Well, we’ve completed a quarter of the season and here’s a few things what we’ve learned so far: The Clippers are somehow still pretty good, the Warriors are still good and Washington is no good.
So far the Raptors and the Bucks look set to battle it out for the 1st seed in the East and the Warriors (despite their recent struggles) will still win the West. The MVP race is being heavily contested between Giannis Antetokounmpo, Durant and Kyle Lowry. So far I’d say Joel Embiid, Hassan Whiteside and JaVale McGee are the front-runners for Defensive Player of the Year.
When it comes to Rookie of the Year, again I’d say there are 3 front-runners; Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Deandre Ayton. 3 different guys in 3 different positions making it an excellent example to study how each position is used in today’s NBA. I am going to compare these 3 players and the season they are each having so far and then judge who I think will win rookie of the year.
Trae Young - Atlanta Hawks
Young burst onto the scene during his only year at the University of Oklahoma by lighting it up from long-range. The comparisons to Steph Curry were immediate as Trae launched bomb after bomb from well beyond the 3 point line. He led the NCAA in both points and assists last season and was thrilling to watch.
There was no doubt he was going to be a top pick in the draft and the Atlanta Hawks chose to trade for him when he was drafted by the Mavericks. Currently, he’s averaging 15.7 points and 7.7 assists for the struggling Atlanta Hawks. Those numbers are pretty impressive for a rookie, but they far from tell the whole story.
Young is very inefficient from the field thus far in his career. He’s only shooting 38.3% from the field through 20 games and also shooting an abysmal 24.1% from the 3 point line. Watching him it’s clear to see that he is struggling to translate his game from college into the NBA. At Oklahoma, he was the main ball-handler, scorer and playmaker. He got used to always having the ball in his hands and everything being centered around him.
With the Atlanta Hawks, he is still their best player but the defenses he faces are much stronger, faster, well-organized and more experienced. The Hawks are a very bad team this season so Young often has to bail them out on possessions and try and create something on his own. Despite his bad shooting he still has to launch 3s from 30+ feet which often clang off the rim.
Right now he is the worst out of the 3 players I am talking about but he will get a lot better as his career progresses. His supporting cast will improve and his decision-making will get better with experience. Don’t forget; we didn’t see Steph Curry till after his 3rd season at Davidson and he wasn’t the player he is today until several years after he was drafted. Young has time on his side and should use this to his advantage to fulfill his potential.
Luka Doncic - Dallas Mavericks
There certainly was a lot of hype about Luka Doncic after he won the Euroleague MVP aged 18 with Real Madrid. He was described as a position-less player who was effective from everywhere on the floor. Such was his talent that the Atlanta Hawks drafted him 3rd overall in the 2018 draft but then traded him for Trae Young with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs are in the midst of the farewell tour for Dirk Nowitzki and could make the Playoffs to give the NBA legend the send-off he deserves. Doncic is clearly the best player on his team like Trae is with the Hawks. Doncic is the top scorer for the Mavs and is averaging nearly 20 points a game which is great for a young rookie.
Doncic is also shooting much more efficiently than Young. He’s hitting just over 45% from the field and just under 40% from 3. Doncic also averages 4.3 assists which is great given that he isn’t their point guard.
Doncic, at the moment, looks like he could be an All-Star in just his second season. He has the shooting stroke and the bag of tricks to score at the highest level and the Mavs have certainly found their star to build around going forward.
Deandre Ayton - Phoenix Suns
For 1st overall picks in the NBA Draft, life can actually be pretty frustrating. These guys dominated in High School and in College, winning the majority of their games in the process. When they get to the NBA they are usually on really bad teams since those are the franchises which get the high draft picks. Trae Young’s Hawks are trash, and so are Deandre Ayton Suns. Currently, both teams are bottom of their respective conferences.
Ayton was projected to be the number 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft ever since his senior year of high school. He’s 7 feet tall, has a 7 foot 5 wingspan and he’s very athletic. He averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds during his 1 season at Arizona and, unsurprisingly, the Suns took him first overall in this year’s draft.
I thought the Suns would be better than they have been. I thought Booker would develop into a more efficient scorer, Ryan Anderson would spread the floor and Trevor Ariza would provide quality leadership, defense and outside shooting. Even though the Suns are terrible Ayton has been a huge bright spark.
He’s averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds on 62.4% from the field and 75% from the free-throw line. He has a very good jump shot motion and is decent from midrange. At the moment he is playing a sort of Finder's role which I’ve talked about before. He finds his points amongst other players in the offense through pick and rolls, lobs, drop-offs, and offensive rebounds.
He does need to work on his defense as he’s only averaging 0.8 blocks a game which is not good enough for a franchise center playing 30+ minutes a night. He has the length and physical tools to be a great defender, he just needs to realign his priorities. Ayton could be a 20, 10 and 2 center for the next decade. His jump shot will get better and if he can add a few post moves there’s no doubt he will be an All-Star and propelling the Suns into the Playoffs very soon.
Prediction: Luka Doncic
Doncic is on the better team, he’s scoring the most points and he’s the best shooter out of the three guys I’ve talked about. When it comes to career potential there’s no doubt that Ayton has a higher ceiling. Whether he reaches it or not is up to him.