The NBA draft trade rules result in players wearing the hat of a team they traded away while shaking hands with Commissioner Adam Silver. So there's a picture of Luka Doncic in an Atlanta Hawks hat and another of Trae Young in a Dallas Mavericks hat.
By the time you've got down to this story, you probably know that Doncic never played for the Hawks and Young never played for the Mavs. They were swapped for one another on Draft Night, and an additional first round drove to Atlanta with Young. Both were quick learners in the NBA, with Doncic being considered the best rookie in his class, but Young tried to fill the void. The common assumption was early on that Dallas had won the deal, but two years into any gamer's career, it might be time to hit the brakes.
Doncic and Young should both star in the NBA for another decade. But it is the beginning of the third year, seen in various sports as a season that sends the greats one way and the fakes another. Neither Doncic nor Young appear to be fakes, but how awesome they turn out will determine who really won this draft of the night trade in 2018.
Luka Doncic-Trae Young trading details
Outsiders get: Luka Doncic (No. 3 overall selection in the 2018 NBA draft)Falcons received: Trae Young (# 5 overall selection in 2018 NBA Draft); Protected selection for the first round 2019
The Hawks would use the future round one picks they received as part of the deal to pick Cam Reddish as 10th overall from Duke.
Why did the Hawks trade with Luka Doncic?
I'm not sure if it makes things better or worse, but Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk has said that if the Hawks had stayed at # 3 instead of bargaining, they would have taken Doncic for themselves. This suggests that the Hawks were not unconscious of Doncic's talent.
Schlenk said in the same interview that the cost of their move would be a future prime, and that's what Dallas offered along with the number 5. Of course, the deal for Atlanta would only have made sense if the Hawks really wanted someone in 5th place who they believed was still there. In 2018, the Hawks weren't married to any particular player, Schlenk said, so it made sense to make the additional selection.
"I've always chosen the strategy with the design to use a baseball strategy: the more swings you get, the more chance you have of scoring a hit," said Schlenk on the Woj Pod. "Being able to choose one lottery and essentially turn it into two made sense to us."
It's not that Young presented a bad option. He averaged 27.4 points and 8.7 assists per game in Oklahoma. He presented limitless reach, made and captured the types of recordings Stephen Curry had popularized in recent years. Getting a Hawks going again would take a franchise point guard at some point, and Young was that guy.
Why did the Mavericks trade Trae Young?
To many, the downside of this equation may seem silly. Of course the Mavericks would act against Doncic, someone might say, because he's better. And yes, if you look at the picture with hindsight, the obvious signs are easy to spot, especially the way Doncic dominated the second best basketball league in the world when he was 18. But it wasn't so clear then.
Remember, Doncic wasn't the first overall. Deandre Ayton went to the Suns and Marvin Bagley was chosen by the Kings before Doncic got off the board. There were questions about Doncic's athleticism and his advantage. He played in Europe and had what ESPN's Jonathan Givony called "baby fat," but some teams wondered if Doncic's body would ever meet top NBA standards. And Doncic's early dominance in Europe had some questions about whether, according to Givony, he had already reached his ceiling.
There was no doubt that Doncic could contribute immediately. He had just won Euroleague MVP so playing NBA minutes wouldn't be a huge leap. Speaking on the night of the draft, Mav's trainer Rick Carlisle said it wasn't worth much for a team that wanted to go around the corner to make a future choice.
"Future draft selections are of very little interest to me right now," Carlisle said, according to ESPN. "We have to take this group and move these guys forward."
The Mavs had just taken Dennis Smith Jr., a point guard from the state of North Carolina, with them in the ninth selection of the 2017 NBA Draft. Dallas didn't need another young point guard, so Young's pick was likely made with the deal already made. The Mavericks had found a way to find an instant contributor, and they took him.
The future choice, turning to reddish, plays a small part in this equation, but not by much. Reddish could make a useful marksman alongside Young, but he won't make or break that trade compared to the other heavyweights on the scale.
As expected, Doncic was able to adapt to the NBA more quickly than Young. He averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game to earn the Rookie of the Year award in 2018-19. Then he took a step to 28.8 / 9.4 / 8.8 on his second season. Doncic's 3-point shooting (career 32.1 percent) still leaves room for consistency improvement, but he looks like a triple threat for years to come.
Playing as a rookie on a poor team point guard, Young struggled with turnovers and inconsistent shots early on. But he ended his rookie season strong, exploding in his sophomore year, averaging 29.6 points and 9.3 assists per game, while shooting 36.1 percent from a distance at 9.5 tries per game.
Neither Doncic nor Young will ever be known for amazing defense, although it may be easier to hide the 6-7 Doncic on an easy task than the 6-1 Young. Regardless, they will be known as outstanding offensive players for the next decade.
You will no longer be able to choose the winner of this trade after two seasons as they are all basically linked to Dallas as a winner. Both players made such big leaps from Year 1 to Year 2 that there could be some bigger improvements for at least one of them. Both teams have built playoff competitors around their franchise players, each of whom will now have the chance to lead at the NBA level.
Doncic could never be quite LeBron James, and Young could never be Stephen Curry. However, this is not the case when Darko Milicic is taken in place of Carmelo Anthony. The Hawks have their Point Guard franchise (and Reddish too). The Mavs have a generational talent.
Maybe one day they meet in the NBA finals to settle the score.