In the end, it made too much sense not to happen. Thanks to a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, the Dallas Mavericks came away from the NBA draft Thursday night with the player they've coveted throughout the draft process. Luka Doncic is 6-foot-8, has the ball-handling skills of point guard, can score like a shooting guard and has the size to play forward if the Mavs decide to go small.
Going into the draft, scouts viewed Doncic as having one of the highest ceilings of any player. Two months ago, he was in the running to go No. 1 overall, but a series of lackluster performances for Real Madrid in Spain led his stock to slip just a bit. The Mavs were undeterred, perhaps because Doncic's subpar run came after playing 18 months without a break for Real Madrid and his national team, Slovenia.
To get Doncic, whom the Hawks took with the third pick in the draft, Donnie Nelson and the Mavs front office gave up Trae Young, the fifth overall pick, as well as the team's 2019 first-round pick. That selection will stay with the Mavs if it's a top-five choice in 2019 or 2020 or a top-three selection in 2021 or 2022. The pick will head to Atlanta in 2023 at the latest, no matter where the Mavericks are slated to draft.
Doncic, just 19 years old, made his first-team debut for Real Madrid three seasons ago. Earlier this year, he was named MVP of the Euroleague, which features top-tier basketball teams from across the continent. He also helped lead Slovenia to its first EuroBasket championship last summer, landing on the all-tournament team.
While Doncic will take time to adjust to the pace of the NBA game — even Dirk Nowitzki, the NBA's best-ever European import, took a couple of years to turn into a full-blown superstar — he should make an immediate impact with his elite passing skills. With Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavs first-round draft choice in 2017, Doncic will make a dynamic back-court. Both players are comfortable being the primary ball-handler but have shown the ability to score off the ball as well. Doncic's biggest potential downside, according to scouts, is his lack of foot-speed, which could limit his potential on the defensive end of the court.
Smith and the rest of the Mavs seemed excited about their new teammate Thursday night.
I’m a fan— Dennis Smith Jr. (@Dennis1SmithJr) June 21, 2018
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According The Associated Press , Doncic was especially happy to be teaming up with the 40-year-old Nowitzki for the latter's last few seasons.
“He’s a great leader, a great person,” Doncic said. “I’m just really happy to be part of his career. I just want to learn so much about him.”
With Doncic, Smith and Harrison Barnes on the wing, the Mavs have managed to come out of two consecutive awful seasons with a talented young core. If they're able to add a center in free agency, which starts July 1, they could be back in the playoffs as early as next spring. They won't be championship contenders, thanks to the likely dominance of the Warriors, Rockets and whatever team LeBron James ends up with, but Doncic's potential makes a return to that level a little easier to see.