Being traded for each other on draft night meant one guarantee for Luka Doncic and Trae Young: their careers would forever be compared.
The Atlanta Hawks selected Luka Doncic with the third overall pick last summer, but ended up trading him to the Dallas Mavericks in order to select Trae Young and obtain a future first round draft pick. While Young was a sure-fire lottery pick, some questioned the decision to trade an established overseas star prospect for him.
For much of this season, Doncic seemed to have the Rookie of the Year award locked up. The Mavs didn’t have huge expectations, especially in the loaded West, but found themselves in the playoff picture for a small portion of the season. They’ve since fallen to the bottom of the West with a record of 29-46, but Doncic has shined all year.
Doncic’s game quickly translated to the NBA, firing step-back threes and getting to the rim with herky-jerky handles. Cool Hand Luka has had highlight after highlight, while averaging 21.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.
Wonder Boy immediately looked like a star in the making, causing fans and analysts to criticize the Atlanta Hawks for letting the Slovenian go so easily. But as the season progressed, Atlanta looked to have a star in their own right.
Since the All-Star break, Young has averaged 25.8 points per game and 9 assists while getting 40.5 percent of his threes to fall. He even dropped 49 points and 16 assists on the Chicago Bulls in a quadruple-overtime thriller. Atlanta is still a bad team, sitting at 12th in the East, but they have a solid, promising core led by Young.
Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, along with another high draft pick this summer can make some noise in the near future. Young has a lot to work on (cough, defense) if he’s going to lead this squad going forward, but with his recent play, has eradicated the idea that the Hawks got fleeced in the draft night trade.
Comparing averages, Doncic has the advantage in points and rebounds, while Young has more assists per game. Young’s tendency to launch shots from way behind the three-point line in college resulted in Stephen Curry comparisons, which hurt Young’s stock as he struggled to shoot earlier this year.
With that said, passing may be the former Oklahoma Sooner’s best attribute. His vision and ability to squeeze the ball in through tight windows galvanize the Hawks’ offense and make Young a constant offensive threat.
But with a much bigger frame and more polished game, Doncic may have the higher ceiling as a player. Having been a pro since 2015, it shows every time Luka steps on the floor — the ability to score at will, the smarts to run a Rick Carlisle offense, the clutch factor — Doncic has it all.
Both are well on their way to becoming great NBA players, but barring a Jason Kidd-Grant Hill situation, there can only be one Rookie of the Year.
Even though Young has Donovan Mitchell’s, Kyle Kuzma’s and Blake Griffin’s votes for Rookie of the Year via Twitter, I would still give the award to Doncic. Doncic has had the better overall season, while Young has had an explosive second half.
Doncic is likely to finish the season averaging over 20 points a game, something a rookie hasn’t done since Rookie of the Year winner, Blake Griffin in 2011. The year before that, Tyreke Evans averaged 20.1 points and also won the award. With Kristaps Porzingis set to return next season and a full offseason to train, Doncic may be able to show out even more in his second year.
As cliche as it sounds, the real winner here is NBA fans — both Doncic and Young are going to be stars in the league soon enough and are must-watch television. Both have had tremendous rookie seasons, but there’s only one reward to give. If it were up to me, I’d give it to Luka Doncic.