Luka Doncic

Andrew Dieb/USA Today Sports

Luka Doncic a reminder of what Celtics are missing with fellow No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown

John Tomase
January 04, 2019 - 2:01 pm
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There will be four No. 3 overall NBA draft picks on the floor tonight when the Celtics face the Mavericks, and the most recent one might have the highest upside of all.

No one was exactly sure what to make of teenaged Euro star Luka Doncic when the Hawks selected him with the third pick in last year's draft before immediately shipping him to the Mavericks. He was considered an elite playmaker and scorer in the positionless tradition of today's NBA who perhaps lacked the athleticism to thrive here, especially on defense.

Not even halfway through his rookie year, Doncic has justified the hype. The 19-year-old is averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and five assists a night for a Mavericks team that is already two-thirds of the way to last year's win total of 24.

At 18-19, the Mavs rank 10th in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot. Doncic is a prime factor in their move up the standings, playing 32 minutes a night with plenty of experience draining big shots for EuroLeague champs Real Madrid.

The 6-foot-7 Slovenian plays with the sly confidence and joy of someone who's used to beating older, more seasoned competition. His game is classic Euro -- stutter steps, misdirection, step-backs, clever finishes inside. He never looks like he's moving particularly quickly, and then he dunks in traffic.

The other No. 3 picks in Friday's game all wear green. Al Horford went third in 2007 and has put together a heck of a career, earning five All-Star appearances and a max contract from Boston. Jayson Tatum was last year's third pick, and he looks like a future All-Star, too, averaging 16 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.

The last one has turned out to be a bit problematic. The Celtics picked Jaylen Brown third in 2016 and after a breakout postseason, he has regressed. While Tatum possesses All-Star upside and Doncic superstar upside, Brown must overcome some serious flaws: poor ball-handling, court vision, and decision-making, as well as an inconsistent shooting stroke.

He's not a lost cause, especially given his athleticism and defensive potential, but he's looking more like a role player than even necessarily a starter on a championship team, and the disparity in his potential vs. the last two No. 3 picks will be on display tonight.

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