After a pre-draft process full of mystery and one of the most celebrated careers by any European basketball prospect ever, Luka Doncic has landed with the Dallas Mavericks after a trade with the Atlanta Hawks.
How did we get here? Trace the young Slovenian star's journey from a year ago until now.
Doncic takes No. 1 spot
After impressing throughout Slovenia's unlikely gold medal run in last fall's EuroBasket championships, Doncic started the basketball year as the top prospect on ESPN Insider Jonathan Givony's board. Givony wrote at the time:
"I think he proved and 'earned' [No. 1] over the course of the EuroBasket, after a somewhat disappointing EuroLeague Final Four in May. As far as the league consensus, every team will see it different I'm sure. A few of them actually might not have scouted him much at all still, certainly not if we're talking about the highest level decision-makers in their organization."
Givony also hinted at the stigma Doncic could face as a European wing with top-pick potential:
"With as small as the world has become, and even though we have more film and information at our fingertips than ever, I still believe that international players are at a disadvantage in the NBA draft process compared with their NCAA peers.
"There is simply a comfort level and a familiarity for NBA teams in scouting college players that internationals don't enjoy. ... Most NBA execs will get over to Europe once or twice, and what if you happen to fall on one or two bad games?"
Nevertheless, Doncic continued to impress through December, posting big numbers his Spanish Liga ACB and EuroLeague seasons, holding the top spot in ESPN's mock drafts and top-100 rankings as inevitable questions persisted about whether he'd actually go No. 1.
"One executive speculates that his peers are more afraid of picking a European bust than an American one, simply because people will make a bigger deal out of it," ESPN's Mina Kimes wrote at the time. "Another says it can be hard to persuade owners, who are quick to bring up names like [Andrea] Bargnani.
More skepticism and contenders emerge
After a January scouting trip to Spain, ESPN Insider Mike Schmitz detailed some of the concerns NBA scouts were expressing about Doncic's ability to translate his European success to the NBA level. The big question marks: a lack of elite athleticism, shaky defensive value and occasionally losing his cool when faced with adversity.
Back in the U.S., Duke's Marvin Bagley III got off to such a hot start to his college season that he moved up to No. 2 on Givony's board. Bagley never unseated Doncic, but by March Arizona's Deandre Ayton claimed that No. 1 prospect title (one he'd never relinquish). Givony wrote:
"All the turmoil around Arizona seems only to have lit a fire underneath Ayton, and he has responded with arguably the best two games of his season.
"After canvassing most of the league in recent weeks, there seems to be somewhat of a consensus forming around Ayton as the 'safe pick' at No. 1. Which team ends up getting the pick will obviously play a role, but Ayton's sheer productivity combined with his freakish physical tools are making it increasingly difficult to keep Luka Doncic up top, especially after a somewhat lackluster month of February by his standards."
Ayton's rise bumped Doncic to No. 2 in the mock drafts and top-100 rankings leading up to April's lottery draw. When the Phoenix Suns won the No. 1 pick, it quickly became clear that Ayton was their top target. So the Sacramento Kings would surely take Doncic at No. 2, right? That's when things got complicated.
Doncic slides down draft boards, ends up in Dallas
In May, Doncic helped lead Real Madrid to a EuroLeague title while claiming Final Four MVP honors. After the game -- and with plenty of questions about his likely NBA destinations swirling -- Doncic wouldn't commit to coming to the U.S. immediately.
"I will tell about all at the right time," he said. "Right now, I just want to celebrate with my team. Soon I will tell."
Doncic could have just been keeping the focus on his current club and teammates, but the quote still struck a chord. Since he's still under contract with Real Madrid, Doncic had leverage. If he didn't want to go to the Kings, Hawks (No. 3) or Memphis Grizzlies (No. 4), he could've threatened to stay in Europe until a trade was orchestrated to a destination of his choosing. However, there's no indication those conversations ever took place.
And after looking like a lock to go No. 1 or No. 2 since October, that no longer looked so certain:
"Doncic's next destination was a focal point of many a conversation over the course of the weekend," Givony wrote from the EuroLeague Final Four. "It still remains to be seen which NBA team will draft him. The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1 -- the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks -- are likely to pass on the European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players."
Over the next month, it started to look more likely Doncic would fall out of the top three and go No. 4 to Memphis, with Atlanta preferring Jaren Jackson Jr. But as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday, Doncic started to separate himself in the Hawks' internal draft conversation.
Then, midday on draft day, Dallas and Atlanta engaged in conversations involving the third and fifth pick. Ultimately, the Hawks drafted Doncic and traded his draft rights to the Mavericks in exchange for a future first-round pick that is lightly protected, sources told ESPN's Tim MacMahon.
"[The Mavericks have] been talking to me," Doncic said on the broadcast after being selected. "They were so nice to me. And I'm glad, you know? Just happy to be in the NBA. Just happy to be a part of that.
"I mean, you know, I have a lot of ex-NBA players on my team. I've played against a lot of ex-NBA players, and I've had some great teammates. They taught me so much. Especially the NBA players, they've been talking to me about the NBA like this whole year ... they knew I was coming. So, I think I'm prepared."
The other half of Dallas' backcourt approves pic.twitter.com/pjWzAqGDRC
- NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 22, 2018