We all love trades on NBA draft night, and not just because they enliven what is often an anticlimactic event. No, the beauty of draft-night trades is that they link two players for perpetuity, thus gifting observers the opportunity to spend the next decade debating all sorts of fun shoulda woulda couldas.
Take Thursday night's intriguing deal between the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks, smitten by the potential of Luka Doncic, gave up a future first-round pick—according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon, it is top-five protected in 2019 and 2020, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022, and unprotected in 2023—to jump two spots and nab Doncic at No. 3. That sent the Hawks down to No. 5, where they drafted former Oklahoma star Trae Young.
It will be at least, oh, a half-decade before we can declare a winner of this deal. But we can attempt to prognosticate which of these two players is more likely to take home next season's Rookie of the Year Award. Oddsmakers currently have Doncic listed at 3-1 to be the 2019 Rookie of the Year, second only to Phoenix Suns big man Deandre Ayton. Young, at 7-1, is fourth.
Why Is Doncic Favored?
Doncic was the more highly touted prospect. Many scouts and analysts had the 6'8" swingman pegged as the top prospect in this draft. He averaged 14.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this season playing for Real Madrid, who he helped lead to a title in Spain's ACB League (widely viewed as the second-best league in the word), and he did all that despite being just 19.
"He's basically a high school kid but was one of the best players in Europe," an NBA scout said prior to the draft. "He can play multiple positions, sees the floor really well and has room to grow on the court and into his body. It's incredible how good he is at this age."
This, no doubt, is one of the reasons the Mavericks had to cough up a future pick with light protection. Once the Sacramento Kings passed on Doncic at No. 2, it's fair to assume the Hawks fielded multiple offers.
Doncic is also jumping into an ideal situation. The Mavericks struggled last year, but they're not the sort of black hole that many early-lottery picks get swept into. Look at their roster and it's easy to envision that Doncic, a prospect whose "position" can best be described as point-forward, will fit in perfectly.
Dallas' head coach, Rick Carlisle, is widely considered one of the league's premier tacticians. The Mavs still have Dirk Nowitzki, a future Hall of Famer, with some gas left in his tank whose passing and shooting make the game easier for those around him. Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes are able to do the majority of the scoring.
Doncic's job will be to simply play his game: Run the floor, move the ball to his shot-makers and make plays.
The Mavericks might not rack up many wins, but most teams featuring Rookie of the Year candidates don't (this past season was an aberration).
Doncic is joining a flawed but talented team that will accentuate all his best qualities. That's not often the case with top prospects.
The Case for Young
On the other hand, we just spent an entire collegiate season seeing what happens when Trae Young is given the ball plus free rein. He's coming off one of the most impressive and explosive seasons in college basketball history, leading the country in both points and assists per game and drilling 118 triples while shooting 36.0 percent.
"His shooting can be special, and his passing can be special," a second NBA scout said before the draft.
The question—as you, Diehard NBA Fan, no doubt know by now—is whether his defense will be strong enough to allow him to remain on the floor. Young wasn't a willing defender in Oklahoma, though to be fair, much of that could be attributed to his having to carry the load on offense.
But he's slim (about 180 pounds) and not very tall (6'2"), long (a 6'3" wingspan, the shortest wingspan at this year's NBA Draft Combine) or strong. That will make him a constant target on the defensive end, which could impact his playing time by forcing him off the floor or into foul trouble.
As of now, Young will also have to either share the ball with or back up incumbent starter Dennis Schroder, Atlanta's leading scorer last year.
The Hawks, according to reports, and also common sense, are likely to shop Schroder this summer. He's due to make $46.5 million over the next three years, a number the rebuilding Hawks would love to get off. But that could also make him tough to deal; there aren't many teams with a glaring need at point guard.
Even if Young's offensive game translates at the next level, there are obstacles in his path that could prevent him from putting up the sort of numbers we'd expect to see from a Rookie of the Year winner. That's not to say he can't take home the award.
It does, however, leave us agreeing with Vegas and believing more in the present of Doncic.