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Luka Doncic or Trae Young: Who will win Rookie of the Year?

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic were destined for rivalry the minute Atlanta and Dallas made the draft night trade last summer. It is fitting that the pair are the two candidates for NBA Rookie of the Year under 12 months later.

Doncic was the runaway favourite for the award in the opening months of the season. His deadly stepbacks and pinpoint passing kept the Mavericks in contention. Dallas had struck gold.

Young started slowly, struggling from three-point range. He hit under 20% of his shots from beyond the arc in November and was below 35% in every month bar February. As a creator, though, he thrived. Turnovers were an issue throughout the year, but decision making improved in the late-winter months. He finished with 8.1 assists per game.

The second half of the season saw the narrative change. The Mavericks traded for an injured Kristaps Porzingis and sent Harrison Barnes to Sacramento, resulting in a drop down the Western Conference standings. The Hawks showed signs of life, led by Young and John Collins.

Young took centre stage with a record matched only by Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, as he became the third rookie to have consecutive games of 35 points and five assists. Young scored 49 with 16 assists and eight boards in the following game.


As the Mavericks faded, so did Doncic. The physical battering of an NBA regular season took its toll on the young Slovenian and shots stopped falling (he hit 22.5% of his threes in March and 30.6% in January). His usage rate increased month-by-month as injuries and roster turnover increased Dallas’ Doncic dependency. Keeping up his stunning start was unlikely, but his 2019 struggles opened the door for Young in the Rookie of the Year conversation.

Defence has been a concern for both players. Dallas had to hide Doncic at times despite his size. The 6’2” Young is at a disadvantage in plenty of matchups. Rookies with this offensive talent often take time to develop on the other end, and that’s definitely something to watch as Doncic and Young look to make the transition from rookies to All-Stars in 2019/20.

Points (per 36) Rebounds (per 36) Assists (per 36) Turnovers (per 36) Three-point percentage Effective field goal percentage Free throw percentage
Trae Young 22.3 4.3 9.4 4.4 32.4 48 82.9
Luka Doncic 23.7 8.7 6.7 3.8 32.7 49.7 71.3

There’s no doubt these are the top two rookies. Young gives everyone around the Hawks reason to be incredibly optimistic about their future, and Atlanta could well be a playoff team next year. His second half of the season produced some magical performances and moments (the buzzer-beating floater against Philadelphia comes to mind).

Doncic’s body of work across the year gives him the edge in Rookie of the Year. His numbers speak for themselves, even with some of his winter struggles. He was, having dominated in Europe, as well prepared as any rookie could be for the NBA. He had a developmental head start.

Atlanta and Dallas can be delighted with the trade, though the deal cannot be properly evaluated for several years, once we know exactly who Young and Doncic will be. The sky is the limit for both players, and they may well be competing for hardware in the future.

The fact there is a discussion about Rookie of the Year is remarkable considering how it looked in late 2018. Doncic will win the award, and rightly so, but that does not detract from what Young has achieved. The Hawks and Mavericks have their centrepieces, and it’s going to be a lot of fun watching their NBA development.


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