Luka Doncic and Trae Young went No. 3 overall and No. 5 overall, respectively, in the 2018 NBA Draft. Both were obviously quite talented, but there were questions about Doncic's ability to adjust to the NBA without elite athleticism and Young's ability to overcome his lack of size on both ends of the floor.
By the end of last season, it was abundantly clear they were the two best players in that draft, bar none. Doncic averaged 21 points, six assists, and seven rebounds per game, while Young put up 19 points with eight assists per game. They both had their share of jaw-dropping plays, and while Doncic's wire-to-wire excellence earned him the Rookie of the Year trophy, Young's second half was good enough that there was an argument to be made that he deserved it.
With all of that in mind, it shouldn't come as a shock that both have gotten off to scalding starts to begin their sophomore campaigns, and the fact that the traditional second-year slump does not appear to apply to them. Doncic has nearly averaged a triple-double through seven games: 26.7 points with 9.1 assists and 9.9 rebounds. He went toe-to-toe with LeBron James with a 31/15/13 statline, then went out two nights later and put up 29/15/14. Some of the passes he's making are two or three steps ahead of the defense, and as a reminder, he is 20 years old.
Young, meanwhile, was sidelined for a game and a half with an ankle sprain, but has had a similarly impressive start. He's averaging 24.2 points with 7.5 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from deep on 7.7 attempts per contest. He's been active on the defensive end, which is a plus, but he just looks fully comfortable and in command of this offense. He was already an other-worldly passer coming out of Oklahoma, and now that he recognizes NBA defenses and has adjusted to the speed of the game, he's dropping dimes every other possession.
The fascinating thing about these two guys is that neither of them are the strongest, biggest, or fastest players out there. Neither of them are particularly lights-out from beyond the arc, either, which serves as the usual method of overcoming athletic deficiencies; Doncic only shot 32 percent from deep last season and has continued on that trend, and while Young has a reputation as a sharpshooter and got off to a hot start this season, he also only hit 32 percent of his threes in his rookie year.
Their success comes from a high level of skill and a deep understanding of where both teammates and opponents are at any given time. While athleticism will always be at a premium for NBA teams, the pair of Doncic and Young should force franchises to weigh their levels of skills a bit more evenly than in the past. Nikola Jokic will always serve as the trail-blazer of sorts in that regard, as someone who looks like your mailman but is a better passer than 99 percent of his fellow players who are all built like gods. But he was a happy accident as a second-round pick who nobody could've predicted would become a top-10 player. Doncic and Young, on the other hand, were top-five picks, and burdened with the expectations that come with it.
Every team has guys who can jump out of the gym. But it usually takes a bit for them to get acclimated to the game, and generally don't have counters to the fact that they're going up against a team of athletes just like them for the first time in their lives. Doncic and Young destroying every team they come across will serve as an interesting case study for how teams value skill vs. physical attributes moving forward.