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FIBA EXCLUSIVE: Slovenia Coach Aleksander Sekulic Talks Luka Doncic Strategies & More

Slovenia head coach Aleksander Sekulic spoke to in a 1-on-1 interview to discuss some of the intricacies of coaching Mavs' Luka Doncic.

MANILA, Philippines — During the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Slovenia faced a tall task to achieve the seventh-place finish the team ultimately ended up with. With Vlatko Cancar and Edo Muric both sidelined due to injuries, there was a lot to overcome despite having an all-world talent in Luka Doncic

With Slovenia not having a full roster, head coach Aleksander Sekulic had to get creative in how the team played, and he spoke about his strategies in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with Doncic, who finished the World Cup averaging 27.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 2.5 steals, had to spend more time on the wing due to the lack of depth created by injuries.

"That's why I think Luka is an amazing player because you can use him, like you said, like you saw it today, as a ball screener or screener," Sekulic told after Slovenia’s win over Italy. "We take advantage of this because teams want to play matchups, so we try to force mismatches, and if there's no mismatches, they're going to make some mistakes.”

Among the methods Slovenia utilized in the 89-85 win against Italy — the team's final match of the World Cup — was to have Doncic be a ball screener, as Sekulic pointed out, in the second quarter. With the defense not wanting to switch to avoid giving Doncic a mismatch, it created openings for the offense to attack. He later was used as the back-screener in Spain pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter. 

"[Against Italy] we were successful in this," Sekulic explained. "Sometimes you're not, but today we succeeded in this. And Luka, without any doubt, he took these ideas as good ones, and he just adapted to the situation on the court."

With Doncic spending more time beginning possessions off the ball at the World Cup, Slovenia looked to deploy him in various off-ball screening actions. Whether he was receiving a cross-screen to put a small guard into an action before a post-up, playing out of a handoff in a Zoom action, or receiving a double-wide or single-wide pindown after starting in the corner, Doncic puts a lot of pressure on a defense in these actions. 


"I realized during the games, the play, I realized that Luka is an amazing off-screen player. He reads deep and so good, so we try to take advantage of this," Sekulic said of Doncic's impact as a handoff and off-screen threat. "With his size, with his court vision, intelligence, and skills, he can be a killer."

Sekulic noted that teams played with a significant amount of physicality against Doncic — making it difficult to achieve the intended value of the off-screen actions that the team utilized more against the opposition. As a result, the team had to mix up the approach utilized. 

"What happened to us — teams played very physical. If you ask me, there were a lot of fouls on him, and so it was tough for him to get open on these off-screen actions because it was so much contact every time, which I believe was more or less illegal contact. So we had to improvise or change some ideas."

When asked about playing more off-ball during preparation games before the start of the World Cup, Doncic acknowledged that it's currently something he's exploring. He noted the benefits primarily to gain rest by reducing his workload as the initiator and was confident it'll benefit him.

"I think it's exploring," Doncic said of playing more off-ball. "It gives me a little more rest trying to play off-ball. It's something new, but obviously, it's going to come good to me."

It doesn't take long to notice Doncic's impressive ability to accept a double team, hold possession of the ball, and manipulate the weak-side defense using his eyes to create an opening for a teammate using no-look passes. It becomes challenging for a defense to blitz or hard double when the weak side has to guard 2-with-1, leaving the unit vulnerable to Doncic's no-look passing.

"This ability he has, it's not high level but beyond that. First, he has skills, second, he has amazing court vision; third, he has unbelievable basketball IQ," Sekulic said. "He sees everything."

Sekulic noticed Doncic's advanced court vision and poise in handling double teams back when he was an assistant coach in 2017 — at the time, Doncic was just 18 or 19 years old. When paired with the crafty handle at the point of attack, the overall pace, and finishing footwork that the Slovenian superstar showed at an early age, it was clear there was a special talent in their midst. 

"How early I realized I saw this when I was assistant coach in 2017. He was just 18 or 19 years old when he won the EuroBasket. Igor Kokoshkov was the head coach. After that, he was playing for us in the pre-Olympic and Olympic tournaments. And after that, he just showed all of this. This is when I realized — when I saw him every day in practice and the games, what capability he has. He has a huge capacity."

One of the luxuries a coach has when attacking a defense in an offense led by Doncic is the threat of his incredible size for a guard — enabling him to pair his finishing footwork, short-range touch, patience, and passing vision into a post-up threat that can terrify a defense. A standard-sized guard is essentially a walking mismatch for him. When playing more on the wing, it doesn't take long to pressure the defense with screening actions to get a smaller player on him. However, Doncic can attack big players in the post, too. 

"It's just amazing what we have," Sekulic said of the threat Doncic poses in the post. "What we did change this year was we used him as a secondary ball-handler more than point guard. Mostly because he wanted to have it fresh when he plays and creates because he's playing as a point guard; they press him full-court, so he loses a lot of energy here. That's why we tried to use him on a post where, again, his size and everything else he brings are utilized. Then, he can find open players, and he can score in multiple ways.

"As you saw, he can go all the way, go for a fadeaway, he can have all sorts of finishes," Sekulic explained. "So this is just amazing what we have. We try to take advantage of this, and also, the team becomes much better when he can create. We like to try to put him in the situation again."

Another aspect of Doncic's on-court value is the extension of the coaching staff he can serve when instructing fellow players. He did more of this as Slovenia's captain. An example that stood out was encouraging Bine Prepelic not to hesitate on the catch when spacing the floor. Early in the tournament, Doncic pointed out the need for this to change. In Slovenia's final match against Italy, Prepelic received an extended opportunity and was noticeably more willing to let it fly quickly. 

"Yeah, that's unbelievable," Sekulic said of Doncic's on-court leadership. "You have a player with the qualities like this, and then with the leadership he possesses — not only the way he plays but the way he communicates with the players to improve them. This is just amazing. It's an easy job for me."