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Trae Young still has a chance to be Rookie of The Year. Yes, I said it.
Luka Doncic stole the show. He was sensational out of the gate. As a 19-year-old, he took the NBA by storm. His Dallas Mavericks started a surprising 15-11 because of his outstanding play, while Young’s Atlanta Hawks started an abysmal 6-20. Since then, the Mavericks are just 11-20, while the Hawks are 13-19. Doncic was a professional player, and an MVP in Europe before he came into the NBA. He had an advantage. Young needed time to get adjusted to playing against grown men.
Not only are Young’s Hawks winning more over the last 32 games, but he’s taken his play to a new level. Over the last 18 games, he’s averaged more than 20 points and dished out 8.4 assists per game. Not to mention, he is now fourth in the entire NBA with 442 assists. That’s more than James Harden and Damian Lillard. He’s 20 years old playing on a team with a lot less talent than those All-Stars!
Speaking of talent, Doncic came into an NBA-ready basketball team. Its coach, Rick Carlisle, is an NBA Champion. Lloyd Pierce, the coach of the Hawks, is in his first season at the helm of an NBA team. The Mavericks’ starting lineup also featured DeAndre Jordan, a former All-NBA first-team member, Harrison Barnes, a key player on a championship team and a young stud in Dennis Smith Jr. Let’s not forget they also had an abundance of role players in J.J. Barea, Dwight Powell, Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews. Unfortunately, a lot of those players have been traded in the last 15 days, but most of the season that is whom Doncic had to work with. They were a team trying to make the playoffs this season, until very recently.
This is not to take anything away from Doncic. In my eyes, he is a future Hall of Famer. He’s that good. However, the start of his NBA career was set up for much more success than Young’s. Professional basketball experience, a solid supporting cast and an NBA championship organization. The Hawks cannot say the same about their past. They were the worst team in the NBA last season, and from 1971-2018, they’ve been to the Eastern Conference Finals just one time.
Back on Nov. 19, when Young put up an outstanding 25 points and 17 assists against the Clippers in just his 17th NBA game, LA coach Doc Rivers had high praise.
“He’s tough,” Rivers told reporters. “Man, he’s really good. Really tough. You know it’s funny, he’s slight, but very physical for a guard that’s slight. He’s gonna be really good.
“The more talent you put around Trae the better he’s gonna get. The sky’s the limit.”
Even in a small sample size, Rivers has been proven correct. On that night, it was only John Collins’ second game of the season after missing the first 15 because of injury. It’s no surprise Collins, who is putting up more than 19 points and 9 rebounds a game, has helped Young’s recent dominance.
Young and the Hawks aren’t going anywhere, they’re not the typical lottery-bound team. They don’t take losing well. They started 6-20 during their first 26 games, improved to 13-19 over their last 32 games and I wouldn’t put it past them to make even more improvement in their final 24 games.
This year’s Rookie of The Year award won’t define either player. It never does. However, it’s going to be an ultra-competitive finish. Doncic has proven to be everything he could be right out the gate, but Young needed time to begin thriving.
Sometimes, it’s the tortoise that beats the hare in the race.