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Did We Call the Luka Doncic-Trae Young Debate Too Early?

By Stephen Douglas
Mar 17, 2021, 1:05 PM EDT
Luka Doncic and Trae Young
Luka Doncic and Trae Young | Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
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The Dallas Mavericks traded up from the fifth pick to the third pick to select Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Atlanta Hawks then took Trae Young with the fifth pick and the two players would forever be connected thanks to that draft-night trade. And from the moment the picks were in, it seemed like the Mavs had won and the Hawks had lost, but did everyone speak too soon?

As I write this, Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks are 20-20, sitting in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are 20-18, sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference.

The stats also suggest it's pretty close. Doncic is averaged 28 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and a steal. Young is averaging 26 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and a little over half a steal. Doncic takes three more shots and attempts one more three a game. Young is shooting .025 percent better from three and has a higher true shooting percentage.

Doncic is a 22-year-old two-time All-Star. Young is a 22-year-old one-time All-Star. Between the two of them they have won zero playoff series, but both will probably get that chance in the play-in round this season.

Yes, it's small sample size, but so was crowning Luka as the best player since LeBron James after one historically great season. And this isn't to say that Luka isn't awesome and will continue to be awesome and can't someday win championships in Dallas. It just seems that Trae Young also happens to be an awesome young player and it's impossible to tell what he's capable of if the Hawks build the right team around him.

The biggest knock against Young will continue to be that he's too small to be the guy that Luka is expected to be. Maybe that's true, but that doesn't mean he can't be a championship-caliber player as well.

The Raptors won with 6-foot Kyle Lowry. In his third season, he was averaging 7 points per game. The Warriors won a bunch of titles with 6-foot-3 Stephen Curry. In Curry's third season he was dealing with injuries, averaging 14 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds per game. That was Steph's first season with Klay Thompson and last with Monta Ellis. The next year he got healthy and turned into Stephen Curry.

And what about the teams that lost out on these guys? Well, there were no real busts in the top of that draft. Deandre Ayton (#1), Marvin Bagley III (#2) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (#4) have all turned out to be capable big men whose ceilings remain unknown. Ayton is suddenly playing for one of the top teams in the NBA and could end up being the first guy from their draft class to win a title. Would Phoenix have suddenly made the right pick as Young and Doncic play their way into the Hall of Fame?

The point is, Trae Young is scoring a lot of them. Luka too. Exactly how much does Young have to accomplish in his career, compared to Luka, for this to be considered an even match? So far it seems pretty close.

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