Like some of his peers, Luka Dončić had every right to sit out the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
His most recent NBA season with the Dallas Mavericks was a particularly trying one, as Dončić missed the postseason for the first time since his rookie year despite averaging career-highs in total minutes played (2,391), minutes per game (36.2), and field goal attempts per game (22.0).
But it seems like rest is not in his vocabulary, at least when it comes to the Slovenia Men’s National Basketball Team.
Dončić will suit up for Slovenia in the 2023 FIBA World Cup and has figured prominently in Slovenia’s tuneup games against Greece, Montenegro, Spain, and Japan. The pain of Slovenia’s early exit from the EuroBasket 2022 still stings and an opportunity of this magnitude at redemption can be quite hard to resist.
Dončić’s skills are one thing, but how he utilizes it to control the game is what makes him, and in turn, Slovenia difficult to stop. The ability to draw double and even triple teams is obvious, but opposing defenses on the whole tend to forget that his teammates are running to open spots. Even in games with not much to play for and everyone has an idea of what’s to come, Luka Magic has been on full display and remains a sight to see.
The word “gravity” tends to get thrown around when describing how defenses react to Dončić regardless if he works on or off the ball. Call it an innate feel for the game or the result of familiarity with his teammates and Slovenia’s program, but the four-time NBA All-Star more often than not has an answer for whatever opponents have in mind.
Dončić is the unquestioned leader of this Slovenia squad, more so with Goran Dragic not even included in the initial pool. While he played an integral role in Slovenia’s EuroBasket 2017 title, Dončić has a chance at winning the 2023 FIBA World Cup as the bonafide leader of his national team. Of course, it shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it does further solidify his place among the international greats.
Compared to the Americans, who only value basketball in the Olympics, other nations hold international competitions like the FIBA World Cup in high esteem (I mean, look at the Philippines). Pride is definitely on the line and players like Dončić thrive in FIBA rules and he’s mentioned in the past how scoring in the NBA is easier than doing so in the EuroLeague.
As the world number seven in the latest FIBA World Rankings, Slovenia should have no problems advancing past the group stage over the likes of Venezuela (17th in the world), Georgia (32nd), and Cape Verde (64th). Moreover, only Goga Bitadze and Edy Tavares are players apart from Dončić who have NBA experience in Group F. It’s clear Slovenia’s focus should be on the next stage.
Some of that was already evident as there was some gamesmanship involved with Dončić sitting out Slovenia’s exhibition match against Team USA, a squad they could eventually face down the road in the finals (or even earlier). Of course, the 24-year old’s health was also a consideration given the mileage he has had in recent years, but it also allowed Slovenia head coach Aleksander Sekulić to get a better look at the rest of the pool. If anything, Dončić’s inclusion solidified the choice of going with naturalized player Mike Tobey over Jordan Morgan given the former’s chemistry with Dončić now and in the past.
Slovenia enters the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup as one of the favorites to take home the Naismith Trophy and that’s largely thanks to Luka Dončić. Of course, the games themselves still have to be played, but it’s hard to count out Dončić when he’s living his best life.