The Draft Lottery sometimes accomplishes more than determining the draft order for lottery teams. This year, it also dictated that the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick will belong to the Atlanta Hawks thanks to their 2018 draft night trade that resulted in Luka Doncic being sent to Dallas in exchange for the rights to Trae Young and the Mavericks top-five protected 2019 selection – thus completing the transaction, which we can now begin to judge in its entirety.
The Doncic-for-Young trade seemed to tie the two together for their entire careers, which now feels appropriate given their success relative to one another and the rest of the 2018-19 rookie class. If they’re lucky, Doncic and Young will be compared to one another for years to come. While that can be flattering, it can also add frustration and pressure if one is experiencing more success than the other. But ultimately, the true gauge of their success will be how they elevate their respective teams, and not how well their statistics compare to one another.
Focusing on the trade itself, it was somewhat surprising to see the Hawks pass on the opportunity to draft Doncic, who was widely thought to be the second-best player in the 2018 NBA Draft. There were naysayers who felt the Hawks were making a mistake by trading away the opportunity to select Doncic for an undersized guard with limited athleticism.
Interestingly, there were also some in the media who were critical of Dallas for trading away their 2019 first-rounder AND the fifth overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft for a teenager with athletic limitations.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can mostly agree that the trade worked out fairly well for both teams. Doncic’s rookie season exceeded most expectations, which were fairly high entering this year. Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists – which puts him in an elite category of rookies who averaged 20 points 5 rebounds and 5 assists (Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Tyreke Evans and LeBron James). What’s more, Robertson is the only other rookie in NBA history to average 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. He was also a mainstay on sports highlights thanks to game winners and a bravado not seen on a rookie in some time.
But Young played well, too – only he took a little longer to get comfortable. Young ultimately exceeded expectations for his rookie campaign, posting 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game. He too has his share of highlight moments and game winners. Young was one of two rookies (Oscar Robertson) to score more than 1500 points and tally more than 800 assists. Young and Robertson are also the only two rookies in NBA history to have seven or more games with 30+ points and 10+ assists.
And while he struggled in November (19% from three-point territory), Young played his best basketball late in the season. He scored significantly more per game after January (23.3 points per game) than he did in his first three months in the league (14.4). Additionally, his rebounds per game increased each month from November on and he shot a 37% from three-point territory in the 41 games between January 1 and March 30.
But can we crown a winner? It’s still hard to say and much of the argument won’t be settled until we know who the Hawks draft with the Mavericks’ selection on June 20. But considering what the Maverick’s gave up in the trade, it’s safe to assume that they felt there would be more separation between the two. If the trade were a straight swap of Doncic-for-Young, the Mavericks may be the perceived winner – if only by a hair (and much of that is still undecided given the limited sample size).
But the trade also included that protected pick. And since it transitions to the Hawks as the tenth pick in 2019, the player they ultimately draft has to be considered in the assessment.
According to the most up-to-date Basketball Insiders’ Mock Draft, the Hawks should have their choice of Cameron Reddish or Jarett Culver with the eighth pick, and they should be able to choose between Jaxson Hayes, Romeo Langford and Bol Bol with the tenth pick. So the Hawks could add two potential stars to the already-impressive core of Young and John Collins. The Hawks could also consider packaging the eight and tenth pick in an attempt to move up if there is someone they are particularly keen on.
So, the Hawks won, right? Not so fast. First of all, assets don’t always equal success. And if the old saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” holds true, then Hawks’ assets are more like the two in the bush.
Further, there are less measurable aspects of the trade. For instance, Kristaps Porzingis appears smitten with the idea of playing with Doncic as is evidenced through his social media presence. And since the Mavericks mortgaged their future in trading for Porzingis (sending their unprotected 2021 first-round pick and a protected 2023 first-round pick to New York in the deal), that would lead one to believe they have the inside track on resigning the soon-to-be extension-eligible Porzingis. And if Doncic’s presence influenced to Porzingis’s satisfaction, that is a factor.
Additionally, the Mavericks should also be able to free up $30 million in cap space this offseason, enabling them to add another star (think Nikola Vucevic or Khris Middleton) to their young core of Doncic and Porzingis. Therefore, the Mavericks might piece together a competitor sooner than the Hawks despite trading away three lottery picks. So the Mavericks future looks pretty bright, too. But that doesn’t mean they won either.
Long story short, a trade can’t be judged in a vacuum.
While there is far more to look forward to pertaining to the Doncic-for-Young trade debate, this appears to be one of the rare instances when both teams involved got exactly what they wanted. The Mavericks appear poised to rebuild relatively quickly around Doncic, whereas the Hawks got their floor general for the future along with additional draft capital to continue their rebuild. Hopefully, their futures continue to be interwoven with one another in a positive and meaningful way for the remainder of their careers. And hopefully they continue to push each other to greater heights. In which case, the fans are the real winners.
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