With respect to Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons’s rookie campaigns last year—and the resulting series of annoying gestures by Mitchell in the build up to the Rookie of the Year award announcement—Trae Young vs Luka Doncic has the potential to be the greatest rookie rivalry debate in recent memory. There’s just so much there: Both players have wildly different playing styles. They were traded for each other on draft night, ensuring an entire generation of “what if?”—style second guessing. One player is from the U.S. and came up through the college basketball ranks (Young), and one is an international who has been a pro since he was 16 (Doncic). Both are being pegged as the savior for sagging NBA franchises. And no matter which side you’re taking in the debate, you have plenty of ammunition.
Luka Doncic and Trae Young Is the Most Exciting Rookie Rivalry in Forever
We’ll be talking about this trade for some time
The early season has delivered slivers of hope for the Hawks and the Mavs: Young poured in 31 against Cleveland in his third game as a professional and last night Luka Doncic was the reason the Mavs pushed the superior Spurs into overtime. With the kind of attention that they’re already earning, it’s going to be fascinating to watch both players blossom as players, as personalities and as brands.
If you watched Trae Young in college, you know his game. He's a post-Curry point guard whose range extends far beyond the three point line. He also attacks the rim with crafty drives—he's already been able to blow by NBA-caliber defenders, so there's reason to believe Young will be able to produce on offense consistently.
On defense he's a mess, but we're two weeks deep into his rookie season. A good rule of thumb to remember about rookies is that they're bad at most stuff. Whether Young can develop into a more well-rounded guard will be an intriguing plotline: It should be noted that when Stephen Curry entered the league, he was also a below average defender, and Curry worked himself into an above average one. Can the Hawks recreate that magic?
Long live the Trae Young experiment.
If you're watching these clips, you don't need me to tell you that Luka Doncic's playing style is wildly different from Young's. Long, lanky and creative, Doncic uses his body to create passing lanes. He can keep defenses honest with his shooting while creating space for himself to make plays for himself and for others. He doesn't give up on plays—for a rookie, Doncic appears to be extremely patient. Doncic's skill set is a little more conventional than Young's, but when you're watching either player you can sense the way they're playing is just a little different than whoever else is on the floor.
Both players represent separate cultural movements in the NBA, and not just because one is a foreign-born player and one is an American. Doncic plays slow and in control, whereas Young plays like his hair is on fire. Doncic may reinvent the point forward position while Young may eventually exemplify the game's new approach to three-pointers and quick, explosive guards who might be considered undersized compared to different eras of the NBA.
The game continues to evolve; last night, Klay Thompson made 14 threes and scored 51 points in 26 minutes, which has blown the top off of any conventional concept of efficient scoring. The arcs of Young and Doncic will not only tell the story of two young players finding their place in the greater context of the NBA—it will tell the story of the NBA itself.
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