When the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks executed their 2018 draft night swap that netted them Trae Young and Luka Doncic, respectively, it was clear the two would be compared to each other for the rest of their careers.
Doncic and Young were regarded as two of the best guards in that draft, and they easily lived up to that billing throughout their respective rookie seasons. Both proved that they are franchise cornerstones, incredibly gifted shooters with a remarkable ability to distribute the ball. While Doncic emerged the victor, both he and Young vied for the Rookie of the Year award for much of the season.
Now, in their sophomore campaigns, the two have once again put their talents on full display. Through three games, Doncic has averaged 29.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 7.3 assists, already with a triple-double and one assist off of another for Dallas. He also managed to make some history; Doncic registered the most points in a season opener by any player under 21-years-old.
Meanwhile, Young has been just as impressive for Atlanta as he has averaged 38.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists this season through three games. In those games, Young combined for 102 points and 27 assists; Oscar Robertson (1965-66), Tiny Archibald (1972-73), Allen Iverson (2006-2007) and Russell Westbrook (2016-17) are the only other players in NBA history to record those numbers through three games to start the season.
At the end of the day, many fans wanted to define the draft day swap as a win-lose deal. But, unfortunately for them, Doncic and Young have done everything to prove that that just isn’t the case.
Trae Young’s Impact
At the 2018 NBA Draft, Atlanta passed on the opportunity to take Doncic and have him lead their franchise into the future. Instead, Travis Schlenk and the Hawks elected to trade back with the Mavericks, from No. 3 to No. 5, took Young and picked up a 2019 first (which became Cameron Reddish) for their trouble.
Considered a gutsy, if not risky, move at the time, in hindsight it was a great move for the team.
“I have to be honest, but I didn’t think Luka would be this good,” said Tony Ressler, the Hawks’ majority owner, before their second game of the season. “I didn’t think Trae was going to be this good. They are both better than I expected.”
“I think they’re both really special players and have a shot to be for a long time if they stay focused.”
In Young’s case, Ressler just may be right. Through three games, his second-year point guard has shot 51.5 percent from the field and 52 percent from three-point range, a major leap from his rookie season 41.8 percent and 32.4 percent numbers, respectively. Of course, Young may be hard-pressed to sustain those numbers, but he has shown to be a dominant offensive force and defenses have taken notice.
Defenses have blitzed and trapped Young on a nightly basis, but the extra pressure has done little to stand in his way. While he has 18 turnovers through three games, Young has been poised from the point of attack and has a natural feel for how to counter his matchups, one that defies his lack of experience. He has also taken advantage of defensive lapses; on more than one occasion, Young has kept his dribble when help defenders fake a double team, only to maneuver himself into space where he can take a shot or drive to the basket.
Young has also been efficient in his pick-and-roll sets and has a great feel for when to reject or take a screen.
Between his improved shot efficiency and his since removed penchant for bad shots, Young has taken his game to another level, one that should put him in the conversation for an All-Star nod this season and have the Hawks on the postseason bubble.
Luka Doncic’s Impact
It was apparent from the start that Doncic was a special player.
As a rookie, Doncic splashed as expected, but was even better than anyone could have predicted. He posted the most triple-doubles of any rookie in NBA history, had one of the highest usage rates in the league and ended his first campaign as the Rookie of the Year.
Through this season’s first three games, Doncic has somehow looked even better; the 20-year-old’s numbers speak for themselves as he has impressed in every facet of the game. And, paired with his new teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, Doncic should benefit mightily from the decreased burden in terms of his efficiency and stamina.
Speaking of stamina, Doncic prioritized his cardio this offseason in an effort to log at least 30 minutes per game. And, so far, the extra effort has shown; through three games, Doncic has averaged 35.7 minutes. And, while the Mavericks would hope to lean on both their stars, they are expected to handle Porzingis, coming off a two-season injury, with immense care in terms of load management, which should lead to a lot of games with a high-usage Doncic.
Like Young, Doncic has proven adept at manipulating opposing defenses. He has also proven brash, as, after their first game, Doncic guaranteed a postseason appearance for Dallas.
And, for the first time since 2004, the Mavericks won their first two games to start the season. Whether his prediction comes true or not, that’s a good start.
The Hawks future is bright — between Reddish, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and De’Andre Hunter, Atlanta has more than a surplus of talent — but Young is their core’s centerpiece and its key. Likewise, Doncic is the Mavericks future and, along with Porzingis, should rein in a new, post-Dirk Nowitzki era in Dallas.
Both should prove time and time again that they are two of the best and brightest the NBA has to offer. And, hopefully, they both do for a very, very long time.