Luka Doncic and Trae Young will forever be linked in the annals of basketball history. The 2018 Draft is considered one of the most important ones in recent memory for the star-level talent it has brought into the league. The draft class is headlined by Luka and Trae, but also has heavy-hitters in Jaren Jackson Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, DeAndre Ayton, Michael Porter Jr., and many others.
What links Luka and Trae more than the rest of the class is the fact that they were both traded for each other. The Hawks had the third pick, while the Mavericks had the fifth pick, so Dallas traded the fifth pick along with the pick that became Cameron Reddish in 2019 to acquire Luka.
The pair were locked in the Rookie of the Year battle in 2018 and have been competing with each other despite being in opposite conferences. Considering the historic pace Luka is on in terms of career achievements and how Trae is already one of the best guards in the league, the comparison between the two has only become a bigger talking point. Young opened up about the same to JJ Redick on his podcast:
"I hate comparisons. I know it is a part of everybody's nature and that is what we are going to do as basketball fans, but I don't like getting into it a lot. I feel like we have similar types of games. If I was 6'8", I'd be just like Luka. Our games, pick and roll, being able to find people to get to the lob, get to floaters, or shoot. Our games are very similar in a way, but he's just 6'7"-6'8"."
Trae also elaborated on how he never expected the comparison to be as prevalent in modern basketball discussions as it has become. He also believes that fans and media pick who won the 2018 trade between Dallas and Atlanta with recency bias, as everyone was saying Atlanta won when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and now everyone is team Luka as the Mavericks are in the Western Conference Finals this season:
"Early on, I didn't know how big the comparison would be. I didn't necessarily think it would be there still to the day. On draft night, you're just happy and emotional that you're going to a certain city. Obviously, everybody continues to talk, but I am at that point where I just play. I just play, there's so much recency bias with everything. I went to Eastern Conference Finals last year, Trae's better than Luka, they won the trade. Now this year, it's different. If we go to the Finals next year, what are they going to say? That's my mentality. I know winning can take care of everything. I just focus on my team and winning and letting everybody else do the comparing."
Ever since the trade, both the Hawks and Mavericks have objectively improved. Atlanta has made 2 out of the 4 playoffs since the trade, with Trae leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021. Dallas has made three playoffs, but two ended in first-round exits while their current run sees them down 1-0 in the Western Conference Finals to the Golden State Warriors.
Young has averaged 25.3 points, 9.1 assists, and 3.9 rebounds over his first four seasons, and has made two All-Star team appearances and 0 All-NBA appearances. Doncic has averaged 26.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists in his career so far, with three All-Star appearances and two All-NBA First Team honors.
The numbers seem to skew heavily towards Doncic right now, who is being compared to some of the all-time greats in the league's history. His impact is being compared to Michael Jordan, while the inconsistencies of Trae Young's game have hampered people's perception of him compared to Luka. However, Young did lead the NBA in total points scored and assists this season, proving he is just as much a superstar as Doncic.
It's a great storyline for the NBA to have. Two generational talents being traded for each other on the same night is not something that happens often, so as long as these two are in the league, they will always find people comparing their achievements.