broker in New York. “Now I wish I had that game back more than ever.”

That game more than 10 years ago would be the last time any team dared to get so crazy guarding Curry. At least until the NBA Finals.

Down by nine points with about five minutes left in a supremely weird Game 2 on Sunday night, the Toronto Raptors were as desperate as Loyola.

What happened next was one of the oddest strategic choices that you will ever see in the NBA. Raptors coach Nick Nurse called for a box-and-one: a rarely used gimmick in which four defenders play a zone (the box) while Fred VanVleet hounded Curry (the one). Nurse was putting himself at risk to be ridiculed. But it was also not that big of a gamble. The Raptors had nothing to lose since they were going to lose anyway.

“I was just trying to come up with something to stop them,” Nurse said.

It helped that Kevin Durant was out, Klay Thompson was injured and Golden State had about as many shooters surrounding Curry as that Davidson team. Curry called it “some janky defense” on Sunday night. He’d changed his mind by Tuesday afternoon and called it “innovative and unexpected.”

But the results suggest this strategy that could have easily been embarrassing was actually brilliant.

The question now is whether the Warriors will see it again in Game 3 on Wednesday. Durant is still out, Thompson is questionable with a hamstring injury and Nurse might go back to his janky, innovative, unexpected defense.

That he did it even once was such an unexpected twist that the NBA’s two best teams spent much of Tuesday battling a collective bout of amnesia to recall the last time they’d seen one. Warriors coach Steve Kerr reached all the way back to the 1980s. That’s when he was in ninth grade and the focus of his very own box-and-one.

“Very proud to announce that,” he said. “It’s probably something you see more often in high school. Even college you’ll see it. But I don’t remember ever seeing it in the NBA.”

The last time anyone could remember was the Brooklyn Nets using it against Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker on Dec. 26. That’s how memorable it was: There were people who actually remembered a Nets vs. Hornets game the day after Christmas.

Curry didn’t have to think so hard.

“Probably last time I saw it,” Curry said, “was when I had a [Davidson] Wildcat jersey on.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Stephen Curry of Slam Dunks

A typical Bucks possession starts with Antetokounmpo grabbing a rebound, covering half the court in a few steps and surveying the scene in front of him as the Bucks disperse around the 3-point line. If the defense comes to help on Antetokounmpo, he kicks to an open teammate for a three. If the defense refuses to collapse, he sees there is only one man between him and the basket. This is not a very effective strategy for stopping him.

.. He’s now 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. He has bigger hands than Kawhi Leonard, who trademarked a logo of his enormous hand, and the length of his strides allow him to take his Eurostep to the extreme. He steps one way, steps the other way and leaves his defender in the dust.

.. But what makes Antetokounmpo such a curious player is that he contradicts many of the trends homogenizing the game. He’s the anomaly of the NBA.

It helps that he can dunk, for example, considering he’s the worst outside shooter in basketball right now. Antetokounmpo is making 11.1% of his 3-pointers. Klay Thompson made more threes in one half of one game than Antetokounmpo in his 22 games this season.

One Eurostep for Manu. One Giant Leap for Mankind.

The Eurostep was exotic when it came to the NBA. Now it’s universal for today’s youth basketball players.

This crafty move was considered exotic when it came to the NBA two decades ago. It looked downright foreign to see a player do what Zhang described: plant one way, take one long step at full speed the other way, avoid contact and sneak around the defender for an easy layup.

.. The slow normalization of the Eurostep is obvious anytime you watch an NBA game. The last two league MVPs, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, are masters of the Eurostep. LeBron James flashing his Eurostep on the fast break turns defenders into foie gras. But the most revealing sign of the Eurostep invasion once appeared on his Instagram from someone who happens to share his name: LeBron James Jr., better known as Bronny, had the basketball world admiring his own beautiful Eurostep. He was in fifth grade.

.. “Every single trainer teaches the Eurostep,” said Josh Burr, the founder of The Skill Factory in Atlanta, where a variety of players from Harden to boys on the Southeast team have trained. “Every one of those kids can do it.”

The players and coaches at the first Jr. NBA World Championship this week say it’s almost a prerequisite for playing these days. Something that didn’t exist not so long ago has stitched itself into the fabric of the game to the point that it’s becoming impossible to envision basketball without it.

“In a year or two, it’ll be as popular as the triple threat,”

.. 2. He picks up his dribble and freezes his defender with a hard step to the left. The idea is that he’ll finish with his dominant left hand.

3. But he doesn’t. After planting his left foot, he quickly changes direction, taking a long step to the right. That creates the space for Ginobili to get around his defender for an open layup.

.. It wasn’t that way when the Lithuanian guard Sarunas Marciulionis helped import the Eurostep to the NBA in 1989. His nifty way of avoiding contact around the basket was partially inspired by the legendary Croatian player Drazen Petrovic, he said, but it didn’t stick right away in part because Marciulionis was an unlikely source of innovation.At his own Hall of Fame induction, Marciulionis called himself a “strange duck.”
NBA players weren’t in the business of copying strange ducks, and the Eurostep could have easily disappeared when he retired in 1997. But it didn’t. And that’s because two years later the San Antonio Spurs drafted a second-tier Italian club’s top prospect named Manu Ginóbili. Marciulionis, a lefty like Ginobili, Harden and Ashlyn Zhang, soon got a call from someone telling him that a player from Argentina was bringing the Eurostep back.
.. the widespread adoption of the Eurostep is such a recent development that young elite players today are being trained by coaches in their 30s and 40s who say they went their entire careers without attempting a single one. But one unexpected benefit of NBA players oversharing on Instagram is that it’s easy for anyone in the world to copy what they’re doing. A boy like Phoenix Johnson can steal Kyrie Irving’s moves, including his Eurostep, by studying him on YouTube and Instagram.

Trump’s name is coming off his SoHo hotel as politics weigh on president’s brand

President Trump’s company has agreed to remove the Trump name from its hotel in Lower Manhattan and give up management of the property, the most visible sign yet of the toll his presidency has taken on his brand.

The decision, announced by the company Wednesday afternoon, follows signs that business has flagged for months at Trump SoHo, beginning during his polarizing campaign last year.

The hotel’s sushi restaurant closed. Professional sports teams, once reliable customers, began to shun the property. The hotel struggled to attract business for its meeting rooms and banquet halls, according to reporting by radio station WNYC.

.. This will be the third time since Trump’s election that his name has been removed from a building. In July, the Trump name was taken off the Trump International Hotel in Toronto

.. In the United States, the Trump name still adorns hotels in Hono­lulu, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Washington. The Washington hotel, opened last year, has been a bright spot in the company’s portfolio. Flush with business from Christian groups, trade associations and foreign clients, its profits have greatly exceeded expectations.

.. Elsewhere, the Trump Organization has seen greens-fee revenue fall at its golf courses in Los Angeles and the Bronx, and it has lost dozens of customers who rented out banquet rooms for parties or golf courses for charity tournaments.

.. Last summer, 19 charities canceled galas or other fundraisers they had planned for this winter at Mar-a-Lago, costing the Trump Organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

.. But by this year, at least 11 of the 12 NBA teams that previously stayed at Trump SoHo had quit. Some cited logistical reasons. Others said they could not stay at a hotel with Trump’s name on it.