By Austin Green
Luka Doncic was the best player in Europe this season, and he delivered again when it mattered most.
The 19-year-old phenom became the youngest EuroLeague Final Four MVP ever on Sunday in Belgrade after helping lead Real Madrid to an 85-80 win over Fenerbahce Istanbul.
In front of a raucous crowd of 17,000 fans — mostly supporting Fenerbahce — Doncic had 15 points, four assists, three rebounds, one block, and two turnovers.
He was calm and composed throughout the game, playing with more poise than most of the NBA veterans with whom he shared the court. He scored Madrid’s first six points, including a beautiful Euro-step layup and a tough pull-up jumper in transition.
Fenerbahce were able to slow him down after that with some physical defense, but Doncic came alive again in the second half. He buried an important transition three in the third quarter, and with the game on the line in the fourth he made 6 of 8 free throws and had a clutch block on former Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker with just 1:45 remaining.
The championship trophy and MVP award capped a great weekend for Doncic.
He had 16 points and seven rebounds in Friday’s semifinal win vs. CSKA Moscow, and on Saturday he was named MVP for the 2017-18 EuroLeague season. He is also the youngest player ever to win the regular season MVP award.
It was a redeeming performance for Doncic, who struggled in last year’s Final Four. Nikola Kalinic and Fenerbahce completely shut him down in the semifinals, holding him scoreless on 0 of 6 shooting in 17 minutes.
This time around, Doncic stepped up against the defending champs. In the postgame press conference, I asked him about that game and what changed in this year’s matchup.
“Yeah, I always talk about that game. It was bad and good for me. Bad that we lost, but good because I learned a lot of things,” Doncic said. “And I think this year I was more confident, I learned a lot of stuff from that semifinal, so I think I showed that and I think we played more like a team this year.”
While Madrid won with a total team effort, Doncic was the most important and consistent player over the weekend. He played the most minutes for Madrid in both Final Four games, led the team in scoring with 15.5 PPG, rebounded the ball well, found his teammates for open shots, and made big defensive plays in crucial moments.
Doncic’s versatility made him the most dangerous player in Europe this season, and after accomplishing all there is to do in European basketball, he's ready for the NBA.
Rumors about Doncic potentially staying in Europe swirled last week when he said he hadn’t made his decision yet, but context is key.
He’s loyal to Real Madrid, a club he has been with since he was 13 years old. He is under contract, he had a job to do, and the people he worked with needed to know that he was invested. When a reporter asked him about the NBA, he had to downplay his interest because it was the most important moment of Real Madrid’s season.
Make no mistake about it: Doncic will be in the NBA next season. He's the most accomplished young European player in history, and with a EuroLeague championship and Final Four MVP on his resume, it's time for him to take his game to the next level.
Austin Green is an international journalist and scout covering EuroLeague and NBA prospects in Europe and Australia. You can follow him on Twitter @LosCrossovers