Olympics athlete debuts are more of than not subdued compared to the flamboyant opening ceremonies that precede them.
Such was not the case for Luka Doncic.
Doncic, who was making his Olympic basketball debut along with his country Slovenia, finished with 48 points (in 31 minutes!) in a 118-100 win over traditional powerhouse Argentina, tying him with Australian Eddie Palubinskas for the second-highest scoring performance in an Olympic game.
He made quite the splash this early in the tournament so much so that the Dallas Maverick has already inserted himself into the discussion with the legendary Brazilian and all-time Olympic basketball scoring leader Oscar Schmidt (who also owns the Olympic single-game record of 55 points) even after just one game.
Those who tuned in to the Slovenia-Argentina game wouldn’t have been faulted if they thought it was the Luka Doncic show as he nearly outscored Argentina by himself on a flurry of layups and stepback 3-pointers. He finished with 31 points at the half, which would have already given him the highest scoring mark in these Olympics so far even if he sat out the second half. If not for the heat checks here and there, his shooting splits (.621/.429/.857) would have all the more been off the charts. Slovenia head coach Aleksander Sekulić was nevertheless right in riding the hot hand of his star player on the way to victory.
Luka’s offensive explosion spilled over to his teammates in the second half, as they found themselves open after Argentina decided that Doncic had to be double-teamed at the minimum. Shooters like Klemen Prepelic (22 points) and Vlatko Cancar (12 points) were among the primary beneficiaries, but it’s Doncic’s connection with center Mike Tobey that proved to be dangerous as well.
The naturalized big man, who fouled out with 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, teamed up with Doncic in doing damage inside. The current center for Valencia Basket played with an energy and effort on the boards that proved to be tough for the shorter Argentenian frontcourt, which was relatively inexperienced yet also included the ageless Luis Scola. Both Doncic and Tobey also connected on a number of plays, with the chemistry they developed during their run in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament proved effective in keeping Argentina’s defense on their toes.
Doncic did a little bit of everything in this game, finishing with 11 rebounds, five assists, and three blocks. Although he also finished the game with six turnovers, this was largely due to his heavy usage rate as both a scorer and playmaker for his teammates. The five assists may be low for his standards, but that number will likely go up with each passing game and the growing confidence of his teammates.
Defending him will also prove to be much harder than the other players used to the NBA’s style of play and officiating considering that his foundation comes from playing in the ACB Liga Endesa, which many consider to be the second-best basketball league in the world.
The 2018-2019 NBA Rookie of the Year’s role on the Slovenian Men’s National Basketball Team is also a far cry from the likes of Kevin Durant or Damian Lillard, so him sitting out for whatever reason will be prime opportunities for when opponents will strike. That he played 31 minutes will also be beneficial for Slovenia’s chances as he gets to rest and avoid any chances of injury. It is especially important since they play in arguably the toughest group in the tournament along with Argentina, Spain, and Japan. Slovenia will face Japan on Thursday, July 29, while they take on Spain to end group play on Sunday, August 1.
With Team USA looking seemingly vulnerable especially after their loss to France, the gold medal race in Men’s Basketball is as wide open as ever.
Given how they manhandled Argentina, who themselves are a potential medal contender, Doncic and Slovenia have now barged into the medal conversation.
It may be hard to fathom given that he is only 22, but Luka Doncic is looking to treat these Tokyo Olympic Games as his coming out party as one of the best player in the world.