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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 22, 2024

Weidner's Words: Changing perceptions


Luka Dončić has had a breakout rookie year thus far, revitalizing a Dallas Mavericks fan base that hasn’t had this level of excitement since Dirk Nowitzki willed his team to the 2011 NBA championship with a performance for the ages. Dončićhas created a highlight reel full of lobs to DeAndre Jordan and stepback threes that make Atlanta Hawks fans cry.

His fast start has left many confused as to why the Hawks traded away the rights to Dončić to get Trae Young, or even why the Suns passed on him for Deandre Ayton. Dončić was coming into the draft as one of the most highly accomplished and highly rated players in recent memory. He was the youngest player to ever win EuroLeague MVP, playing in a professional league that has more athletic and experienced players than any college conference.

Yet, despite all of these accomplishments, he still faced the same classic criticisms that all European players entering the league face. People claimed that he wasn’t athletic enough, that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace of NBA play. It has become a tired old comparison, as literally every European player runs into it.

For some reason the Atlanta Hawks' general manager, Travis Schlenk, felt more comfortable going away from the recommendations of most scouts and choosing a player fresh off a second half of his first season at Oklahoma filled with shooting struggles.

It’s interesting to look at why scouts and general managers still hold so many of these biases. Some people might think that because basketball isn’t as big of a sport in Europe, then the best athletes might be more likely to play a more popular sport like soccer. Others might try to claim that the European leagues don’t offer as much development or competition as in the United States. Lastly, there are the vast number of comparisons to European busts that happen every year. Recent examples like Dragan Bender get talked about, as do older players like Darko Miličić, and fans get terrified every year about repeating the same mistake.

It often feels as if general managers make their decisions more for the sake of appealing to their fans than making decisions based on what they actually think.

A few cherrypicked examples have created an entire perception of players from Europe, even though busts seem to come just as frequently out of America and the NCAA university system. Dončić has come out strong this year, and players like the Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen and New York Knicks' Frank Ntilikina from past drafts are making a name for themselves, as well. More and more players from European leagues are proving their doubters wrong, and it makes you wonder how much longer those critics will remain.