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A Midseason Luka Dončić/Trae Young Comparison

Checking in on the Mavs/Hawks Draft Day Trade

When the Mavericks and Hawks swapped prospects on draft night, basketball fans knew Trae Young and Luka Dončić would be forever linked. 

Let’s take a look at the early returns of the draft-day trade for both teams, and why an overall “winner” of the trade can’t be decided just yet. 

Starting with Young, his arrival in the NBA has been highly anticipated ever since his days of pulling up from 30+ feet and nailing clutch three-point bombs at Oklahoma. The college sensation was the sole reason a flawed Oklahoma team even made the NCAA tournament last March, and in the time since arriving in Atlanta, he’s shown signs of both major promise and major concern.

Averaging 16 PPG and just over seven assists, Young has been the Hawks’ second-leading scorer behind forward John Collins. He can certainly provide some offense when he’s at his best, and comparisons to Steph Curry coming out of college were warranted, as the rookie has an extremely deep range, excellent ball handling, and an ability to create shots for teammates. 

However, Young and his teammates have struggled to win games in an improved Eastern Conference. Atlanta simply loses too many close games with Young as the primary ball handler. His scoring output is decent, but it’s not being done with nearly enough efficiency for him to be considered a true impact player. We all know Young has the ability to stretch the floor, but Young’s stroke has become a little less silky smooth under the bright lights of the NBA

He’s shooting under 30% from three point range, which is atrocious for a shooter of his caliber. In addition, he’s shooting below 40% from the field and ranks 199th in the league in player efficiency rating (12.8) as of Jan. 20. Young’s shot selection has also been poor. Highlight real shots from deep don’t go down as often in the pros, where defenses play tighter and use film study to make him score with the weakest parts of his game. His slight frame and lack of physicality make it hard for him to finish amongst the trees in the paint while also making him a target on defense. 

Don’t get it twisted; Young’s game-breaking shooting potential and confidence are still there. Flash performances like his 35-point night against Cleveland—during which he drained six three-pointers show why he was a first-round prospect, but it’s clear that the sniper is going through an adjustment period in his first season in the NBA. He certainly has a knack for putting the ball in the bucket, but he needs to learn to do so more efficiently and with less turnovers (4.1 per game).

Many fans would argue that because of Young and his team’s early struggles, the Mavericks got the better end of the deal and the better prospect. The clear frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award, Dončić had more experience playing professionally and more maturity coming into the draft, having played in the EuroLeague for three seasons before making the jump to the NBA. He was also the safer prospect with more versatility and size, and it shows on the court. 

While Young has shown the typical signs of a rookie working to adjust to the league, Dončić has been comfortable from the start.

He’s been nothing short of sensational in his rookie season, scoring an even 20 PPG to go along with 6 RPG and 5 APG — outstanding numbers for a rookie player. Highlight real plays haven’t been hard to come by for Dončić, who’s game best resembles a young Manu Ginobili, as he often uses his handle and playmaking ability to get  to his sweet spots on the court or create shots for a teammate. The typical Luka Dončić game leaves the viewer asking themselves “how did he do that?” Whether he knifes to the basket for a key bucket inside in the face of good help defense or somehow finds an open teammate in what should have been too much traffic to navigate, Dončić has made it clear he can hang with the world’s best ballers. Add in a mean step-back jumper that rivals James  Harden’s, and you’ve got a real problem for defenses to try and solve. 

Dončić gets good high-percentage shots (43.2 FG%) for himself and others as the Mavericks often find themselves running their offense through the Slovenian. Furthermore, while he’s no lockdown defender by any stretch of the imagination, he’s at least not a defensive liability like Young. 

Just to put icing on the cake, despite Young’s famous shooting stroke, Dončić’s shooting the three pointer better and more intelligently than Young this season (36.6%), and he’s already had four games of 30 or more points and hit the 20-point mark 25 times.

With a PER nearly six points higher than Young’s (18.7) and a more well-rounded game with less holes, Dončić has taken a team that was originally slated to have a rebuilding year and given them a legitimate shot at the playoffs in a ridiculously tight western conference playoff race. He’s reinvigorated an entire fan base and organization in Dallas, and provided a potential new face of the franchise as Dirk Nowitzki nears the end of his hall of fame career. 

So case closed right? Atlanta “lost the trade”. Well…not so fast. 

We’ve seen many of the game’s greats get off to slower starts than Young. Kobe Bryant averaged 7.6 PPG in his rookie season and didn’t crack the starting lineup. Harden managed just 9.9 PPG off the Oklahoma City bench in his rookie season, and the great Steve Nash averaged a whopping 3 PPG and two assists when he initially entered the NBA

The reality is that players develop and adjust overtime and in turn, the league’s adjusts to the player. Dončić could continue on this trajectory next year and become a future perennial All Star, or he could have a sophomore slump. Young could explode next season and help the Hawks sneak into the playoffs or fade in his sophomore season as the lights get brighter and expectations for him to progress begin to take their toll on his psyche. 

We won’t know who “won” this trade until well into the future, but Dončić and the Mavericks have certainly been a match made in heaven through the first half of the season. 

It’s still too early, but at this moment, it’s hard not to cringe at every bad shot Trae Young takes, and marvel at every Ginobili-esque highlight Dončić gifts to SportsCenter. 

Edited by Brian Kang, Jazmyn Brown.

What EuroLeague team did Luka Dončić play for?
Created 1/21/19
  1. Zalgiris Kaunus
  2. FC Barcelona
  3. Real Madrid
  4. Dallas Mavericks

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