Luka Doncic had the Rookie of the Year award locked up by the All-Star break. The European didn’t miss a beat after capturing a EuroLeague title and MVP award at the age of 18, recording numbers that put him in a category with some of the best rookie seasons ever. Despite that, a slight slip up in production in the second half coupled by the magnificent last two months of play from Trae Young has this year’s Rookie of the Year race rivaling the one from a year ago between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons.
Young has been must-watch television since the All-Star break, dropping 30 points and 10 assists several times, recording a triple-double, and hitting multiple game winners. He’s averaging 25.2 points and 9.0 assists on 44.6% in his last 21 games. For any basketball fan, it’s been a treat to watch. However, the Rookie of the Year Award is given for a full season of work, and the numbers say Luka Doncic has been slightly better.
Trae Young: 19.0 points, 8.1 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 41.9 FG%, 32.7% 3PT-FG%, 53.9% TS, 16.9 PER
Luka Doncic: 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 42.7 FG%, 32.6% 3PT-FG%, 54.5% TS, 19.5 PER
Doncic holds a minuscule yet insurmountable lead this late in the season. ESPN gives the Slovenian native a 98% chance that he wins Rookie of the Year. Vegas isn’t showing Trae Young much respect in the race either. Doncic is going to win the award. There is nothing wrong with that; Hawks fans should not care.
It doesn’t matter that Doncic averaged a couple more points this season; his team got one more win; he made one more shot than Trae did, and had a few more rebounds. You don’t have to remind me on Twitter every time I talk about Trae Young that Luka Doncic is Rookie of the Year. It will not bother me one bit when Doncic does indeed take home the award; he deserved it.
Five years from now it’s not going to matter anyway, and as Trae Young has attempted to tell the basketball community time and time again, he’s going to be the best player from this draft class.
I’d argue that Young is already a better player, but if he’s not yet, he will be in due time. While Doncic began the year looking like he’d been a professional for five years, there’s no disputing he’s plateaued as the season has played out. There is no shame in that; Doncic continues to put up record-breaking rookie figures, but it has allowed Trae Young to catch up.
The Oklahoma product had his moments to begin the season in October followed by a painful November. That one month will cost him the Rookie of the Year Award, and there was a little more to it then Young transitioning to the NBA level.
The Hawks came into the year with virtually no proven talent. The closest thing to that was John Collins. There were high hopes for him, and he’s had a breakout season, but Collins did not make his debut until late November and was on a minutes restriction when he returned. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie point guard to be the focal point of an offense in general, but especially when there are little to no offensive weapons around him.
Since Collins’ arrival, every facet of Young’s game has seen positive development. His shooting, as expected, has come around. He hasn’t had a true-shooting percentage below 55.8% since the calendar turned to 2019, displaying the ability to make it from well beyond the three-point line but also a nice floater in the lane that is almost impossible to defend when he’s in the pick-and-roll.
Why? Because his passing makes him a probable candidate to average ten assists in a season, and he might be the best at throwing lobs in the league. Even his ability to manage games while reducing turnovers is a night and day difference compared to the beginning of the season.
Through the highs and the lows of Young’s rookie season, his confidence, which is a benefit he attests to all the work he has put in, has not wavered.
“My confidence has always been there. I don’t know where it came from. I think it came from always being in a basketball family,” Young said. “I’ve done some crazy things on the court. When I was in a game, I put the ball in between my legs and acted like I was shooting a layup. I’ve done things in games that have never been done just because I have so much confidence in myself and when I play.”
Young did pull off the fake layup with the ball between his legs in high school (Youtube it, it’s incredible). The rookie has shown time and time again he’s not afraid to try anything on the court. Whether it’s tossing a lob from 70 feet, or fake behind the back passes, to moves that don’t even have names yet; Young’s endless hours in the gym have allowed him to do things nobody else has done. But what puts Young above the other wannabe superstars that have worn the Hawks jersey since Dominque Wilkins is his genuine killer attitude.
Trae Young remembers what his doubters were saying when he came out high school and the so-called “scouts” that said he’d never make it in the NBA. It doesn’t bother him, but he remembers.
“That’s up to them if they believe I should be here,” Young said. “For me, I’m going to remember everything everybody says. That’s something that I’ll always have and that’s the reason I play so hard and with so much passion because I remember everything. It motivates me, so I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing people say that stuff.”
Young admitted he does have certain screenshots saved on his phone for a little extra push when he needs it. He didn’t forget about what Ben Simmons said regarding Luka Doncic being the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year last week. After Young torched the Sixers for 33 points and 12 assists in a Hawks’ win on Wednesday night, he responded with, “Maybe he thinks differently now.”
As things stand, Young has the game to match Doncic, and there is still plenty of areas in which he can tidy up. The rising star says he’s working on getting stronger and that it will be a focal point this offseason. But where Youngs tips the scales is with his mindset. Nobody is stopping this 20-year old from getting where he’s going.
The Mavericks can have Luca Doncic; they can have the Rookie of the Year award. The Hawks have Trae Young, and they do not even need Dallas’ draft pick to win the trade. Who cares who wins the Rookie of The Year? It will only serve as some extra motivation for the Hawks’ budding superstar.